The Lahore High Court (LHC) verdict barring President Asif Ali Zardari from engaging in active politics has added a potentially new complication to events in the country. There can be no doubt that in principle the head of state should be above political goings-on and not a part of the day-to-day manoeuvrings that take place in any set-up. But, at the same time, it must be pointed out that Pakistan today is a country in a state of transition. After so many years of military rule and the consequent destruction of democratic institutions it seems somewhat unfair to expect a perfect democracy to unfold as if by magic. It will take time for things to develop along these lines and there will be some flaws as the effort continues to put democratic traditions in place.
There is also the question of quite how the LHC expects its ruling to be implemented. It is, after all, not easy to monitor what happens behind the high walls of the presidency. There are also other technical points to be addressed. Legal experts would argue that there is some lack of clarity within the constitution on whether the bar on holding dual office for the president applies only to those posts for which remuneration can be drawn or to others as well. To make things even more complex, Asif Ali Zardari is co-chairperson of the PPP, which is not a registered party in the country and, in fact, the PPPP, which is the one formed in parliament, is headed by Makhdoom Amin Fahim. So has a breach of principle occurred at all? To this, some will say, however, that for all practical purposes, the president does run the party and that is something that should be left to someone else while he holds the office of president. The tradition in most democracies is that the party chief and the head of government or state are not the same person, precisely because of the inherent conflict of interest involved in the matter.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 14th, 2011.