In wishing to end one controversy, Pakistan’s interior minister triggers another.
[dropcap]I[/dropcap] like Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan; actually I like anyone who speaks as if butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths. The good Khan has written a letter to the leaders of parliamentary parties seeking to put to rest the controversy regarding alleged rigging in the May 11 elections, and, by extension, the sacking of Tariq Malik, the National Database and Registration Authority chairman.
As reported, Khan says in his letter: “I am taking this opportunity to ask you to give your considered opinion for the future course in this regard in a manner which is not prejudicial to the sanctity of the entire electoral process or the democratic institutions which appears to be the sole purpose behind this entire debate. I am more than willing to organize a meeting of all the parliamentary leaders of political parties represented in the National Assembly for reaching a consensus in this behalf.”
Quite apart from the sloppy syntax, the interesting bit here is Khan’s intention. While reluctantly agreeing to the opinion of other parties, he is, nonetheless, cautioning them against the opinion being prejudicial to “the sanctity of the entire electoral process or the democratic institutions.” And, pray, what would constitute opinion prejudicial to the sanctity of the entire electoral process and democratic institutions, and what would, therefore, not be presumably “considered”? Let me hazard a guess: any opinion which seeks to put a question mark on the landslide win of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz)?
Perhaps not; perhaps Khan is merely accepting that while there might have been irregularities in some constituencies, pointing to them as reason enough to call into question the entire exercise will not be appropriate. Fair enough. I can live with the reasonableness of the second proposition, and in good faith I am also prepared to accept that this is indeed what Khan means.
Even so, we have a problem. Why was NADRA chairman Malik sacked posthaste, in fact in the dead of the night on Dec. 3? Khan says the removal of the chairman was “a routine administration [sic] change.” He also seems disappointed that “an impression has consciously been created as if the change is linked to the issue of verification of ballots which is erroneous, mala fide, and patently misleading.”
Let’s connect the dots. Why did Khan feel pressured to write the letter to the leaders of parliamentary parties urging them for their “considered opinion” without prejudice to the “sanctity of the entire electoral process and the democratic institutions” if not because the illegal sacking of the NADRA chairman has created a mess for him and the government? Let’s put it another way: would the redoubtable Khan have written such a letter at all if it were not for the egg, yolk and white, that he finds on his face following the monarchical dismissal of the NADRA chairman?
Khan has tried to downplay the sacking of the chairman and delink it from his damage-control exercise. This strategy to control damage is second only in its slovenliness to the original sin of trying to remove the chairman by issuing a notification at night and even settling his dues through checks sent to his home in Islamabad while the chairman himself was still in Lahore. What the hurry if the chairman was removed as a routine, administrative exercise? Why was procedure not followed?
Because, and claiming otherwise insults the intelligence of even a child, the chairman was not sacked for administrative reasons. He was removed because he refused to agree to the PMLN’s demand to publicly state that NADRA does not have the technical capacity to verify the May 11 votes. Some months ago, when I invited Malik to my television program, he told me clearly that his organization had acquired the capability to verify votes in bulk. He made the same statement to other media outlets. Given that, he cannot now make an about-face just because the PMLN is uncomfortable with the idea of vote verification.
So ham-handed was the government’s Dec. 3 action that it was upturned the very next day by the Islamabad High Court. Stung by its defeat and criticism, the government has doubled down and gone to the Supreme Court of Pakistan to get rid of Malik where the issue is sub judice. The strategy is two-pronged: fight the legal battle in the court, and sully Malik’s reputation outside the courtroom. The government is afraid that if verification can lead to overturning the results of two or four constituencies, it would create a domino effect. Hence, Khan’s impassioned plea for “considered opinion” rather than an exercise prejudicial to the entire process.
This is where he digs himself further in trying to get out of the hole. His letter says that verification mayn’t be “possible because the magnetic ink for thumb impression was not used in the general elections.” Excuse me? How and, more importantly, when, did Khan become privy to this startling ‘fact’? Was it before or after the elections? If after, why did the government sit on this information until now? And if this is indeed the case, why is the government afraid of ballot verification by NADRA?
He states in the letter: “In case the relevant authorities failed to procure the magnetic ink in time, what action was initiated by the previous government or the Election Commission, which was overseeing the entire process? Who was responsible for [the] start of this public debate on the issue and what was the motive behind this act?” Again, he is asking questions without answering the ones I have asked above apropos of his own information.
Two, what is stopping the government from ordering an inquiry into whether the correct ink was used—and if not, why not?
Three, it amazes me that Khan would ask who is responsible for starting this public debate, given that this is an issue that has a direct bearing on the public, dealing as it does with the people electing their representatives. How is debating such an issue any less about the sanctity of the electoral exercise and democratic institutions than Khan’s views on the matter and the interests of the government he represents?
In fact, now that Khan has cast a doubt on the ink itself, perhaps he can tell us how he knows that and what else he knows.