Thursday, May 17, 2012

Gilani's Loyalty, Perhaps Misplaced.

To claim that there are many issues plaguing Pakistan on a perpetual basis is an exercise in stating the obvious. But right now, the flavor of the month seems to be the conviction and sentencing of the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Yousuf Raza Gilani, and his resilient refusal to step down.

As the events go, the man was charged with contempt of court, convicted and then, as punishment, detained for all of 30 seconds. After all the elements of the Constitution were satisfied, he was released and maintains his right to appeal his conviction, and the right to pursue his duties as the Prime Minister. Despite the fact that everything has been technically by-the-book, this issue has ripped the political matrix of the country apart.

The opposition has made sure that there is protest of one sort or another at every point in time. There have been rallies, marches and threats of more rallies and even longer marches. PTI and PML-N have not wasted any time in trying to use this event to discredit PPP and increase their chances of victory come election time.  In one photograph, it seems to be a truly aneurysm-worthy opportunity for Imran Khan as we see him yelling into the mic with the veins in his face threatening to pop out! The common belief bringing all adversaries to a single platform is that a convicted person should not be allowed to hold the office of the Prime Minister, whether constitutionally allowed or not.

PPP, on the other hand, sees this as an extreme show of loyalty on Gilani’s part. The Prime Minister claims that he did nothing that went against the rules of government in refusing to ask the Swiss to reopen graft cases against Zardari, who, as a sitting president, enjoys immunity in these matters. In fact, there have been many tweets in Twitterland lauding his loyalty to his party and the President.

This brings us to an ethical crossroads. Who is Gilani being loyal to, and is it a misplaced loyalty? If he is loyal to Zardari, then is he also loyal to the reputation and manifesto of PPP? And, in that, can he also be loyal to Pakistan and the sanctity of the high office that he holds? After all, he swore an oath to uphold the Constitution of Pakistan, not the interests of PPP or Zardari. Or maybe -- and this is the simplest of all possibilities -- he is loyal only to himself and is acting in the interest of self-preservation. Therein lies the rub.

This brings us to the elusive entity of government ethics, which tries to explain the rights and wrongs of elected officials. Our political leaders are often facing challenging situations where the decisions they make have effects nationally, and often, globally. A great burden to bear, surely, but that is why we select our leaders and then trust them with our lives and our futures. All they have to do is reciprocate that trust and protect our well-being and integrity. That isn’t too much to ask, now, is it?

Whether Gilani was right or wrong, he was charged, convicted and punished. The uproar came when he decided to continue as the leader of the country despite his conviction. This decision became more questionable in light of an interview he gave, in which he said that if convicted, he would not remain a member of Parliament. And yet, here we are today!

Yes, he has a right to appeal this decision and stay at his job, but should he? Isn’t it in the interest of PPP that a convicted man not represent them? Does Gilani not owe it to the country, whose constitution he swore to defend, to step down in the interest of the country’s reputation in the international arena?

The foremost concern should be the integrity of Pakistan. We are constantly being challenged on all fronts, domestically and internationally. We need to show the world that we are much more than our reputation. We need to bring ourselves to a point where our word means something when we are trying to negotiate the future of our generations. We are still trying to recover from the repercussions of comments made by our President, who claimed that because his promises were not the Qur’an or Hadith, they could be changed.  

These examples make us seem less than we are. We should be striving for a place in the international arena where we can be held to our word and where our actions hold merit. Will we be able to do that with a convicted Gilani at the helm?

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