A long-forgotten and seldom-used Zia era legacy has come to haunt Pakistani politicians as they file their nominations for the elections scheduled on May 11.
While nomination papers of a couple of candidates were rejected at the altar of Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution — that prescribes “near impossible standards of morality” — earlier this week, these provisions got their most prominent scalp thus far on Thursday in Ayaz Amir of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz).
Mr. Amir’s nomination papers were rejected by the returning officer of Chakwal for writing against the “ideology of Pakistan” in his newspaper columns.
The returning officer was acting on a complaint by two locals who said his writings were against the “ideology of Pakistan” and a violation of Article 62(g). Mr. Amir — a steadfast progressive voice — has decided to challenge the decision.
Since the beginning of the week, the quizzing of candidates on the basis of Articles 62 and 63 — particularly their knowledge of Islam and various Koranic verses — had set off alarm bells not just among those in the fray but also civil society as the move reflected another institutional step towards further Islamisation.
Several curious complaints have been brought up under these two provisions which were inserted into the Constitution by military dictator Zia ul Haq as part of his “Islamisation-of-Pakistan” project. One complainant said former Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif — younger brother of erstwhile premier Nawaz Sharif — was violating Articles 62 and 63 because he had no beard.
Many a candidate was stumped when put through what they described as an “Islamic studies test” and reports from across the country suggest that several stumbled when asked to recite some specific Koranic verses. Though some have tried to protest against this new test they have to clear for getting their nominations accepted, the Election Commission officials have been quoted as saying this was mandated under Article 62 (e).
As per Article 62 (e), a person shall not be qualified to be elected or chosen as a member of Parliament unless “he has adequate knowledge of Islamic teachings and practices obligatory duties prescribed by Islam as well as abstains from major sins”.