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Archive for March, 1995

A Chance for Accountability?

Only days after the President of Pakistan issued an Ordinance giving police powers to the para-military Rangers to arrest and prosecute law-breakers, seven of Mir Murtaza Bhutto’s bodyguards armed to the teeth were apprehended by the Rangers near the Jinnah Terminal of the Karachi International Airport for displaying arms in public inspite of Sec 144 which prohibits such public display. A week or so before this incident a half mile radius area around 70 Clifton (The Bhutto family residence) had been cordoned off by about a 150 plus rather aggressive youthful gunmen wielding automatic weapons as a protective measure for the Convention organised by the PM’s brother to convert the splinter faction of the PPP into a separate new party. Since the gunmen were brandishing automatic weapons (claimed to be legal by Murtaza Bhutto) and were stopping/diverting traffic on a public thoroughfare, one expected possible police action at this heaven-sent opportunity to round up some of the militants suspected to be contributing to the bloody mayhem and carnage in Karachi. However it seems that though he is publicly estranged from his PM-sister, Mir Murtaza remains the first brother, with the laws of the land not applicable on the same basis as for other citizens, bureaucracy on the spot deciding that discretion was the better part of duty. A deep sense of frustration pervaded the intelligentsia and the masses at the inaction of the law enforcement agencies (LEAs), the subsequent disarming of Mir Murtaza’s armed escort was thus a significant milestone in the process of accountability, giving the Rangers a boost in credibility that they were sadly lacking in the public perception. It must be said in all fairness that Mir Murtaza does have a major security problem from enemies near and far, a via media establishing a safety measure for him and his family is necessary.

Accountability can only be credit-worthy if the process is fair and transparent with an even application on everyone irrespective of the person’s influence and connections. A moral high ground is necessary for ensuring that the force of authority is totally dependant upon the integrity of the process. Equal justice may be the bedrock of western civilization today, the fact remains that the foundations of Islam were laid solidly on the basis of equality and justice which were sadly lacking in practice in the existing religions at that time, viz. Christianity and Judaism. Both society and religion demand even-handedness, the responsibility for which is clearly incumbent upon the conscience and sense of duty of those meant to implement the law on behalf of society. One cannot equate actions to be directly proportional to the influence commanded by the people who break the law, bend it or circumvent it at their discretion. One cannot say quote, “after all, Murtaza is the PM’s brother”. Any senior law enforcement officer would expect that even at the street level a constable or soldier on duty will apprehend anyone breaking the law, irrespective of the person’s status and connections. Since the Rangers have been given the same powers as the police in apprehending and prosecuting law-breakers, albeit in support of the police, they have an onerous responsibility to ensure that they will exercise their authority with absolute even-handedness. In this process there is no doubt they will have to bear pressure of all types on their person and their institution, some of it can be overbearing in the matter of career and reputation, both of which can be held to blackmail by administrative action or media campaign or a combination of both. To counter such pressure the process must be so transparent that it will elicit mass public approval and support, in a democracy this is supposedly a vital factor as opposed to a dictatorship where the guardians of law care little about public opinion in deference to the whims and caprices of the dictator.

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A question of identity

Fifty five years ago to the day after the historic Pakistan Resolution was passed at Lahore and nearly a quarter century after the finest experiment in nationhood in history came to an end, the remaining part of Pakistan is still having an identity crisis of sorts, albeit a positive one. The equation now is whether we belong in the South Asian Sub-continent as a part of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) or are we a part of greater Central Asia represented by an expanded Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO)? Both economic and political factors are pulling Pakistan away from its historic affiliation in South Asia to what most Pakistanis now believe to be a more fulfilling destiny to the West by North West.

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Streets of Fire

Where there is smoke there is bound to be a fire and since Third World-ers are great conspiracy theorists, they tend to believe that smoke is meant only as a camouflage for the perpetrators of the fire. In Karachi this fire is burning fiercely in the streets. For those who have lived in hope that somehow they will be passed by there is bad news, the spreading conflagration is cutting a wide swath across class and creed, sect and ethnicity, etc. There is no convenient fire-escape from this developing inferno, by their benign inaction the Federal Government is seen to be a part of the problem rather than a “fire brigade” dedicated to the rescue of the city’s hapless inhabitants.

Instead of addressing the core issues that have brought Karachi to the verge of absolute anarchy, Ms Benazir seems to skirt the major problems. The general public perception is that there are no solutions on offer because the logical ones tend to threaten PPP’s electoral power base in Sindh. When faced with such Hobson’s choice, Government of Pakistan (GoP) invariably tends to take the easy route of rhetoric, contributing to the PM’s rapidly declining credibility. Hard to believe that this is the same South-Asian vintage Joan of Arc of the 80s decade, holding forth the torch of democracy for the people of Pakistan. Regretfully, the PM is giving the word “obfuscation” due legitimacy much beyond what is generally attributed to bureaucracy.

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The Inferno Within

For a person who led a relentless struggle in the 80s decade for the restoration of unadulterated democracy in Pakistan, Ms Benazir displays a remarkable obduracy in refusing to recognize the ground realities of the increasingly anarchical situation in Karachi. Though it is true that fate intervened rather fortuitously to her advantage, one cannot take the credit away from Ms Benazir’s struggle against dictatorship (and vestiges thereof) with respect to the restoration of democracy in Pakistan. The then Establishment tried to stop her in her tracks by the cobbling together of the IJI by Maj Gen (later Lt Gen Retd) Hameed Gul, the then DG ISI, but the people of Pakistan gave her enough NA seats to be the prime contender to form the Federal Government. Even when the sizeable MQM bloc changed sides in late 1989, she survived a vote of no-confidence in the National Assembly, mostly because both the intelligentsia and the masses continued to believe in her recurring song of democracy.

During her long stint in the cold, Ms Benazir had repeatedly pointed out that with drugs and Kalashnikovs flooding into the urban cities of Pakistan, particularly Karachi, there was a dire necessity to usher in democracy immediately to “counter the dangerous vacuum created by Martial Law and dictatorship at the grassroots level because of the lack of leadership duly elected by the people.” Her contention rightly was that a mixture of ethnic and sectarian bigots along with mobsters, drug barons, foreign-trained terrorists etc, would flood into this void, anybody who could wield power through the power of forcible suggestion, more potently, through the barrel of a gun. Ms Benazir Bhutto had very rightly advocated that the only solution to avoid apocalypse was to have free and fair elections at every tier of government so that credible, authentic leaders would emerge, with their roots in a rock-solid base because of the peoples’ confidence in their abilities and person.

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A City without Leadership

For a person who led a relentless struggle in the 80s decade for the restoration of unadulterated democracy in Pakistan, Ms Benazir displays a remarkable obduracy in refusing to recognize the ground realities of the increasingly anarchical situation in Karachi. Though it is true that fate intervened rather fortuitously to her advantage, one cannot take the credit away from Ms Benazir’s struggle against dictatorship (and vestiges thereof) with respect to the restoration of democracy in Pakistan. The then Establishment tried to stop her in her tracks by the cobbling together of the IJI by Maj Gen (later Lt Gen Retd) Hameed Gul, the then DG ISI, but the people of Pakistan gave her enough NA seats to be the prime contender to form the Federal Government. Skepticism notwithstanding, enough MNAs lined up behind her in non-grudging support to translate her lead into a majority in Parliament by the flawed means that is acceptable to us presently as the Constitution of the land. Even when the sizeable MQM bloc changed sides in late 1989, she survived a vote of no-confidence in the National Assembly, mostly because both the intelligentsia and the masses continued to believe in her recurring song of democracy.

During her long stint in the cold, Ms Benazir had repeatedly pointed out that with drugs and Kalashnikovs flooding into the urban cities of Pakistan, particularly Karachi, there was a dire necessity to usher in democracy immediately to “counter the dangerous vacuum created by Martial Law and dictatorship at the grassroots level because of the lack of leadership duly elected by the people.” Her contention rightly was that a mixture of ethnic and sectarian bigots along with mobsters, drug barons, foreign-trained terrorists etc, would flood into this void, anybody who could wield power through the power of forcible suggestion, more potently, through the barrel of a gun. Ms Benazir Bhutto had very rightly advocated that the only solution to avoid apocalypse was to have free and fair elections at every tier of government so that credible, authentic leaders would emerge, with their roots in a rock-solid base because of the peoples’ confidence in their abilities and person.

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