Every seth organisation has one — the incompetent buffoon who, despite being a fool and inept in every conceivable way, defies logic and remains employed in a senior position within the organisation. A chamcha, he is the Boss’s right-hand man (and it’s always a man). He performs all the unsavoury tasks, thus ensuring that the boss’s manicured hands do not get even remotely dirty. All three seth organisations I worked for had this character type. So perhaps it’s no surprise that the seth Government of Pakistan has one too. How else can one explain the continued employment of Rehman Malik?
Rehman Malik is a man devoid of any credibility. Let’s look at some of his recent statements. Way back in July 2009, he declared: “Strict action would be taken (against police officers) if any incident of target killing occurs from today onwards.” Obviously this did not have the required effect because the following year he had to remind the people (and state the blindingly obvious) “the government will have a strict no-tolerance policy for target killing incidents”. Oh, that’s good to know. Did this no-tolerance work? Well, by July 2010 he was able to declare to The Associated Press of Pakistan that “target-killing in Karachi has fully ended now”. When he said he ‘now’ he actually meant a little bit later because by July of this year he was still telling Dawn that the people of Karachi would soon have a peaceful environment in their city and the government was taking all out measures to achieve the objective. On August 12, The Nation reported that Rehman Malik has said that due to effective measures taken by the government, incidents of target killings have been controlled to a great extent in Karachi. The following week, 96 people were murdered.
Watching Malik spout about “miscreants” facing an “iron hand” is like watching some perverse Groundhog Day. Repetition follows repetition. His words now carry about as much weight as an anorexic stick insect performing roza. He flies in, talks tough and flies out again. The old joke that Islamabad is 15 minutes outside of Pakistan has never felt truer. If anything, Karachiites are presently feeling that the cosseted bureaucrats and politicians are living far further. The ongoing killings highlight the urgent need for decentralisation of political power away from Islamabad to local government.
Karachi doesn’t need a Malik — it desperately needs a mayor. However, though Mustafa Kamal was a good one; he lacked real power. His remit did not cover the six cantonment boards that make up the most salubrious parts of the city and his legacy will primarily be one of bridges and flyovers. Instead, Karachi requires a directly-elected mayor with genuine power. It seems unfathomable that a city of almost 20 million inhabitants does not have a figurehead that represents the aspirations and demands of Karachi — Pakistan’s only true metropolitan city. With such a mandate from the people of Karachi, an elected mayor would have the power to hire and fire Karachi’s top police officer. The mayor and the police suddenly become accountable to the people. Presently, who exactly is the unelected Rehman Malik accountable to?
Policing and local government are interlinked. Effective local government produces effective policing. Any further public policy debate must acknowledge this symbiosis. Strong mayoral leadership can truly alter cities. Enrique Penalosa, the mayor of Bogota between 1998 to 2001, transformed the Colombian capital from a deadly, crime-ridden city into an inclusive space with first rate parks, infrastructure and transport systems. Rudy Guilani was credited with reducing crime in New York. Time Square, once synonymous for its pimps and pushers, became known for the Disney store and its Starbucks under Guiliani. Both Penalosa and Guiliani were local boys. They knew what needed to be done for their respective cities.
But none of the political parties in Pakistan are talking about direct mayors. Even the party that perhaps would have the most to gain — the MQM — has remained silent on this form of decentralisation. Perhaps, the continued omnipresence of Altaf Hussain has ensured this idea does not end up on the table. After all, no one wants to upstage the Quaid-e-Tehreek do they? Just recall how Mustafa Kamal scurried over to London after he had been named “one of the mayors of the moment” by Foreign Policy magazine. A directly-elected mayor could potentially become more powerful than the party leader.
Until the political parties can agree to urgent decentralisation, and especially the need for directly-elected mayors in urban areas, Karachi’s power vacuum will persist. And that still leaves Rehman Malik in charge. And nobody wants that.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 25th, 2011.