A few years ago, when the dying embers of a military regime had been extinguished, I happened to be driving with a friend down the main thoroughfare of Clifton in Karachi. Suddenly, a huge black four-wheeler with tinted glasses and no number plates drove alongside my car and forced me off the road. My friend looked up and steepling his fingers said “Allah be praised … democracy has come to Pakistan”. During the following two months, I spotted a whole convoy of such cruisers in different parts of the city. Many were preceded or followed by private security personnel, some even by police mobiles, their sirens bleating from the bowels of their vehicles. The guards wielded AK 47 assault rifles and other lethal weapons and looked grim and menacing. They never smiled and when they did it was with a sort of manic ferocity, as if they had just been fed raw meat. We all were living in the reductionist sap of violent change and transition. Now isn’t it rather ironic that in a peoples’ democracy like ours where candidates are supposed to be elected by popular vote they feel it necessary to be guarded like Colombian drug barons? Who are they afraid of? Mullah Omar, the Citizen Kane of terrorism? Rival gangs? The warlords of Lyari?
These days things seem to have gotten completely out of hand. A retired 66-year old friend of mine on his way to play golf, was badly roughed up for ten minutes by two smartly dressed men in civvies driving a four-wheeler, which carried a police number plate. The beating was followed by a volley of invectives in which the duo displayed a remarkable facility for improvisation. My friend’s crime was that he had raised a questioning palm to protest the fact that the squad car had crossed a red traffic light and was heading towards him on the wrong side of the road. It turned out that the gallant defenders of the law thought my friend had made an indecent and provocative gesture. The matter was reported to police headquarters along with the number of the vehicle. The officials listened politely — but so far no action has been taken.
Numerous stories about the insolence and arrogance of private armed guards have surfaced and can be laced together into a single observation. We are living in a semi-police state where the armed bullies move about with impunity and nobody, neither the governor, the chief minister or speaker is pushed. You can’t complain because there is nobody to complain to. Recently, I couldn’t get to my bank located in a narrow, one-way street because traffic had been blocked by two four-wheelers. A man, probably the boss, emerged from the first cruiser and entered a shop. Four mean looking bodyguards then leaped out of the second four-wheeler and surrounded the entrance to the shop, brandishing their weapons. Both drivers refused to move their vehicles. I couldn’t reverse because two cars were parked behind mine.
The guards might be doing an admirable job for their patrons. But they are causing a great deal of inconvenience to members of the public and are squeezing out a nugget of loathing ever time they make an appearance on the roads. Now I am not advocating military rule. Far from it. Rule by men in uniform can have its own unpleasant side. However, there is a perception that the law-enforcement agencies are not behaving independently but as a branch of the ruling party. This is dangerous and does not bode well for the future of democracy and the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 5th, 2012.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ
@Khurram Khalid: Thanks for the kind and humbling words. I can write a few articles but have no idea about their fate. There are days when all my comments are not published and then most of the time they are. I would not use my real name though, I cannot sacrifice my privacy for the sake of fame or money. Thanks and regards, Mirza
Very good column, the one i was lookin for many dayz:)
Remember Mikhail Gorbachev way of 'ruling the USSR?'
You have given few examples to show / prove that politicians are problem in this city of Karachi , however, u conveniently ignore their partners - beaurocrats. Politicians do these things with sweet cooperation of beaurocracy. As u also cited that - police was no help at all.
If we want progressive country we need to tackle problems in toto, but not selectively, as u do regularly, sir. Why we do not cry as loud when a beaurocrats, who is entitled for 1 car but have 5 govt cars in his use? We shall also complain, When he has 5 servants, without entitlement, paid by govt, in his house. We shall also dig and highlight, that when funds reached high courts to improve judicial system, judges jumped from 1300 cc cars to 1600 cc cars!!! So much of judicial mind!
Every one in authority is problem here sir, specially as we do not have check systems.
@Khurram Khalid: Of course it started during Zia's time. When all else fails, blame Zia. This is the flawed democracy we currently have where the politicians, in at least three of the four provinces, are big landlords whose people will have to vote for them, where the uneducated and brazenly corrupt like our last two prime ministers can lead the country, where our president is a man who was supposed to have trauma and mental problems after years of persecution in the 1990s. Somehow these people managed to emerge at the helm to lead our government. Yes, long live democracy. Benazir was right when she said democracy is the best revenge, but revenge on who, I wonder?
What you refer to Sir, is the ' feudal mindset ' and this today is seen less in the original feudal and visibly more so in the ' two bit ' upstart with quick money and the power that goes with it and quick power and the money that goes with it. It goes without saying that both lack class.
Although we can differ with the views of the author, we should read his views. In my opinion there is a large group in Karachi, who do not give great emphasis to current democracy. I know many Karachites to have come to this conclusion. Many miss the days of Musharaf, whose good points are narrated more often than you can take it. But it is important to know their views. After all they constitute a large section in our society. Of course you do not have to agree with everything, but some of their views are relevant.
A very confused society, for sure.
Karachi is being turned into a lawless city, by design, and very strong forces are behind this agenda. Citizens would have to come up or else their children will be massacred under the wheels of these four by fours.
I would rather have Mirza write in ET than outright opponents of democracy like Mr Mooraj and Ms Amina Jillani.
@Zaikam: Wishing for a dictator to apear at the helm of Pakistan is like wishing British had never left sub- continent. It was very peaceful in their times. Slavish mentality still lingers in many people's genes.
This culture evolved mostly during Zia's time as this sort of behaviors are by products of dictatorships.
Pakistan is like this not due to democracy but despite it. Pakistan is not like this because of it is Islamic country but despite being an Islamic country. For this kind of problems and the nature of our rich and powerful no matter who is in power, we are all responsible. Like most of Pakistan, Karachi was a peaceful city till Gen Zia divided Sind in rural and urban to prolong his rule and the rest is history. Zia's govt also encouraged Afghan refugees, weapons and drugs to infest Karachi for the first time in its history. As a result we have a new Beirut right here in Pakistan with polarization in every sphere of life. I am not being sarcastic but the truth is Pakistanis have bigger problems than traffic, golf, or their bank accounts. What rich and even middle class people do in the west is to move away from the traffic of the big cities, congestion, crimes and these uncertainties. This not only restores the balance of population shift to big cities but takes the retired slow lifestyle people out of the hectic cities. My heart goes for the people living with little food, clean water, no security of any kind or electricity, some of the major problems Karachi and Pakistan have.
Well done. What a way to vent your spleen on democracy! What exactly is the agenda? Strange that the writer points to a social malaise of which no one of power and pelf is free in this country, and attributes it solely to democracy. So democracy should be dispensed with, the people never be allowed to have their say, and such things will never happen. Is this what you're trying to say?
Sir, the difference is that same situation was repeatedly faced by thousands of Pakistanis: the number plates of those vehicles were not civilian and neither the guards. Thus you never complained and if you did it never made it to papers because no one would dare publish it.
There are plenty of people roaring around Karachi and elsewhere in their four by fours but only through a continuous system of elections would we be able to change it. To link such habits with democracy is being intellectually dishonest.
These attitudes are a legacy of dictatorships. When you make khakis above law others follow suit not the other way around.