Seismic activity has achieved strong Richter levels along the tectonic fault lines in Pakistan. Geologists can breathe easy; the landscape I refer to is not geological but political. The epicentre of said activity happens to be in Sindh. Its source? The tectonic collision between the ruling party in the province and the Rangers. Its casualties? The crime syndicate that has long sunk its canines into whatever remains of a mangled province. And the man to scream the loudest? Asif Ali Zardari — father to a displaced son, husband to a murdered wife and he will have his vengeance in this life or the next.
In the recent much-talked about speech that Mr Zardari gave, his angry reaction to the actions undertaken by the Rangers are typical when the ground beneath the brilliant patchwork of rackets and schemes, you so fastidiously erected, starts to buck and shake. Just the sheer grotesquery of it all merits a few moments of silence — this horrible confection of land-grabbers, Lyari gangsters, extortionists, target killers, militants, scheming politicos and a range of goons and thugs scavenging like eager hyenas on a land reduced to bare cadaver. The only thing more revolting is Mr Zardari’s audacity to lash out at the military for exposing the skeletons in his closet which misleadingly leads to still other closets in what gradually begins to appear to be a never-ending labyrinth of brilliant subterfuge. As for his threats against the military of how he too can reveal a long list of corrupt military officers, a begrudging tit-for-tat unbecoming of a former president, one wonders why that wasn’t already his moral and professional priority when he was president. Regardless, a psychologist would peg his over-reaction to fear; the fear of a man who has caught a whiff of karma.
Truth be told, Mr Zardari has done much to damage the PPP — if the 2013 elections are any guide. The PPP of today is more a poacher than purveyor of roti, kapra and makaan. But to be fair to Mr Zardari, while playing the devil’s advocate (no pun intended), there does appear to be a mild double standard in play regarding the Sindh operation. We know Sindh has its troubles, but what about Punjab which is no Eden of morality either. And let’s not forget the establishment’s own history of manipulation, or the criticism that it sticks its nose in civilian affairs. Must there always be some manner of coup, either hard or soft, to fix things in Pakistan? The sad fact is that each time there is meddling in the affairs of an already troubled province, the phantasmagoria of East Pakistan’s separation rattles the mind.
However much we prefer binaries over nuance, the answers to these questions are not quite cut and dry. No one can deny the establishment’s historical over-reach in all matters of civilian governance, or its many historical blunders, but the current Chief of Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif, is quite a departure from the previous men in uniform. This is a man of fresh resolve, the architect of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, an operation that has surely made us safer today than before. Are we out of the woods yet? Not really, as recent attacks on our imambarghas, schools and buses attest. But things are steadily improving. Also, it was the Sindh government which requested military support to curtail the beast that has long feasted on its vitals. To now pout and complain when the Rangers have expanded the scope of the operation to include white collar crimes — and criminals — seems a tad disingenuous. As for legality of this military action, the DG Ranger’s claim that all this black money is used in funding militants, such as the Sunni Tehreek, lends useful perspective. Above all, and this cannot be said without simultaneously experiencing a pang of humiliation, our civilian institutions have failed us, not just in the usual sense by which failure of any kind is understood, but in a manner which is absolute and disgraceful. Anyone who contends this observation is free to review the NAB’s and FIA’s recent history to replenish their receptacles of shame.
However, in all of this is the odd flash of hope and optimism. This is because we understand that if there is one thread upon which hang all notions of human morality, it is accountability. All subsequent formulations and systems of retributive justice, both terrestrial and divine, are realised in the affirmation of this fundamental principle. Absent accountability, and there remains little value in moral restraint, leaving all action susceptible to our primal urgings of debauchery and avarice. Therefore, this long overdue and mightily exigent process of accountability — albeit fledgling and brought on by men in khakis — in our much-ravaged country must be welcomed, with, of course, the caveat that these measures be recognised as short-term and nothing but. Long-term measures would necessarily entail wresting Sindh from the ghetto politics of patronage and proxies through structural and institutional reforms with emphasis on depoliticisation of the courts and police. The same prescription applies to the rest of the country. For now it appears, at the risk of sounding factitious, that General Raheel Sharif is the batman to Karachi’s Gotham. And no guesses are required to identify the ‘Riddler’ in all of this.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 11th, 2015.
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