PEOPLE FELL TO SAME TRAPS AGAIN AND AGAIN
It’s routine to wish a Happy New Year to everyone, and I do, but I doubt if it is going to be a happy one. I hope that I am wrong, but I have this fearsome sense of foreboding for the world. Great economies could collapse, the world financial order could collapse with it, money may have no meaning left and wars may go out of control and the map of the world could change once again, as it has done after every world war and the demise of an empire or superpower. God help us all and forgive us our sins.
I have never supported the People’s Party. When I see the gap between its retrogressive performance and its progressive rhetoric, how could I? The stink of the bogus begins to rise and soon you come to realize that it is not even a political party but a dynastic political cult centered round the Bhutto icon. This cult has made an art form of corruption and abysmal-governance.
I have felt for long that not only its leaders but those of other political parties and people from the civil and military bureaucracies, tax evaders, wilful defaulters of bank loans, banks, bankers including from our central bank and, most importantly, judges must be brought to account if we are to progress.
However, when it seems that only one or two parties are being singled out for selective accountability, one has rise in protest. If not, all one’s professions of Islamic justice and democracy also become equally bogus. One should be driven by principles, not politics. If one is a true Muslim one is automatically a true democrat. Thus one cannot be driven by prejudice and emotion. Whether wittingly or unwittingly, when injustice is meted out even to my worst enemy, it becomes my imperative to stand up and speak out against it, otherwise a day might come when injustice arrives at my doorstep and there will be no one to speak up for me. A people whose conscience is awakened only when injustice arrives at their doorstep are a people that are consigned to retrogression and darkness born of stagnant and decadent minds. Life in a largely imaginary primitive past is then their fate.
Anyone who supports a judiciary that panders to bad laws ought to have his head examined. By the same token, whoever agrees with selective accountability has to be a lunatic. The National Reconciliation Ordinance 2007 (NRO) was a bad law not only because it let crooks off the hook but more because it let only some crooks off the hook.
However, the Supreme Court declaring it unconstitutional has created problems that could lead to even worse consequences than the NRO itself. When Musharraf sacked the chief justice I wrote that if you do the right thing in the wrong way the right thing also becomes wrong. Same here. If you give the right judgment in a narrow and literal way, making it look like selective justice, it is no justice at all and the right judgment becomes wrong.
Since the NRO was selective, the judgment that trashed it perforce became selective too because it could only re-instate court cases against those who had benefitted from it. But the Supreme Court should have been less literal and more holistic given the reality of Pakistan’s fractured polity ready to come apart at the seams. Don’t forget the spirit while following the letter: justice that is not even-handed is not justice. The judgment should have at least asked for across-the-board accountability of all the corrupt regardless of the sort of deals and bargains they might have struck under any name other than NRO in order to get off the hook. If the Supreme Court could push the borders of its jurisdiction into the executive’s domain by asking for the transfer of a particular official and his replacement by another particular one, by ordering that a number of people couldn’t leave the country and their names should be placed on the Exit Control List and by telling the government to re-institute the cases against Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari in Swiss courts, why could they not have ordered the accountability of all the allegedly corrupt, especially those who have won pardons and remissions and done deals and plea bargains?
What the Supreme Court had asked parliament to decide by November 28, 2009 was the legality of the extension of the NRO beyond the first 120 days after the Ordinance was issued. When parliament ducked out of it, the issue went back to the Supreme Court. However, the Supreme Court decided to judge not just on the extension but on the NRO itself, thus reinstating not only the cases of those who had benefitted from it during the extension period but also those who had benefitted from it during the original period of the first 120 days. This included Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari. Some are saying that this amounts to fooling parliament for if it had known that the Supreme Court would decide on not just the extension but also the entire NRO itself, ab initio, it might have then decided not the duck the issue. God alone knows.
Thus, on the face of it, it seems that because of an unfortunate confluence of circumstances, the leaders of only two Sindh-based political parties, the PPP and the MQM, have been put in the dock. This creates the perception amongst the people of Sindh that it is they who are, as usual, being targeted. And since the Punjab is the majority province it has, as usual, to bear the brunt of such criticism.
History – again because of an unfortunate confluence of circumstances – not only provides grist to the mills of Sindh’s arguments, it brainwashes and indoctrinates too. It just so happens that all three prime ministers of ours that have been assassinated were from Sindh. And it just so happens that all three were killed in Rawalpindi, which is in the Punjab and was once the temporary capital of Pakistan and is still the unannounced capital city of the army.
Our first prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, was assassinated in what was then called Company Bagh (garden), named after the East India Company because it was Company property. After his assassination it was renamed Liquat Bagh.
The popular Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged after a miscarriage of justice after a highly controversial and openly biased trial. It was not Tara Masih who was the executioner so much as the Lahore High Court and the Supreme Court. With a clear split virtually down the middle, the last Supreme Court judge who carried the deciding vote admitted years later that he chose to opt for execution to please the then military ruler General Zia ul Haq. So would it be an exaggeration to say that the Supreme Court of Pakistan assassinated Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on behalf of General Zia ul Haq? Zia and Bhutto were at such loggerheads that conventional wisdom had it that there was one grave and two reluctant contenders. One of the two had to put the other in it and it is Zia who put Bhutto in the grave. In so doing he made him immortal. If today Zia is known for anything, it is for hanging Zulfikar Ali Bhutto even more than winning the Afghan Jihad by beating the Russians of the late Soviet Union, something that even Napoleon and Hitler couldn’t do.
Zia was controversial because he had thrown Bhutto’s elected government out on the spurious grounds that there had been countrywide civil unrest after allegations that the 1977 elections had been rigged. That may be, but where does it say that it is the army’s business to intervene in such situations? Let the political process sort itself out, I say, and if in the meanwhile we have to go through hell and high water, so be it. This is how societies evolve, and all evolution is a slow and, in part, painful process. I know it can be argued that military takeovers are also part of the evolutionary process and realism tells us that, apart from instances of personal ambition, armies are no less patriotic than civilians and intervene only when they genuinely feel that the state is in danger and it is their duty to save the country not only from external but internal dangers as well. But that is another debate for another occasion.
Then came the December 27, 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto, Zulfikar Ali’s daughter who through trial and tribulation had become a charismatic leader of the PPP in her own right. She was killed in Liaquat Bagh too, the old Company Bagh. It has now been renamed Benazir Bhutto Bagh. Let this be the last change of name.
Since 1971, all except one government that has been thrown out mid-term has been Sindhi. The first Nawaz Sharif government to be thrown out in 1993 was restored by the Supreme Court. Benazir Bhutto’s two governments were not. That’s most unfortunate too and adds to Sindh’s feeling of always being dealt an unfair hand.
No, the history is not good and the Supreme Court’s judgment trashing the NRO under which the leaders of the PPP and the MQM had all the (many fabricated) cases against them alone restored does not augur well. The prime beneficiary of this selectivity is the Nawaz Sharif family and cohorts in the Punjab-based breakaway faction of the Pakistan Muslim League named after Nawaz. Thus Sindhi emotions are coming to the boil because they think that Punjab’s politicians get off the hook while Sindh’s don’t. They are asking whether this is not only because Mr. Sharif and his party are Punjabi but were also in the forefront of the lawyers movement to get the sacked judges of Musharraf’s first Provisional Constitution Order (PCO) reinstated to their old jobs, and the new judges of Musharraf’s second PCO sacked. This makes for terrible optics and not for national integration in an already ethnically and parochially fractured country.
While only the beneficiaries of the NRO, some 8,041 of them are back on the hook, many more that have allegedly committed crimes at least as legendary as the alleged crimes of the PPP and MQM are still off the hook. It looks really bad. Nawaz Sharif gets a life sentence for hijacking a commercial PIA flight with some 280 passengers on board, including General Musharraf, and ordering the pilot to take Pakistan’s army chief to India but gets his sentence remitted by President Musharraf under what is now popularly called the Saudi NRO. Worse, after some nine years the restored Supreme Court allowed Sharif to appeal against the Sindh High Court judgment that sentenced him to life in prison (the time period allowed for appeal is six months) and then threw out the judgment saying that a prime minister has the power to divert a plane. Sure he does. So do the Director General of the Civil Aviation Authority, the manager of the airport and the captain of the aircraft too. But the prime minister does not have the power to close all runways in the country to the aircraft, switch off all runway lights, park fire tenders across the Karachi runway and tell the pilot to take the plane to India for God’s sake and deliver Pakistan’s army chief to the enemy. Nawaz Sharif’s contention that he didn’t appeal earlier because he had no faith in Musharraf’s PCO judges is laughable, considering that most of the judges of the present Supreme Court also took oath under Musharraf’s PCO.
Because of this seemingly selective justice, Pakistan has suddenly entered a much more serious situation than it was in already. Instability has got worse compounded. The question about its survival has taken on a new meaning. If we are not careful, we could move towards the type of situation that rend Jinnah’s Pakistan asunder in 1971 and led to the birth of Bhutto’s Pakistan and Yahya’s Bangladesh.
Zardari’s denials that he has no intention of playing what is called the ‘Sindh Card’ cannot be accepted totally as long as he is president. But if he is forced out of office and is no longer president he becomes the latest in the list of Sindh’s ‘martyrs’. Then he may be forced to play the Sindh Card or lose Sindh altogether. That he is personally not popular in the province is neither here nor there. These differences the Sindhis will decide to sort out later. The recent Topic Drama of the Sindhi cap and ajrak shawl demonstrated how nationalistic the Sindhis are feeling and how quickly they can be galvanized. Zardari will become their symbol, forced out of office not only because he is a Sindhi but also because he is the martyred Benazir Bhutto’s husband. He may have no choice but to flow with the tidal wave of Sindhi nationalism or get drowned by it. And don’t fool yourself: the MQM will join him with great alacrity. The urban and rural politicians of Sindh will also sort out the differences between themselves later. Remember, when Benazir was assassinated the cry for secession went up in rural Sindh – Pakistan Na Khappay – “Pakistan not wanted.” It was Zardari who smothered it by saying three times: “Pakistan Khappay, Pakistan Khappay, Pakistan Khappay.” This time, he may have no choice but to also say Pakistan Na Khappay. If he does so, collectively with the urban and rural leadership of Sindh, and huge crowds come out to celebrate, there is little we will be able to do to stop it. Chances are that India will recognize them very quickly. What then is to stop other countries from following suit, starting with some of our ‘brotherly’ Muslim countries? The rot has to stop, and it has to stop here and now. Look at the larger interest not only in the long-term but also in the short term. For if the short-term leads to death, there shall be no long term. The only way to avert this is not to save some from accountability but to bring everybody to account across the board without any consideration whatsoever