By Dr. Haider Mehdi

Lisbon Tram in Narrow Streets

In Lisbon, Portugal, the beautiful city of seven hills, ancient electric trams still carry hundreds of thousands of tourists and local residents up and down the narrow cobblestone streets on winding ascending and descending excursions. It is a treat to take a ride on those trams because they inadvertently trigger reminiscence of the romantic past and are a vivid link to the nostalgic bygone days of this city and its people.

But nowadays there is a potential price to be paid for riding these mesmerizing antiquated trams. It is so because pickpocketing is a seriously active profession there. Thousands of people, residents and tourists alike, are daily victims of the pickpocketing gangs that operate with considerable success. My agility and quick reaction saved me from being yet another victim and in fact, I caught the skillful operators red-handed. The experience in itself was an insight into the anatomy of pickpockets.

Contrary to the general impression that pickpockets are poor, deprived, come from the lowest levels of the social strata and are common hoodlums, the fact is that they (men and women) are educated, decent looking, presentable people who wear fashionable outfits, brand-name sunglasses, designer shoes, expensive watches (they can afford all the luxuries because someone else is paying for them) and have pleasant personalities. They operate in organized gangs. They study human behavior. They carefully observe their victims and plan their surreptitious assaults with careful preparation and timing. They surround their victim with precise movements. Each member of the gang does his/her part with fastidious precision and strategy: one distracts the victim’s attention, another operates with absolute and amazing skill to rob and yet others in the gang skillfully do crowd management for quick escape. When caught they counter-blame the victim. They use deceit. They manipulate the situation to their advantage and finally, if nothing works, they resort to coercion, threats, gang violence, bodily harm and even killings. Their anatomy and ‘modus operandi’ is, in itself, a study in human behavior and its failings.

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In essence, pickpockets are like Mafioso (they are themselves an intrinsic part of the mafia), identical to con artists, common crooks, thugs, and organized criminal gangs of all kinds and are a reflection of a deadly sick human mentality and mindset: they suffer from moral turpitude and social alienation which makes it impossible for them to differentiate between right and wrong. They are transfixed on self-interest. They consider trespass and transgressions on others as fundamentally acceptable and justified conduct. They view their infractions and infringements on other beings as guiltless transactions; they believe they have the right (as well as the skills) to live on others’ expenses. They think what works in their favor is all that matters – their casualties (victims) and the injustice and emotional-material suffering that they inflict on them are of no importance. They are human beings without conscience – they are the face of a distorted mentality.

The professional pickpocket’s strategic methods of operation represent a distinct human condition and its existence on a “micro” level – however, this micro level atrocity against civil societies (whenever it operates) can be compared to the “macro” level of a political system and the inhumane and immoral mismanagement in a country like present-day Pakistan.

Both the pickpocket’s strategic methods of operation and the existing political management “pundits” in Pakistan operate on similar models: in today’s Pakistan there is not a shred of moral-based politics – the ruling elite is self-centered, egotistical, involved in corruption and deceit, stealing from the public, indulging in diversionary tactics against public opinion, viewing self-righteousness as a legitimate defense against its political failings, acting in organized membership and manner against the public’s interest, and just as pickpockets can never be credible in a reasoned and civilized society, the present political managers have no creditability with the public at home or with public opinion in the international community.

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Consider the enormity and scale of public distrust in the incumbent political leadership in Pakistan during thecontinuing flood devastations. The ever-generous and caring Pakistani public is unwilling to make direct donations to the government – the official prime minister relief fund has collected only $17.5 million so far. By comparison “Edhi Foundation” will spend more than $35.5 million of private donations. Imran Khan raised Rs. 65 million in a five hour televised phone-in campaign last week. Pop singer Shahzad has so far organized the distribution of “5000 liters of milk, 40,000 liters of water, 4000 ready meals and have installed water purification systems in camps set up to house the five million made homeless…”

The international community is also reluctant to help, fearful that the incumbent regime “which has a reputation for inefficiency and corruption” might embezzle the funds, as it lacks transparency and accountability. The President of our Islamic Republic, amidst this national disaster and agony, has made a holiday trip to his French chateau, the Manoir de la Reine Blanche, which was built for the widow of Philippe the Fourth. The President’s growing “billions” continue to swell without any legitimate business or obvious source of income. The metro-sexual Prime Minister in his designer suits and ties shows no let up to TV camera photo sessions even in this time of grave national crisis. Several senior cabinet ministers have amassed huge fortunes in no time. The organized select group of political managers at the helm of national affairs, instead of seeking a waiver of national debt from international financial institutions, is begging for more loans to create yet another impending national catastrophe of mounting debts in the future – perhaps because “loans” are easier to help transform the select few into greater richness. All of it at the public’s expense – just as pickpockets live at the expense of others. And the main opposition party is frighteningly deficient in its democratic political role as a force to arrest the declining political situation in the country.

The question is: how is this model of governance any different from the pickpocket’s strategic methods of operation? Obviously, it’s not very different. This political management is being conducted with the same level of immorality, with the same sense of disregard for others’ well-being, with the same determination of self-seeking interests, with the same intensity, insensitivity and severity of moral turpitude, and a lack of consciousness that human conduct must be subjected to some ethical norms and standards of acceptable civilized behavior – otherwise politics (as well as personal conduct) becomes simply an exercise in human brutality. And that is exactly what is happening in present-day Pakistan.

It’s a frightening time for every Pakistani (except for those with a pickpocket’s mentality) to watch this political insanity unfold all around us. There is a sense of public outrage and a feeling that anything could happen any moment… and unfortunately none of it will be good.

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Imran Khan has been warning for months. A nationalist government must be installed now. A midterm election must be planned and carried out – nothing short of it will alleviate the ongoing national political-economic-social-psychological and foreign policy disasters of our times.

After all, any civilized nation would like to get rid of the scourge of pickpockets, wouldn’t they?

Then why not be rid of the political managers and the crooks that operate and conduct themselves in the same manner, with the same passion, with the same mindless insanity that wholly hurts the legitimate interests of others?

Sometimes surgical intervention is the best course of action for better health!

Let’s support Imran Khan’s perspective for political change – for better national health!

That is the only sensible course of action available to the nation!!

The writer is an academic, political analyst and conflict-resolution expert