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Lives that mattered

January 18, 2014


THE interior minister says efforts aimed at negotiating peace with the Taliban have been restarted and that his counterterrorism strategy is nearly ready. On both these counts, we’ll have to take Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan’s word as whatever is happening here is happening behind closed doors.

Let’s look at what is in the public domain: an unchecked existential threat to the country which has claimed thousands of lives so far. Also, while the counterterrorism strategy is nearing its final shape, or so we are told, a series of moves by the Nawaz Sharif government has filled one with disdain.

Among the foremost is the interior minister’s sacking of the Nadra (National Database and Registration Authority) chief, the latter’s restoration by a high court, and then some terribly dirty tricks to force him to resign.

It is said many agencies under the interior minister were assigned the task of forcing out the reinstated Nadra chief. The tactics allegedly used included threats to his daughter. As a parent, I can understand why he quickly capitulated to the pressure, despite having been vindicated by the courts.

In our security environment today when serving generals are targeted at will by the terrorists, when senior police officers are mowed down mercilessly in broad daylight, how is an individual supposed to protect himself and his loved ones when facing the wrath of a state machinery gone rogue?

Who knows if the interior minister’s charges against the Nadra chief carried weight? The timing of the action against him gives the whole affair a terrible stink. Nadra was about to comply with court orders for the verification of voters’ thumb impressions in some key Punjab constituencies won by PML-N in very tight contests.

Tariq Malik, we are told, has been replaced by one of Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan’s minions, the additional secretary of the interior ministry. There have been other attempts to beat various key officials into submission. The Accountant-General Pakistan Revenue also received relief from the high court after a PML-N attempt to get rid of him. The government seems to want unbridled powers.

But let’s keep our focus firmly on matters to do with law and order. Against the backdrop of dithering on how to deal with the mass-murdering Taliban, the only positive decision those at the helm took was to restore law and order to lawless Karachi. The ‘operation’ was never going to deliver results in the ‘30’ days Nisar Ali Khan thought it would. But it is clearly beginning to bite.

Where initially criminals of different hues chose to lie low and sit out the operation, the relentless effort of law-enforcement officials is drawing them out into the open. Perhaps fighting a battle for survival as the noose tightens around their necks, they are hitting out. One can see this in the increased ferocity of attacks on the police, who have lost dozens of men in recent weeks, and Rangers.

And how does the leader of the party in power in Sindh and the country’s former president reportedly respond? Wants a favourite, said to be a former schoolmate, and a loyalist, posted to a key position in one of the areas where the battle for Karachi’s soul is being fought. This man’s recent claim to fame is that when posted here last, he ran the area keeping the interests of land-grabbers and other criminal undertakings supreme.

We are right to lament how timid are our leaders when dealing with mass murderers, how they seek power sans accountability and how personal loyalty often guides their hand rather than the good of the electorate that has put them in office. Little wonder we are so filled with such desolation, such desperation.

Yes, as the young and talented writer Nadir Hassan argued in his column for The News earlier this week, in our desperate quest for heroes we are increasingly tending to wipe clean the past of those we want to see as such. That police official Chaudhry Aslam stood up to the TTP was enough for us to push into the background his reputation as an ‘encounter’ specialist.

Nadir made me think of another example, that of the former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. His famous ‘no’ was all we were willing to remember and nothing from before that. But I am not going to devote any more time to people who treaded that thin line between heroism and villainy, fame and infamy. I have just heard of the passing of someone very dear, very close. Let’s celebrate Musadiq Sanwal’s life.

Musadiq may have been an ordinary Pakistani and you may never have heard of him but he was an extraordinary man. He dared to dream dreams. An NCA graduate, he was a creative powerhouse, a web-journalist, who made a mark wherever he worked including the BBC. He gave its present shape.

Many feel a desperate, profound loss today as he was a friend who represented a zest for life, epitomised warmth, love, humanity and respect. An accomplished classical singer, he filled his own life, and the lives of those he touched, with music.

He was a devoted family man whose world revolved around his lovely wife Shahla and their two children Dara and Soorat. He travelled around the world for them. He seemed to swell with pride when talking of them. And never did we meet when he didn’t. God knows best why a life has to end when it’s so beautiful, still so filled with promise and when all it represents is intricate, alluring ragas, delightful thumris, enchanting kaafis and compelling laughter.

RIP Musadiq Sanwal.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.