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The reign of Gullu Butts

June 23, 2014

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The writer is a lawyer.
The writer is a lawyer.

THE Model Town operation that claimed 10 precious lives and its aftermath highlight much of what is wrong with today’s Pakistan. The legitimacy of state authority is already in tatters. The Gullu Butt mode of governance in Punjab just made it two notches harder for defenders of democracy to advocate continuity of the political process as the best long-term solution to our ills. What excuse does Shahbaz Sharif have for passing on responsibility for the carnage under his nose in his own neighbourhood?

Why do public officials resign? Do they resign when found guilty of heinous crimes or to redeem the moral authority of the government? The South Korean prime minister, Chung Hong-won, resigned in April over the Sewol ferry disaster. He had not ordered that the ferry be capsized or that the rescue be bungled. “Keeping my post is too great a burden on the administration,” his resignation statement said. “…On behalf of the government I apologise for the many problems from the prevention of the accident to the early handling of the disaster.”


Do public officials resign when found guilty of heinous crimes or to redeem the moral authority of the government?


Shahbaz Sharif has somberly announced that he will resign if the judicial commission finds him responsible for the killing of Tahirul Qadri’s (TUQ) supporters. But why not hold off till after being found guilty of murder or manslaughter by a court?

Mr Sharif has ruled Punjab with an iron fist for the last six years. Ten people were killed and dozens grievously injured under his watch in a planned operation where police fired live rounds. Everyone watched police brutality being indiscriminately unleashed on women, children and the elderly on live TV. What died along with the civilians was the myth that de-institutionalised hands-on autocratic rule can be packaged as good governance.

And what does Mr Sharif wish to do now? He wishes to punish minions and hold them responsible for the culpability or the failing of his administration. Passing the buck and making scapegoats out of loyalists and subordinates are acts perfected by our ruling elite. The younger Sharif has now made it clear that he will follow and strengthen this entrenched tradition.

The most charitable explanation of the Model Town carnage is that the PML-N wanted to raise the stakes for TUQ followers and put the fear of the devil in them should they be planning to throng the streets later this month. The operation was executed the day a new inspector general of police was assuming charge. In all likelihood he wasn’t involved in the planning. But that didn’t prevent him from holding a press conference to justify the murderous acts of his force as self-defence.

Thrown in at the deep end by his political bosses on the first day of his new job, Mushtaq Sukhera might have felt slighted. But why take personal affront when at stake is the biggest job everyone in your service vies for and you finally have it at the twilight of your career? Why not simply avoid looking at the mirror for a few days like a conscientious public servant? Or better still declare that the dreamy ideas, that the police are only to follow legitimate commands of the political masters or that it is meant to serve the citizenry, are now obsolete and must be discarded?

In addition to moral bankruptcy, our key law and order challenge is the toxic combination of inability, incapacity and a culture of impunity. If the idea was to drive home the message to TUQ supporters that the ‘revolution march’ in 2014 will be unlike the walk in the park in 2012, Good-Governance Sharif and his blue-eyed babus in the police and district management couldn’t even manage that properly.

The plot seemed simple enough. The administration and the police would come under attack while removing illegal barricades outside TUQ’s headquarters. It would appear that the Gullu Butts were TUQ revolutionaries torching public property and attacking law enforcement agents having been incited by TUQ. In self-defence and to maintain public order the police would be forced to act tough. In this process TUQ supporters would get beaten up. The message would stand delivered: come out but at serious peril to your physical safety.

TUQ would blame the PML-N for the melee. PML-N would blame him back. As all of Pakistan would be focused on the North Waziristan operation, TUQ, the miscreant focused on derailing democracy and constitutionalism in Pakistan and distracting the nation at a time when it needs to stand united against terror, would come out looking bad.

But it all went horribly wrong. During the operation command and control was virtually absent. No water cannons were brought in. No tear gas was used. No rubber bullets were fired. And together with Gullu, police brutality, indiscipline and impunity were telecast live to a nation aghast. Is this the police force that will act as the first line of defence against terror across Pakistan? Will it lead the more crucial phase of our fight against terror once the army reclaims North Waziristan and the war between militants and the state moves to urban centres?

If self-pity is ever forgivable it should be now. Many of us lament civil-military imbalance in Pakistan as a primordial fault line holding this country back and see TUQ as a pawn in that old game. But do we expect an inebriated political elite suffering from self-induced delusions of grandeur to fix this historical imbalance — a political elite incapable of removing barricades from outside a political non-entity’s house without killing citizens and shooting itself in the foot?

If there is ever a justification for exercise of Article 184(3) suo moto powers, it is in cases where the state grossly abuses authority and the possibility of delivering justice to aggrieved citizens is dismal unless the Supreme Court throws its institutional weight behind citizens to even the odds against them. Like the missing persons’ case, the Model Town killings call for such an exercise. No disrespect to the lordships, but will justice come to be seen as ethnicity-blind in Pakistan? Will malfeasance of Punjabi political elite attract judicial scrutiny?

The writer is a lawyer.

sattar@post.harvard.edu

Twitter: @babar_sattar

Published in Dawn, June 23rd , 2014