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Scandal

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WELL, this is fun. And like most things fun, the well-meaning sort will tell us not to enjoy it, to be worried about the consequences, to think of systems.

But let’s hear it for scandal.

This sudden, unexpected, most delicious season of scandal — scandal that has broken on us and over us in wave after surprising wave.

It’s hard to keep track. Supreme Court tearing into government. Politicians tearing into the Supreme Court.

The new chief sullied before he can settle in; a DGI tainted by association, attacked before he’s spent a day in Aabpara.

The old chief’s allies fretting about a purge; the new chief’s fans toasting the purge. And, amidst the new cacophony, the oldest game of all: politicians eviscerating politicians.

Who knew an outbreak of stability could look like this.

Let’s start from the beginning. Nawaz has made it past a triple threat: the Isloo lockdown; a delicate transition; and a trip to the court.

He wasn’t going to coast — nothing attracts instability like the perception of stability here — but the grenades in his path were fewer.

At least two of his problems were tied to the calendar: the exit of the two chiefs. By their nature — and the nature of the chiefs — exits are a tricky thing.


The new tradition — if scandal, chutzpah and derring-do can sustain it — smashes the old tradition.


Because either legacy or continuity are on their minds and that usually spells trouble for whoever is in the civilian passenger seat.

The third of Nawaz’s problems — Imran — wasn’t time-bound, but Imran is both instigator and chief beneficiary of many of Nawaz’s problems, so Imran is always a problem.

Triple threat defused, 2016 navigated, onwards to pre-election 2017 — all systems go.

But then the system seemed to crash in on itself, shrapnel flying at principals, damage being inflicted on collateral.

Before we could marvel at stable Pakistan, Pakistan reverted to type and left us gasping and gaping again.

The scandals are so many as to defy classification. A whispering campaign from within the boys against a new chief? Unheard of. A slashing, public campaign against a new DG ISI? Ditto.

A Supreme Court justice methodically deconstructing a massacre and fearlessly apportioning blame — perhaps in the older tradition of the court, but certainly not of recent times.

And the Supreme Court itself attacked by politicians and the media — again, not something from this century and surely unheard of since the heady days of Iftikhar Chaudhry and his iron gavel.

It’s so target-rich that a bunch of pols creating a ruckus in parliament has been almost a quaint side affair — by the by, did you hear what the PTI and PML-N have done now?

But let’s hear it for scandal — because it may be what we need. For at least two reasons.

First, scandal is a signal of openness. Of systems open to wild, woolly and rabid attacks, yes, but also of systems open to the democratisation of critique, criticism and attack.

Compare the new with the old. Going after the outgoing chap or the newly exited is easy enough — and even something of a tradition here.

Once Raheel was gone for sure and the ISPR was to have a new DG, the punches didn’t need to be pulled anymore. Ditto for a chief justice, given the — very real — fear of contempt.

Reach further back and the rules even more bendable, the attacks freewheeling. Think of what can be said about Musharraf today. And if ruling exposed him to more, think of what can be said about Aslam Beg or Asad Durrani.

No one, not even from his rabid cohort, thinks to dissuade anything against Iftikhar Chaudhry today.

That’s the old tradition. If there was one inviolable tenet of the old tradition, it was that you don’t — can’t — say anything about the chap on his way in or a chief who’s settling in.

The new tradition — if scandal, chutzpah and derring-do can sustain it — smashes the old tradition. No more post-mortems; you’re on early and instantly notice that your spin doesn’t matter, the results do.

It helps as a starting point that there’s a twin assault — against the boys and the court. Partisans can’t dismiss it as engineered, manipulated or too-slyly focused.

It’s wild and woolly enough to defy narrow categorisation or fit into believable (!) conspiracy. It’s organic, not orchestrated. It works.

Or it can work. If the second part kicks in.

We’ve seen two possibilities in recent days. The institutional, sensible, calibrated assault is the Quetta report. It is in many ways magnificent.

A sophisticated mind applied itself to a complex problem and methodically mapped out the systemic and personnel deficiencies.

If followed through on, the report could fix much. But there also lies the problem: smart, sophisticated deconstructions rely on smart, sophisticated solutions by smart, sophisticated actors.

Pakistan is anything but.

Missing, usually, always, is the element of sustained pressure for change, the element that can catalyse change.

There lies the role for scandal.

Last week it was PK661, this week it’s the Quetta report, next week it could be yours truly. Blamed are incidents, never principals.

But if that changes, if scandal spreads beyond just the political sort and engulfs the system — all principals not just the civilians — pressure may build.

And the first step to pressure is to strip away the aura, to make it not just possible but reasonable to attack — even if the attack is unreasonable.

Too much scandal, too much chaos, the effect will be perverse. But too little of it and we’re left with too many sacred cows in a country of arch carnivores.

Let scandal devour the beast. It may yet work.

The writer is a member of staff.

cyril.a@gmail.com

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn December 18th, 2016



The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


Comments (20) Closed



Shibban Kaul Dec 18, 2016 09:05am

Mr Almeida, you are one of a handful of Pak columnists who give your opinion fearlessly, truthfully without favour or bias, without twisting and distorting facts. Hats off to you Sir. Yes, we also feel the positive changes taking place in Pakistan, which has been so far in the grip of boys in boots, dictating policies to the government with 'do-or-else..' threat, written in invisible ink on every dictated page. We do hope the new COAS and his 'boys' confine themselves to defending Pakistan, nothing more and nothing less, and leave day-to-day governance to the popularly elected government, including its foreign policies. Some early swallows of coming spring in Pakistan have already flown in: Supreme Court's report on Quetta carnage, Dr Abdus Salaam's rehabilitation, fresh legislation to protect minority rights. But flocks of swallows must keep flying in to usher in a Spring in all its glory. Have a nice Sunday!!!

ShahHUSSAIN Dec 18, 2016 10:47am

CA always gives the impression that he knows all. Amidst his own-styled verbosity , most suited to his style of journalism, he runs his horses of fancy and imagination. A good piece of writeup always identify the problem, enumerate its cuases and give some suggestions as to remedy the situation. Alas, i am still waiting for such piece from the famed CA.

Umar Dec 18, 2016 01:10pm

the usual babble full of conjecture and nothing concrete.

Parvez Dec 18, 2016 01:21pm

When State institutions are systematically destroyed and even the media's role is suspect ....... rumor, scandal and the likes will flourish.

Anwar Mahmood Dec 18, 2016 03:02pm

Let there be scandals or no scandals, but none should try to hurt Pakistan. Pakistan must be admired for standing up to six or seven times more populous neighbour, who is hell bent to damage Paks.

Even one of India's minister once said after separation of Bangladesh as such:

' Pakistan appears to have become leaner but stronger after 1971."

Panamagate is not everything about Pakistan as Imran Khan thinks. Pakistan's economy is growing 5 percent or just about same as growth rate of China or India now.Pakistan's beauty and tallest 60 percent mountain peaks, world's largest six glaciers and incomparable beauty of its people, especially in the north, makes Pakistan very attractive country.

Let the scandal Panama gate not succeed in PM Nawaz Sharif from completing his tenure for Pak stability reasons.

Pakistan is ever very lovable country and scandals are just come and go things.

M. Malik Dec 18, 2016 03:13pm

@Anwar Mahmood - Very glowing depiction of the country.

I bet 99.9% of the people - who don't live in the glaciers, or the high peaks or northern areas of the country - but those who are struggling to make ends meet across the country, grappling with poor quality of education for their kids; unclean drinking water or blackouts; inadequate healt-care or security - would tend to disagree with your very positive assessment.

I assume you do read newspapers or watch local TV channels - other than posting very upbeat and positive spin on the country??

Zubair Khan Dec 18, 2016 03:23pm

Being ex of this institution I know transition takes 3 months to get settled. Reshuffling at top brass indicates how New will march forward. From this institution nothing to worry.

Skeptic Dec 18, 2016 03:38pm

@Anwar Mahmood - India's GDP growth rate for 2016 is around 7.5%.

China's growth rate is around 6.7% for 2016.

Both China and India have far far bigger and much more diversified economies than Pakistan.

Pakistan GDP growth rate is estimated at 4.7% for 2016, and shrinking.

Your assertion of "5% or just about the same growth rate of China or India" is bogus.

Do you see much reason to be so optimistic? Or do you believe everything that this government likes to claim by manipulating data and financial statistics??

khanm Dec 18, 2016 03:57pm

with due respect.. did scandals ever hinder the selection in our co called elections.. again with due respect we are an ethnic based society. we are more loyal to the region and area we belong to rather than to our own country. Scandals are merely gossip made tedious by morality and what morality, must i elaborate any further..we have made a history of scandals after scandals, how i wish in the land of bleating sheep and braying jackasses, if one brave an honest man can create a scandal...

AtherOTH Dec 18, 2016 05:43pm

@Umar Its an opinion piece, not a treatise. The author honestly describes the emergent picture he sees through recent events.

Shahid Dec 18, 2016 06:56pm

'Blamed are incidents, never principals'. The problem is some look for incidences to qualify as blamed; tools in the hands of perceived principals. It does not have to be. Besides it confuses even 'scandals'.

pink noise Dec 18, 2016 07:37pm

So honest & clear.

Jan Dec 18, 2016 07:49pm

@M. Malik - If you don't respect yourself , then nobody else will respect you . You fall, you stand up and keep moving on. Life is not a bed of roses but living it with negative thoughts and wasting time lamenting at your sorry present and bleak future is a sure shot recipe for failure. Dream and dream big if you may.

quest Dec 18, 2016 07:54pm

Scandals don't change the world, people do !

M. Malik Dec 18, 2016 08:14pm

@Jan - Thank you for your pontification. But I speak as I a see things fully awake. I don't live in fantasy world with idealistic vision, or easily swayed by empty promises and glowing projections and dreams - like some do.

Those who achieve anything in life, don't just day-dream, but take action to achieve their goals through preparation, keeping an eye and an ear open to grab opportunities when they knock on the door. Without self-examination of where the country is failing is deluding yourself to think all is well if we just ignore the negative news or failures of our leaders and the ignorant voters who elect them.

Shahid Dec 18, 2016 08:53pm

@quest Do you man 'people' behind scandals?

M.Saeed Dec 18, 2016 10:55pm

This is time for straight talk that should hit the mind and stays there for working towards the logical positive results. Our politicians are not any Churchills to solve the riddling phrases.

bkt Dec 19, 2016 12:12am

Tongue tied with a lot of imagery. The game's afoot. Lets see who scores and who wins.

imran Dec 19, 2016 06:56pm

his write up style is artistic, yes. He doesn't need to write up in essay style. But the product he comes up with is truly relevant and not 'know-all' as some may think.

Sara Dec 19, 2016 08:28pm

Well another dipressed write up,