Veiled & institutional wrongs

July 19, 2018


ON the eve of election 2018, people find themselves assailed by growing fears of violence and poll manipulation and are frustrated by the state’s reluctance to intervene on the citizens’ behalf which borders on collusion.

The terrorist attacks on election candidates in Mastung, Peshawar and Bannu have, on the one hand, undermined hopes of a peaceful poll, and, on the other, have exposed the inability of the security forces to protect candidates, their workers and other citizens. One wonders whether the terrorist groups’ decision to spare some parties and candidates amounts to their endorsement of them. More important is the fact that on polling day, the candidates, the polling agents, the polling staff and the voters will be under great fear and stress, and that could hamper fair polling.

Further, the powers-that-be have resolved not to listen to the public clamour against pre-poll rigging. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan is convinced that the election has already been massively manipulated. The Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency found the environment unfavourable to fair polling quite sometime ago. According to Gallup, those who think the election will be fair are in a minority. A group of eminent professors, including A. Samad, Pervez Hoodbhoy and Rasul Bakhsh Rais, and author Ahmed Rashid, have protested against electoral manipulation to the Punjab caretaker chief minister and asked him to resign if he cannot set things right. The president of the All Pakistan Newspapers Society has spoken of large-scale manipulation of the electoral process. The attacks on media freedom are visible to all and sundry. The state sees no evil, hears no evil.

The self-evident truth in Pakistan today is that the 2018 election has already been manipulated beyond repair.

There was a time when the public perception of injustice was considered more important than the factual evidence of injustice, when zaban-i-khalq (voice of the people) was accepted as naqqara-i-Khuda (Divine proclamation). No more. Now the people are told to bring proof of wrongdoing by parties they seem mortally afraid of naming. This excuse for avoiding one’s duty is assailable on two grounds.

Firstly, the world is aware of forms of tyranny, torture and subtle arm-twisting that leave no trace of legally cognisable evidence except for the victim’s testimony if he were brave enough to offer it. Despite the slaves’ inability to provide evidence, the world recognised the evil of slavery. The injustices inherent in the patriarchal system have been recognised even though a majority of women of Pakistan are unable to offer evidence before their male tormenters. The world recognises what are called self-evident truths, and the self-evident truth in Pakistan today is that the 2018 election has already been manipulated beyond repair by elements that are apparently more powerful than the ECP.

Secondly, how can the government decline to investigate complaints of electoral manipulation? It has a duty to investigate a crime even if a complainant cannot identify the culprit. If the people are for any reason unable to name a wrongdoer or to furnish evidence, the authorities have a clear duty to probe the causes. Maybe they will find a situation like what is conveyed in the popular Urdu hemistich “wohi qatl bhi karey hai, wohi lay sawab ulta” (strange that the one who kills is coming forward to claim the reward).

The state’s apparent abdication of its responsibility to address citizens’ concerns has brought into focus wrongdoing including corruption by institutions.

The subcontinent’s population has a long tradition of ignoring wrongdoing, including oppression, corruption and injustice if the custodians of power can remove some individual grievances. A large number of people still recall the colonial rule as the most benevolent dispensation they ever had .Only because of their efficient policing, the colonial rulers’ misdeeds are ignored. No notice is taken of the fact that the colonial masters did no justice between the natives and the ruling race, favoured feudals at the cost of other subjects’ interests and gathered so much wealth from the colony that they could finance industrialisation at home and in friendly countries. It was a most corrupt order.

Likewise, many Pakistanis still praise the Ayub regime for its development work and policing of the country, and do not take into account its drive to bury the system of representative rule, its attacks on the judiciary’s independence and its policies that made 22 families richer and the masses poorer. There are people who hail Ziaul Haq for his promotion of religiosity and ignore the creation of a parallel judicial system that the judiciary opposed for quite sometime, and give him credit for constitutional changes though they destroyed the democratic spirit of the Constitution.

The most worrisome fact about the state of Pakistan today is that, while addressing individual wrongs, the institutions concerned are transgressing law and propriety. For instance, in the drive to fight individual corruption, the institutions concerned are resorting to measures that cannot be excluded from the category of unfair practices.

Similarly, much wrong is being done under the law made to proceed against terrorists. True, the anti-terrorism courts have convicted a good number of people accused of terrorism but the abuse of the law cannot be denied. The worst victims of the Anti-Terrorism Act have been factory workers and political dissidents. The Punjab government wanted to haul up more that 17,000 political activists under the anti-terrorism law. The chief election commissioner does not like this. But he is as powerless in this matter as the Gilgit-Baltistan administration has been in dropping the ATA charge against the most widely respected lawyer Ehsan Ali, or the popular icon Babajan. The use of ATA against political dissidents amounts to institutional corruption and is worse than any individual wrongdoing. (Since this was written, the government is reported to have decided not to charge PML-N workers for the Friday rally under the ATA. But the potential abuse of the law cannot be contested.)

Although there is a broad agreement among political observers about the election results, they would do well not to rule out the ordinary voter’s ability to defy his handlers. However, whatever the result, one should like to hope and pray that in the post-election years it will be possible to arrest the drift towards institutional corruption.

Published in Dawn, July 19th, 2018