‘V’ for vendetta

16 Nov 2019


SOME cruel little boys torment insects by pulling out their wings. Once a video went viral showing a young French Algerian torturing a cat. He was arrested and jailed.

Occasionally, these nasty tendencies remain part of a person’s character, and infli­cting suffering gives him a perverse pleasure. Others think this viciousness is part of their job of controlling those in their power.

It is this last attitude that is probably motivating the government into preventing Nawaz Sharif from seeking medical treatment abroad. The whole business of demanding an outrageous surety bond of Rs7 billion reeks of ransom.

Just as we have a duopoly of power between a seemingly elected government and the security establishment, the government appears to share authority with the judiciary. Thus, even though the legal process to enable Sharif to leave the country has been completed, he has run into a tangle of red tape spun by NAB and the cabinet. Nobody appears to accept responsibility for his release and travel abroad. Clearly, this case is a hot potato, but somebody needs to step up as Sharif is far too ill to be treated like a political football.

Many in the government and the so-called punditry pooh-pooh Sharif’s medical condition as minor, and as a ploy to escape the many legal cases he faces. I just hope they never suffer from this ailment. Although I’m no doctor, I, too, have a low platelet count (though mercifully not as low as Sharif’s), and can attest to the fatigue and energy loss this causes.

Nasty tendencies remain part of a person’s character.

A few years ago, Sharif went to London for a heart bypass; again, mindless (and heartless) people said this was a minor operation that could be easily performed in Pakistan. Perhaps it could, but it is certainly not minor. Again, speaking from personal experience, I can recall the post-op pain of having the chest cut wide open, and the heart removed while the arteries are cleaned of plaque.

I still remember a photograph of Benazir Bhutto, with her young daughter Bakhtawar, sitting on some bricks outside Karachi jail where her husband Asif Zardari had been incarcerated in the 1990s. They were waiting to see him while the jail superintendent did not have the courtesy of asking her to wait in his room.

Zardari served nine years for allegations that remain unproved. He’s back in jail, facing charges that still remain unsubstantiated. I hold no brief for him, but judging from his lifestyle over the years, have no doubt he has a lot to answer for. However, the law holds him innocent until proved guilty.

Perhaps the most notorious example of political victimisation and gratuitous cruelty in our history is Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s travesty of a trial, and his subsequent incarceration and cruel judicial murder. His assassination under military rule continues to divide the country, casting a long shadow. I disagree with several of his policies, but abhor the way he was treated.

So when, despite publicly acknowledged rigging, Benazir Bhutto came to power in 1988, I was sure she wouldn’t last long in office: as a woman, a Sindhi and a Bhutto, her days in office were numbered.

I have often been accused as being pro-PPP, as if that were a major crime. It is true that for years, I supported the party for its liberal stance on a number of issues. But after living under its corruption and terrible governance, I grew increasingly disillusioned, and now take an objective view of its role. Its collapse as a nationwide party and loss of relevance have been both a personal disappointment and a national disaster.

We are now left with a collection of religious and right-wing parties that push a jingoistic, nationalistic and extremist narrative. Indifferent to the people’s real requirements, and the pressing need to bind a nation that is being torn apart along sectarian and regional lines, they focus on a false sense of physical development imposed without seeking popular input.

While we sink deeper into the hole we have dug for ourselves, the establishment remains the elephant in the room. But despite our many reservations about this controversial institution, it remains an essential bond that’s holding the country together.

There remains no consensus on our direction and goals, and no effort at building one. This government, with its narrow agenda of vendetta and vindictiveness, seems incapable of addressing the huge problems that face the country. A leader with an open mind and a big heart would have been more generous to his political rivals to bring them closer. But Imran Khan’s arrogant and perpetually angry temperament excludes such a possibility.

A depressing sign of his intolerance is evident in the ongoing crackdown on the media. His comment that our media is freer than its British counterpart would have been laughable had it not been so ridiculous. TV interviews are pulled off the air in midstream, and some anchors banned.

Welcome to the New Pakistan.


Published in Dawn, November 16th, 2019