It’s all about politics

Updated 11 Oct 2020

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The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

ALTHOUGH described as explosive, the disclosures made by former director general of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Bashir Memon were not surprising and appeared eminently plausible.

In an interview with journalist Matiullah Jan for his YouTube channel, the former FIA chief made several claims that would, under normal circumstances, be damaging, even damning, for a sitting prime minister and his government.

I say in normal circumstances because for an elected prime minister the public perception of his conduct in office would be a prime concern as would be his adherence to the rule of law. But we exist in bizarre times, far from being normal.

Our present has a prime minister telling cheering supporters, lawyers belonging to his party, “I am democracy” and also conceding that the country’s premier intelligence agency, ISI, keeps an eye on elected holders of public office, including the country’s chief executive.

The name-calling game is stale and bereft of imagination. Yet it is played each time.

This, when the ISI is required by law to report to the prime minister. Since it was a monologue, a speech to unquestioning camp followers, he was not asked, as he would have been at a press conference for example, which law allows the security services to spy on their prime minister.

It was interesting to see Imran Khan using this line of attack to target the opposition when he said the politicians in his opposite camp wanted to ‘control’ the ISI because the agency kept an eye on their corruption.

He said the ISI knows he is not corrupt so he has nothing to fear from it. As the prime minister has started feeling the heat following the change of gears by the opposition and the formation of the PDM, it is understandable he will move ever closer to those he sees as staunch allies.

Ergo, the change in language. Whereas earlier it was the ‘same page’ in policy and personal terms with powerful institutions that he found strength in, now he has moved further down that road in saying that the premier intelligence agency respects his integrity, his person.

If the PDM is successful in mounting more pressure on his government, one would expect him to invoke institutions that have allegedly backed his march into office and allowed him a comfort zone for the past two years, even where his government’s performance has been abysmal.

Imran Khan has never been apologetic about wanting to fill the jails with those he considers corrupt. Equally, the establishment may have nurtured civilian political allies for more than 60 years through patronage, loan write-offs and permits, and other such goodies, but when its supremacy is questioned it loses no time in labelling those stepping out of line corrupt.

It has been known to use media leaks, the now defunct Eighth Amendment and later weaponised the ‘JIT’ against sitting prime ministers for ‘corruption’. But there comes a time when the corrupt label loses its teeth. Notwithstanding years of its use, the label does not produce one credible legal verdict, the adhesive, to make it stick.

This is when the foreign agent card is played. And the patriotism of even those having been elected to high office multiple times is brought into question; they are accused of speaking the enemy’s language each time they challenge those who consider themselves beyond reproach.

This whole name-calling game is stale and bereft of imagination. Yet it is played each time those in positions of near-unquestioned authority feel a bit vulnerable on their exalted perch. Surely, they can do better. Find newer ideas to weaponise and deploy against critics.

But no. Fresh ideas need imagination; take time to develop. Why bother when you can reach into the decades-old quiver and pull out an arrow with corruption or enemy agent written across it, and bingo!

If years of repeated use has blunted the tip, it may not pierce, but bruise it will. At least that is the hope. It will bruise even bluer and blacker if you dip the tip in the terrorism allegation potion or the charge of bringing into disrepute sacred cows. Job done?

To a point. Not beyond. I suspect the opposition tried to play the appeasement card, not out of love for the PTI, but in pure deference to the PTI’s alleged backers. However, for two years all its leaders got in return was being beaten black and blue.

So, one or two among them said enough is enough. The others agreed. At least for the moment. The opposition has suddenly transformed itself from a docile, deal-seeking entity to one that will now match the government blow for blow. Let’s see if it has the depth of commitment and the breadth of support in key parts of the country to be effective at this.

This state of play has to be the backdrop for Bashir Memon ‘revelations’ that as DG FIA he incurred the wrath of the prime minister for not instituting terrorism, corruption and even sedition cases against the PML-N leaders.

These disclosures must form part of the political jigsaw game taking shape in the country. We will see it better and far more clearly when some more pieces have fallen into place. I say this because of what the former FIA boss said.

He said he was pressured to register cases (money-laundering, corruption) against Shahbaz Sharif and his family in the ‘56’ fake companies’ accounts cases but refused citing provincial anti-corruption jurisdiction.

Inevitably, one would be forced to ask whether a similar provincial jurisdiction argument should also have impeded his fake accounts investigation and cases against the PPP leaders. It did not and they are currently facing prosecution.

To be honest, it has always been about politics, power grabs and not really about anything else. Just look at delivery, particularly, in the economic sphere over the past decade and you will know what this is all about.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

abbas.nasir@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, October 11th, 2020