WE are living in times of deceit. Certain developments call for serious introspection if our collective conscience as a nation still pricks us. In the words of Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, if we do not change direction, we may end up where we are heading, an implosion from within.
Pakistan’s greatest crisis is the ‘climate of bigotry’. The worst manifestation of this was the lynching of the non-Muslim Sri Lankan manager of a Sialkot factory on frivolous blasphemy accusations. It was correctly described as “a monumental failure of both policy and moral courage” by this paper. A debate in parliament saw both the government and opposition blaming the lapses in the criminal justice system. No one had the courage to admit that the state policy of appeasement and society’s moral decay has made us hostage to bigotry and violent extremism.
The Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan is a classic example of the state’s abject surrender to a monster created and fostered to unleash violence against those deviating from the path set by the string-pullers. How was the TLP registered as a political party? The ECP asked no questions. Forming a platform of a large chunk of the Barelvi vote bank, it was used as an instrument of political engineering during the 2018 national elections. Both the previous PML-N-led government and the present PTI-led government had to beat a hasty retreat against the marauding hordes of bigots when they resorted to violence and sit-ins to achieve the agenda of certain undemocratic forces.
Another malady is the ‘culture of impunity’. Corruption has permeated every walk of life. A source in NAB revealed that bureaucrats and businessmen were more corrupt than politicians. What about sacred cows among judges and generals? No, we cannot mention their alleged corrupt practices. Sadly, many civil servants, including police officers, lack the courage to resist the pressure exerted by some chief executives and ministers to facilitate malpractice and misuse their authority. Files move faster when palms are greased. No wonder Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index ranked Pakistan 140 out of 180 countries, with a low CPI score of 28 during 2021, indicating a drop of 16 places from its previous ranking.
Both state and society need to initiate a serious dialogue to ensure ‘a stable and secure Pakistan’.
The phenomenon of ‘elite capture’ is reflected in the farcical accountability process. Both the military and civilian governments have misused the institution that was ostensibly created to carry out across-the-board accountability. NAB is an utter failure. It lacks transparency, autonomy and integrity. The process of appointment of its chairman has become tainted. Prime ministers and leaders of the opposition who selected successive NAB chiefs know they succumbed to the machinations of the string-pullers.
NAB has been consistently used as an instrument of political engineering and arm-twisting. Recent amendments in the NAB law have rendered it a toothless body whose chief serves at the pleasure of the ruling elite. “Without strong watchdog institutions, impunity becomes the very foundation upon which systems of corruption are built. And if impunity is not demolished, all efforts to bring an end to corruption are in vain,” said Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchu. If we cannot select a person of unimpeachable integrity, absolute impartiality and unquestioned professional ability, then we might as well shut down NAB.
Another unresolved malady is the issue of missing persons or ‘enforced disappearances’, a wound that continues to fester due to the impunity enjoyed by certain state agencies. A bill passed by the relevant standing committee and National Assembly went ‘missing’ recently after it was sent to the Senate. Strange things happen in our Wonderland. The enactment of a law criminalising ‘enforced disappearances’ is a long-standing demand of bodies like Amnesty International and HRCP. The issue of missing persons that surfaced in the hinterlands of Balochistan and erstwhile Fata on the pretext of combating terrorism and insurgency have been extended to the rest of the country, including Islamabad.
Human Rights Watch in its World Report 2022 pointed out that Pakistani “authorities expanded their use of draconian sedition and counterterrorism laws to stifle dissent and strictly regulated civil society groups critical of government actions and policies” during 2021 — an indictment reinforced by the observations of the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors that recently expressed concern over the increasing attempts to stifle the media and curb the right of access to information. This plight of the media is yet another legacy of creeping authoritarianism and shrinking space for democracy.
Allegations of the misuse of the blasphemy law are a constant threat to minorities here, while the rising cases of forced conversions are causing much anguish. Reportedly, the number rose to 60 cases in 2021 from 15 in 2020. The recent killing of a Christian clergyman in Peshawar is a grim reminder of the continuing targeting of religious minorities. Violence against women remains endemic. Out of the 129 cases of violence recorded against women in Balochistan in 2021, 49 pertained to ‘honour’ killing, reported Aurat Foundation.
Against this backdrop, both state and society need to initiate a serious dialogue to ensure “a stable and secure Pakistan where citizens enjoy their constitutional privileges and are protected against violence, extremism, and crime, and where rule of law is upheld equally for all”. This objective is spelt out in the recently approved National Security Policy which correctly identifies internal security fault lines like terrorism, violent extremism, sectarianism and organised crime but fails to provide a roadmap to achieve the objectives of upholding the rule of law, promoting good governance, ensuring across-the-board accountability and countering terrorism and violent extremism.
According to the World Justice Project, Pakistan ranks 130 out of 139 countries on rule of law. The prime minister, in a recent article, declared that the “most urgent of all challenges facing our country” was the “struggle to establish the rule of law”. He said that “powerful and crooked politicians, cartels and mafias have become accustomed to being above the law in order to protect their privileges gained through a corrupt system”. If he seriously wants to defeat such elements, he should first set his own house in order by paying heed to what George Eliot said: “It is never too late to be what you might have been.”
The writer is a former IG police and currently director of Centre for Governance Research.
Published in Dawn, February 10th, 2022