They do protest too much

04 Sep 2011


IN Shakespeare’s tragedy, Hamlet, the eponymous hero’s mother, the Queen, ironically remarks about a character in a play her son is staging, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”, indicating that passionate insistence usually has the effect of making others believe the opposite of what is said.

The unfolding tragedy of the law-and-order situation in Pakistan’s ailing economic capital, Karachi, has created a number of passionate protesters.

Each of Sindh’s coalition parties, the MQM, the ANP and the PPP, vehemently denies the existence of militant wings responsible for any of the 1,500-plus killings in the city this year — although they may grant the ‘possibility’ of their particular ethnic community members being involved in revenge killings (he hit me first).

Thus hundreds are being slaughtered, bodies flung casually in the streets or gunny-bagged, whilst each party blames the criminal elements patronised by opposing political, ethnic or religious factions.

The police, another passionate protester, deny that they are under any kind of political pressure, but cannot explain why they have not been able to arrest the killers or identify their patrons. The state in Sindh, presently being run by three passionate protesters with the fourth as its enforcement arm, has clearly abdicated its primary duty to protect the lives and properties of its citizens.

Karachi industrialist Majyd Aziz recently articulated the mounting frustration of the business community in a boldly written article, ‘Cosa Nostra in Karachi’. Likening the PPP (and the Lyari-based, so-called Amn Committee, allegedly backed by Zulfikar Mirza), MQM, ANP, Sunni Tehrik and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan to the five mafia families of New York City, who “branched out into various legal and illegal activities … [and] have learnt how to influence the political environment”, he strongly advocates that the businessmen fight back.

His strong sentiments are reflected in his suggestion of an establishment of an armed militia to apprehend the extortion collector. This echoes the helplessness of the writer and his colleagues.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik made a statement last week to the effect that “he had received phone calls pressurising him to release the suspects in the deadly attack on the police in Chakra Goth in Korangi [four elite policemen killed, 20 injured], but he refused to give in to pressure”.

Can the minister reveal who phoned and pressurised him, so that the ‘invisible hands’ behind the particular killings are taken to task? Laws in Pakistan are not implemented owing to numerous brands of ‘pressure’, to which most law enforcers succumb.

Last Sunday’s diatribe by Zulfikar Mirza (a genuine passionate protester?) was precipitated by the Rangers’ ‘surgical’ operation in Lyari against members of the Amn Committee. Mirza made some startling allegations — the lying of the interior minister, the terrorist nature of the MQM chief and his party loyalists, the murderers of Geo’s Wali Babar, the votes extracted at gunpoint, the planned genocide of Pakhtuns, the US plot to fracture Pakistan, and for those who may not be in the know, the pecking order of power bastions in the country: the army, the president, the prime minister and the ISI.

And it was done with what he claims as evidence and under oath, while holding a copy of the Quran over his head.

Even though all the above generates much drama (Altaf Hussain’s adopted country’s high commissioner found Pakistan politics “full of interest”), despair and food for thought, planning and action, the majority of the efforts being made seem to be towards tackling the symptoms of the problem rather than the root causes. Can painkillers provide anything but short-term relief against a cancer?

Over the past four years, this column has increasingly highlighted the accelerating deterioration (according to the World Bank up from six per cent of GDP in 2006 to over seven per cent today) in Pakistan’s physical and social environs, spawned by the twin demons of an exploding population and escalating consumerism, leading to violent conflicts over dwindling resources:

the rich get richer and the poor have children.

The 2011 Asian Green City Index, a study analysing the ‘green’ performance of 22 major cities, placed Karachi at the bottom, in the ‘well below average’ category. The nexus between environmental degradation and terrorism was clearly emphasised in 2007 by the US Military Advisory Board, a group of respected retired admirals and generals, hardly tree-hugging environmentalists.

In a report to the Bush administration, they stated, categorically, that projected climate change poses a serious threat to America's national security, “a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world”.

Karachi, and Pakistan, is one such volatile region — and the worsening physical environment is rapidly multiplying the threat of instability. While ‘surgical operations’ by paramilitary forces, arrests of terrorists and declines in the amount of bhatta collection may bring a temporary lull in the storms we are facing, it is only justice — in its broadest forms — that will generate a somewhat lasting peace.

Pakistan is not the only country affected by the twin demons. The world population has now reached seven billion, over seven times what it was 200 years ago. Man’s rising consumption is outstripping the earth’s ability to provide sustainability. Many feel that the cancer is incurable. Can we not at least make the patients’ dwindling days comfortable and less agonising?