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Mirror, mirror on the wall …

June 15, 2012


WHY the outrage at tainted tycoon Malik Riaz’s disclosures about how advanced the state of rot is in the Islamic Republic?

Is it because he has held up a mirror to us? What we see is an ugly, disfigured, unrecognisable form, a far cry from what we would have wished to believe about ourselves, our purity and all that nonsense about an invincible fortress defended by nuclear-tipped missiles.

We are allowed to feign discomfort, surprise, shock, even outrage. We are also allowed to exclaim how terrible that unbeknownst to us such a lethal disease hasn’t just touched us but its tentacles are now intertwined with our entrails.

Hand on heart, tell me you didn’t know. And I’ll tell you what I think: Malik Riaz may be guilty of a multitude of sins but, at least, in this specific instance he isn’t being a hypocrite. In his world, he is quite candid the only way to move things is to put ‘wheels’ on them.

We often forget that these wheels (banknotes) always bear the image of the Father of the Nation, gazing pensively at how we, the inheritors of his dream, have transformed it into a living nightmare. What’s wrong with me today? What’s with this ludicrously verbose and pointless imagery?

I have no defence. I am in a state of shock and denial too, even though we are known to go after the wrong ‘Haqqani’. It is wonderful we have read Khalil Gibran with great attention and admiration. But is it right we couldn’t see what our own Ahmad Khalil was capable of doing.

Recall him? A man Malik Riaz describes as one of his partners, said to be the prime minister’s ‘buddy’ and such a good friend of the chief justice’s son that even the honourable father visits his home in Lahore. He’s the reported intermediary between Arsalan Iftikhar and the tycoon’s family.

Have you wondered why during his ‘contemptuous’ press conference, Malik Riaz seemed to fly off the handle? I think he lost it completely and will pay for it. How could he, a successful man so adept at constant cost-benefit analysis, have acted so out of character?

How would you react if you considered yourself the master of the universe and a man half your age, a fellow member of the elite with a shared honour code, made you feel like a fool?

The land acquisition of Malik Riaz from the poor may lack subtlety and legality but the foundations of his dealings with ‘equals’ or near equals must be on a word of mouth, trust basis. I scratch your back (be as it may in khaki, sherwani or Armani), and you scratch mine.

How dare you not deliver when I take care of your every material need from flashy SUVs to expensive London flats, from Harrods shopping trips to the tables at Monte Carlo? Not just this. I even cater to your spiritual side and pick up the tab for a soul-enriching visit to the Buddha Bar.

And when it’s time for payback, all I get is promises, promises, promises….

Was the whole episode a conspiracy to discredit the judiciary then? Your guess is as good as mine. Reflect on the past few years. Striking down the NRO to unearthing corruption in state corporations to pursuing cases against the government with zeal, the judiciary will have made few friends there.

The Supreme Court’s vigour may not have produced too many of those ‘missing’ in Balochistan but that it had stirred the feathers of those being blamed was clear from the press conference of the general who heads the paramilitary Frontier Corps in the province.

But did either or both conspire to scandalise the only institution which many see as the saviour of the nation, a bulwark against corruption and a guarantor of fundamental rights? We don’t know.

There is only one certainty, one constant: greed. Without the alleged greed of the son there would be no question mark over, one can be sure not beyond, the judgment of the father. Even if this was a conspiracy, it was a crime of opportunity.

It is also ironical that when one massages one’s ego with the thought that one has been placed in the midst of history as if by divine will it becomes impossible to retain one’s balance, sense of perspective, even reality.

The politician has always looked the most fallible of all players in the country and the most tarnished; the military hasn’t been far behind and rightly so. For the first time in recent years the vulnerability of the judiciary and the media is being felt by their most ardent believers.

More than for any other group, the need for integrity in an all-encompassing sense in both the judiciary and the media is paramount. And honest reflection, an open-minded look at the evidence will tell us we have both been found wanting on many counts.We are free to embark on a witch-hunt with each institution batting for its own narrow interest; we can bask in the glory of our own self-righteousness; we can mock at those unfortunate, careless or outright stupid enough to be caught on camera.

But can we say we are different in any meaningful way? Tell me how many times you have dramatically sailed to the top of the queue while the man in tatters somehow couldn’t move up a place from where he started because he didn’t matter?

In our beloved land we are all Malik Riaz in one shape or the other. We all do what we can get away with. Don’t worry. It’ll all be business as usual soon. It has to be. We can’t live in an alien world.

(I must be scrupulously honest in saying all this is based on conjecture and all named deny any wrongdoing.)

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.