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When inertia is deadly

July 14, 2012


DO you recall what President Fazal Elahi Chaudhry is supposed to have said when told at an official ceremony that protocol dictated he lead the way with the prime minister in tow?

“Yaar, protocol vich marwanaadayein…,” he is said to have replied to his ADC. (“Hope your protocol doesn’t get me into serious trouble...”) The word ‘marwa’ here was nearer ‘serious trouble’ or the sporting equivalent of ‘sudden death’ rather than its literal meaning — killed.

Fazal Elahi Chaudhry was elected to the ceremonial office of the president when, after the passage of the 1973 constitution, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto became prime minister. Chaudhry was an ageing loyalist who had been given the top office but needed no reminder who was the boss.

Even his detractors privately conceded the sort of effect ZAB would have on those around him. Who would you think will inspire such awe, respect, even outright fear these days? If you ask me my pen has never paused while taking apart the government for its misgovernance.

What was once a sacred cow is now feared no more than a lamb destined for slaughter. Yes, I speak with gay abandon (homophobes in the media please look up the meaning before unleashing your vitriol) of the army and its reputedly deadly intelligence agencies; their follies and their sins.

But parliament can legislate all it wants, its newly legislated contempt law gives a columnist like me as much comfort as ‘protocol’ gave president Chaudhry. He was courageous enough to be persuaded by his ADC to go ahead, I will concede with no shame I have none, courage that is.

So, will say no more than that hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, of those who seek justice in lower courts are still waiting for the ‘will of the people’ manifest at the apex level to percolate down.

No matter how soul-destroying and debilitating for the litigants the wrangles at the grass-root level may be, unless these represent a cause célèbre it is unlikely they’ll receive any more attention than that focused on them whenever their lawyers go on a rampage, beating police, attacking judges.

There is no doubt in any sensible mind about the inevitability of judicial reform. Perhaps it’ll follow this phase of activism. There are those who rather philosophically attribute the current tensions to an evolutionary process.

That may be true. However, in the interim it has paralysed the executive where paranoia regarding the intentions, the ‘ill will’ of the judiciary runs so deep that all energies seemed directed at second guessing its next move rather than on governance, which has gone to the dogs.

The centre remains under the media microscope. Look at what is the priority of the Punjab police in a security environment where terrorists struck an army camp on GT road, killing half-a-dozen soldiers, and then a greater number of Pakhtunkhwa under-training jail wardens in Lahore.

The Punjab police were not battling terrorists during times its own inspector-general described as a ‘state of war’. Instead, the long arm of the law was reaching up to pull down the minarets of an Ahmadi place of worship built in 1980 so its architecture could conform to a law enacted in 1984.

Is our faith really so fragile as to be challenged by mere masonry? One would hope not. But it is clear our sanity is actually very fragile. Look at Balochistan. It was a province where traditionally sectarian animus was non-existent.

Now you’d be very skilled if you could count how many Shias, a majority of them Shia-Hazaras, have been gunned down in and around high-security Quetta in recent years. There has been very little official reaction to these killings that many Shia supporters are now likening to ‘a genocide’.The provincial government, the powerful and robust arm of the military the Frontier Corps, and the judiciary have all displayed an inexplicable inactivity, apathy towards this ongoing murder. We can try and explore why.

Even though it may be tragic, perhaps those at the helm believe that the persecution/elimination of one Muslim sect in a minority or even an entire religious minority community will not threaten the geographical boundaries and ideological contours of the country. That’s our obsession, isn’t it?

So, what would threaten Pakistan’s established boundaries as they exist today? A realignment of loyalties of the ethnic communities that make up the federation of Pakistan is clearly something that will.

My heart sank on hearing the news of the killing of poor Pakhtun workers in Balochistan. I have lamented each innocent death in that province and have endlessly hoped, prayed that better sense prevails and the bloodshed is stemmed.

But the latest round of killings in Balochistan strengthens the view that now the very existence of the country is threatened. Does one really care if a ‘foreign hand’ is at work? It may or may not be but what is alarming is our total failure to deal with the challenges.

Our extra-territorial ambitions, attempts to punch way above our weight have brought us to this pass. We often call for judicial restraint or ask the government to desist from rash moves which may tip the boat over.

The time is right and ripe to ask our national security guarantors to display similar sanity. Rather than resort to pointless tactics which have almost always spiralled out of our hands, shouldn’t we now decide how we have to deal with the real challenges confronting us?

We have neither the luxury of time nor the strength left for more experimentation. The security state ought to identify unambiguously its top threat and then be equally unambiguous about how it aims to deal with it. One hopes it gets it right as we’ll collectively have to live with the consequences.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.