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Acting busy all the time but to what end

August 17, 2012

Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik – File Photo

ISLAMABAD: Now nearly 61 years old, there is no doubt that Mr Rehman Malik has come a long way in his personal life and career. But whether his successes in rising up many ladders had any bearing on his stint as the interior minister is another story all together.Never shy communicating, he has been at equal ease announcing an armed operation in Karachi against outlaws, regularly addressing press conferences in Lahore against PMLN leaders, and pursuing Baloch nationalists in Quetta to come back to the main stream politics. In fact, unlike most other politicians of his generation, he took on to the social media website Twitter and now is the proud claimant of 43,000 followers.

But for his peers and followers alike, Mr Malik’s appearances have come to immortalise the pop culture phrase “look busy do nothing”. And there are scores of incidents where the interior minister’s knee-jerk reactions have complicated simple issues.

For instance last Friday, Mr Malik stopped a group of 250 Hindu pilgrims from crossing the Wagah border at Lahore on a tip-off that the travelling families intended to migrate to India. Holding legal travel documents, the Pakistani Hindus staged a protest demonstration right at the border post for at least seven hours. As the incident was constantly flashed on television channels, the Presidency intervened and the pilgrims were allowed to carry on with their journey.

By then everyone had been so worked up that Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf ordered an inquiry to determine the facts, which is being led by parliamentary affairs minister Senator Moula Bakhsh Chandio. On his part, Mr Malik insists that a “conspiracy” was afoot against the country by India.

But this was no random event where Mr Malik had misfired in haste.

In the third week of July, Mr Malik badly over-reacted when a British tabloid carried a story about a passport scam that allegedly took place with the participation of his ministry’s official in Lahore.

According to the Sun newspaper, a British-Pakistani managed to obtain a machine-readable passport on the basis of a fake identity card. Hearing the news, Mr Malik immediately suspended all the officials named in the alleged fraud and put them on the exit control list.

Next, without even waiting for the outcome of the initial investigation report, the interior minister constituted a high-powered joint investigation inquiry committee comprising top officials from the Federal Investigating Agency (FIA), Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to probe the matter.

Needless to say, Mr Malik was left red-faced when it turned out that Sun’s story had misconstrued facts. Even though the story was rebuked by the federal cabinet, not a single word was uttered against Mr Malik for mishandling the issue.

In the past too, Mr Malik gained notoriety for jumping the gun. People still remember his initial statement after the July 2010 Air Blue plane crash in Margalla Hills. Based on media reports, he had informed former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani that a few passengers had survived the crash when in reality there was no survivor.

In political circles it is said in no hushed terms that Mr Malik’s survival on the political scene is largely because of his success in keeping the coalition together, particularly the MQM. Every time, the MQM has ached to leave the PPP, Mr Malik stepped in to save the day. Some even go to the extent of saying that his diplomacy was the real reason that governor Sindh Ishrat-ul-Abad in his capacity as chancellor of Karachi University conferred an honorary doctorate to Mr Malik.

But there is no breaking Mr Malik’s confidence and expecting introspection is too much to ask for. In fact, Mr Malik feels he can expand his wings: in a recent meeting of the federal cabinet, he actually offered the government his services to improve recoveries in the power sector, and improve provision of electricity in the country. But much to his consternation, the cabinet refused to accept his offer.

May be it’s about time that Mr Malik thought a bit about how he talks the walk, but can’t walk the walk.