“April is the cruellest month” is how T S Eliot began his poem ‘The Waste Land’. For Pakistan it has been a rollercoaster of a month with the horrific lynching of Mashal Khan on a university campus in Mardan and all the questions that the incident has raised.
Even for some of us who have witnessed firsthand frenzied armed mobs of students on campuses during the Zia era hunting down opponents, the sheer brutality of what happened in Mardan was a shocking revelation of the savagery that lies within our people – most of whom are our future generation. However, so much has been written on this that what is required is somehow to ensure such lynchings can never happen again – but on that count nothing concrete has come to the fore. Nor will it, since that would require setting in motion new paradigms for altering mindsets with narratives that begin with primary education and continue through to the societal level. What has been most disturbing is the unchanging violent intolerance that has remained entrenched in mindsets despite this horrific tragedy.
Meanwhile, the much-awaited Panama case decision finally came in the form of a split verdict but only in terms of the conclusion. That Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was found to be less than honest in his financial disclosures, and that he needed to answer many questions regarding the money trail to his family’s UK properties, was a conclusion all the judges reached in the judgment. However, while three judges sought to establish a JIT to seek answers to core questions that had remained unanswered in the SC hearings, two judges felt they had enough to conclude that the PM was neither Sadiq nor Ameen under Article 63 of the constitution and stood disqualified. The individual judgments are fascinating reading and Justice Khosa lived up to his growing reputation of writing judgments that come not only with a legal clarity on core constitutional issues but also with an added literary and linguistic depth to the cold legal technicalities.
The verdict has raised some troubling questions: for instance, what led to the differing conclusions reached by Justice Ijaz ul Ahsan on the one hand, and Justices Khosa and Gulzar on the other when all three effectively raised the same points of argument in their individual judgments? Perhaps it is simply a case of judges having a different approach to the law. The more worrisome question is: when all five judges during the course of the hearings were clear that the state organisations that should have been examining the issues raised in the wake of the Panama Papers revelations had failed in performing their duties, they now expect representatives from these same failed institutions to perform effectively in the JIT, especially if the man being investigated remains the prime minister?
In the aftermath of the Panama decision, what has also come to the fore is the sheer brazenness of the PML-N which immediately began claiming the PM had been given a clean chit! Clearly most had actually failed to even read the judgment which is a clear indictment of PM Nawaz Sharif and hence were busy shamelessly celebrating. Ironically, beyond the PML-N, other leaders who had chosen to disassociate from the PTI’s Panama petition in the SC were now citing the verdict to demand the prime minister’s resignation. Incidentally, a touch of bizarre political humour that finds a common strain in the Sharifs and Zardari is their penchant for threatening to rip apart each other’s stomachs to bring back looted national wealth!
While the Panama verdict debate continued to dominate the media, the PML-N government slipped in a decision that will have a major impact on Pakistan’s security both externally and internally. This was the decision to issue an NOC to General (r) Sharif to head a KSA-led military alliance ostensibly against terrorism but, as the Saudi military spokesman’s statement published in a Wall Street Journal news story revealed, also to be used on the side of the KSA-led alliance fighting in Yemen. On Yemen there is a unanimous parliamentary resolution demanding Pakistan remain neutral.
The primary issue is not about the NOC to General Sharif – that becomes an issue because, as the defence minister admitted in parliament, so far Pakistan has no idea about either the TORs of the military alliance or its operational parameters. He also added that unless these were known, the NOC process could not begin. And yet immediately after both houses of parliament were prorogued, the NOC was granted and the general rushed off to KSA. The defence minister also committed in parliament that once the nature of the alliance was known, the issue would be brought before parliament but somehow it is clear now the government would present parliament and the nation with a fait accompli.
Pakistan has to tread a fine line on issues that clearly involve KSA and Iran – especially where our military may be drawn in on one side or the other. Such an eventuality would exacerbate not only our western border’s security but also add to the sectarian polarisation within the country. That the US has already shown an interest in becoming part of the KSA-led alliance to ‘counter’ Iran should have been a cautionary red flag for the Pakistani state.
A recent interview with Israeli PM Netanyahu where he admits that Israel is already cooperating with many Gulf Arab states to “contain” Iran should have added further to the Pakistani state’s caution. Yet no proper debate was conducted and no parliamentary consensus sought before the nation was plunged into an undefined military alliance with critical negative fallouts. We, as a nation, never seem to learn the lessons of our own history, especially our leaders’ zealot pursuit of military alliances for which our people have paid a heavy price repeatedly – from Cento and Seato to fighting the US/CIA-led war in Afghanistan.
Nor have our April trials ended: we still await the DawnLeaks investigative report – which has become somewhat of a farce given how the nation was informed that the report was delayed because a consensus was being sought! Further leaks of the report suggest fall guys have been selected to safeguard the real culprits. It is also being given out that the issue was not of a “breach of national security’ (as the corps commanders meeting called it) but of a “planted story”. Whatever the issue, one fact is clear: the PM House is not secure for sensitive, confidential civil-military leaderships’ meetings. Also, ‘planted stories’ can also be in the nature of a ‘breach of national security’.
The writer is DG SSII and a PTI MNA. The views expressed are her own.