The language of power

November 04, 2017

On November 1, all political parties agreed to exclude the armed forces and the judiciary from any possibility of accountability through the proposed bill on the National Accountability Commission....

Share Next Story >>>

On November 1, all political parties agreed to exclude the armed forces and the judiciary from any possibility of accountability through the proposed bill on the National Accountability Commission. The federal minister for law, Zahid Hamid, announced after the committee meeting in parliament that the PPP withdrew the proposed inclusionary clause. PTI representative Shireen Mazari was reported to have protested at not being given adequate time to express her party’s position in detail. It is interesting to note that almost all political parties agree that the National Accountability Bureau be replaced with a new accountability commission that does not have teeth quite as sharp.

It was the PPP’s Farhatullah Babar who had suggested that generals and judges should also come within the accountability net. Babar is one of the very few courageous politicians – perhaps with Javed Hashmi and Afrasiab Khattak – who come across boldly for broader accountability. Among non-politicians we do have stalwarts, such as Asma Jahangir and I A Rahman, who don’t mince their words; but among politicians such valour is vanishing. Even after 70 years of persistent victimisation, politicians are still cautious to counter the ‘holy-cow narrative’.

One reason for the timidity of most politicians is their own murky background. In the absence of a strong political culture since 1947, politicians who largely came from feudal and tribal families had at least two common features. One, intolerance for opposition; and two, a desire to accumulate as much wealth as possible – by any means. Those who lacked one feature, were stronger in the other. For example, some politicians who were not accused of corruption – such as Liaquat Ali Khan and Z A Bhutto – had no patience for opposition.

And those who have been corrupt to the core made little distinction between democracy and dictatorship if they could remain in positions of power. Most turncoats belong to that category. Just look at who changed sides after the 1999 coup and then again jumped the fence in the post-Musharraf setup. This is not to say that just feudal and tribal elites indulge in corruption. The so-called ‘robber barons’ can come from capitalists, industrialists, legalists, religionists and strategists, alike. They complement each other and, at times, confront each other too; but their confrontation is more like an attempt to court some other powers that can be of use in a changed dispensation.

Look at the politician Shaikh Rasheed, the industrialist Jahangir Tareen, the religionist Maulana Fazlur Rahman, and the strategist retired Gen Abdul Qadir Baloch. Or remember legalists such as Sharifuddin Pirzada and A K Brohi. Though all elites seem to be supporting each other, some – especially those coming from the perpetual state – are ruthless in their treatment of others. This is mainly thanks to the almost insurmountable power emanating from the Bar, Bureau or the Barracks.

The Bar produces judges and other legal professionals; the Bureau engenders the bureaucracy; and the Barracks spawn the officers of the military. These three Bs are the backbones of any state; they can buttress the state structure if they want, if they don’t they can also be a bane to the same state. The point is that they should confine themselves to the state machinery and not trespass into governmental affairs. In countries such as Pakistan this has not happened and the state structure overshadows the government, sometimes entirely devouring the government itself.

This tendency of the three Bs has scared the civilian and political leadership repeatedly. They occasionally try to assert themselves but are snubbed by one or more of them. The constant tug-of-war has a debilitating effect on all spheres of society. Even if we forget our history in the 20th century and just have a look at events since 1999, the role of all elites is intermingled. The army that should have confined its role from the barracks to the borders overstepped once again to demolish the ever-nascent democracy in the country.

Then the judiciary that should have asserted the supremacy of the Bar and the Bench, lined up to take up new oaths – barring few such as Justice Saeed uz Zaman Siddiqui. Then the Bench, rather than taking the usurpers to task, prostrated itself to allow something that was not even demanded of them, at least not explicitly. The bureaucracy was, as always, quick to shift loyalties in the name of their state responsibilities. There is a canned response from all bureaucrats about being loyal to the state and not to governments. This argument saps the energy from any government.

Finally, the political elites are also astute in courting the three Bs to gain powerful positions in the new alignment. So, the 21th century of Pakistan is again replete with two extremes: one, extreme arrogance displayed by whoever find themselves in positions of power at any given juncture; and two, extreme servility offered by whoever wants to curry favour with the more powerful interlocutor. For example, the extreme arrogance of General Musharraf towards Nawaz Sharif and his friends; the extreme servility of Justice Irshad Hasan Khan towards the Musharraf regime. Then, the extreme servility of General Musharraf towards American demands; and the extreme arrogance of the same towards Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.

The list can continue: the extreme servility of the MQM towards Musharraf, and the extreme arrogance of the same towards the opponents of the MQM in Karachi. The extreme arrogance of Justice Chaudhry towards the PPP government, and then enough servility to not disturb the much more powerful. With the recent reluctance of political parties to make generals and judges accountable, the trend is likely to continue.

The writer holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK and works in Islamabad.



More From Opinion