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December 20, 2016

Why on earth should Nisar resign?


December 20, 2016

Islamabad diary

Why indeed? If the one-man judicial commission comprising My Lord Justice Faez Isa has exposed the glaring shortcoming of various agencies and the total incompetence of the man supposed to lead and coordinate the fight against terrorism that is no reason for that man, Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan, to take these findings to heart and heed calls that he would be doing everyone a favour if he steps down.

Since when was incompetence a reason for quitting public office in Pakistan? The very notion is absurd and flies in the face of established Pakistani tradition. We don’t do such things here and if we were to start doing them – purging people, or expecting them to step down, for incompetence and not coming up to the mark – there would be such a vacuum in the upper echelons of Pakistani policymaking, which is just a turn of phrase because policymaking in the real sense of the word doesn’t exist in our easy-going climate, that it would take a century to fill.

Nisar as we all know is a talker, and before a mike, not otherwise, he talks at length, repeating himself endlessly and going on and on. His standard speech in the National Assembly when I was there used to last a minimum of two hours. There are many masters of the art of saying absolutely nothing in the maximum number of words but in my experience Nisar beats them all. That brevity may be the soul of wit, tell that to the angels.

Rehman Malik, the PPP’s interior minister, was another showman and a talker too. But he never held forth, certainly never at such excruciating length, as the PML-N’s wonder boy. To each his own…still, I feel Justice Isa has been too harsh about Nisar who should be judged by different standards. Nisar excels at the art of the press conference, which in lieu of anything humdrum like regular work he frequently holds at Islamabad’s Punjab House which because of his closeness to that other orator, the chief minister of Punjab, he seems to have appropriated for his exclusive use.

As I say, judge him by his press conferences not by the work done or not done relating to that work of fiction called the National Action Plan. No one in present-day Pakistan can dress up a press conference and make it sound important the way Nisar does. This is his special talent. He says nothing, but that is not the point. His manner is such that you are left feeling that something profound has just been said. It is good while it lasts.

Justice Faez Isa I think doesn’t quite appreciate the point. You can either do regular press conferences and cultivate a select group of journalists who specialise in covering your tours de force or you can do some actual work. It is not easy to mix both. There’s the doer and there’s the talker for whom talking is an end unto itself.

But the main point remains that in Pakistan you do not quit because of incompetence. If this was the yardstick we would never have a regular railways minister or a head of civil aviation or an inspector general of police because after every disaster or crash they would be stepping down.

Shouldn’t an entire group of generals have been sacked because of the Kargil adventure? Nawaz Sharif should have done it but at Ojhri Camp next to Faizabad where he was first briefed, or misled, about what was happening, he praised the sandwiches he was served with instead of asking the tough questions he should have asked. The truth is he didn’t get the import of the adventure Musharraf and some of his favourite generals were imposing on the country. The army chief should have been sacked for unauthorised adventurism. The prime minister deserved to be sacked for incomprehension. Luckily for both that’s not how it happens in the republic founded in the name of Islam and dedicated to the greater glory of the faith.

The National Action Plan, who takes it seriously? The civilians pay it the necessary lip-service and that is all. They are really into other things. The army has been fighting a lonely war against terrorism while the civilians have been mouthing the appropriate words and phrases. Every time the army brass in Gen Raheel Sharif’s time met the prime minister and his team there would be long discussions on what needed to be done, with the PM mostly wearing a thoroughly bored expression, and copious pledges would be made but then nothing would come of those meetings because nothing actually would be done.

Who’s interested in such thankless tasks as carrying out genuine police reform, doing something meaningful about the criminal justice system, setting up forensic labs, creating databases relating to terrorist incidents, improving coordination, say, between the Frontier Corps and the police forces, etc? These are boring subjects and our rulers are just not into them. Offshore accounts, London properties and other business ventures are more interesting. They are certainly more fun.

The Panama leaks made more of a splash than Justice Isa’s report. If nothing has come of the leaks and no heads have rolled, or are likely to roll, of what account negligence, dereliction of responsibility and incompetence? In the procedure code of Pakistani politics and governance these do not count as major sins.

Indeed, the one and only commandment applicable to the Pakistani scene is the eleventh: Thou shalt not be caught. Even this is now subject to amendment because in the Panama leaks the good and the great have been caught, or at least exposed, but those so caught are not even embarrassed. As for judicial commissions, they come and go and their reports for the most part are eminently forgettable. This report is different. A lot of effort seems to have gone into it and Justice Isa has cut things up with a very sharp scalpel.

But Nisar has been around for a long time and he is no tender chicken. Far from being embarrassed or intimidated he has gone on the offensive, vowing at a press conference which he was quick to hold at his favourite venue, Punjab House, to challenge the “one-sided” report as he has termed it at every forum, including parliament and the Supreme Court.

The present lot has been in politics for a long time. It will take more than something like the Panama leaks or a commission report to cause them sleepless nights.

This much the commission report makes clear about the terrorist threat Pakistan faces. It will remain the military’s baby with the civilians going about their standard routine and making the usual noises. If the army is deployed in Fata and elsewhere and no graveyard in any village of District Chakwal, as I have had cause to point out before, is without its share of shaheed graves, so what? It’s the army’s job to man the trenches, they will say. That’s what it is paid for. And business will go on as usual, scandals will emerge and then disappear without leaving much of a trace and the interior minister, we can be pretty sure, will be his usual daring self at more of his trademark press conferences.


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