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March 25, 2018

Bearers of bad tidings


March 25, 2018

On a day when the PSL final is bound to distract the nation’s attention, it would seem a bit odd to play the dismal game of politics in which most decisions are made in what may be described as the dressing room. But cricket generally serves as the parable for our discourse on public affairs.

And there is that defining metaphor of the umpire raising his finger. In that sense, we may already have some intimations of what the umpire’s intentions are after how the Senate game was played and adjudged. That it was proverbially not cricket is another matter. Besides, the tournament is yet unfinished and the trophy will go to the winning team in the final to be played during the long, hot summer of this year.

As far as the PSL is concerned, there is a lot of significance in the fact that it is being played in Karachi. This in itself is being heralded as a great victory. However, the security arrangements that are put in place are too intimidating. This is not how spectator sport, designed to excite popular emotions and a sense of personal involvement, is meant to be run. The joy of being there, on the spot, is likely to be diminished by extensive security checks.

Given that cricketing terminology and expressions are widely used in politics, here is this outlandish thought: what would it be like if there were a public auction of the political players? How would a specific team assess the value of a particular player? Would the bidders go for those who had played for the winning teams in the past, like ‘electables’ in politics, or look for new talent?

An allusion to cricket in the context of our politics would naturally draw attention to one leader who earned his charisma in this game. Imran Khan, who led the campaign for the 1992 World Cup, had entered the political arena almost as a winner. But while he has finally, after a very long innings, become a formidable player, the strokes he has made recently cast doubts on his capacity as a captain.

First, he allowed himself to be trapped into playing on Asif Zardari’s wicket in the Senate game. Then he landed in Karachi to sign a player whose inclusion in the team portrays a betrayal of the very promise he had sought to personify. This was an unpleasant surprise for his followers, though they should have been conditioned to such delinquencies by earlier adoption of some well-known renegades from other parties. Is this a hint that this summer’s final is likely to be a fixed match?

Though cricket is an appropriate peg for a column on Pakistan’s politics, I am using it only as a point of departure. More significant, I think, is the feeling that we are beginning to lose our democratic sense of direction. There are so many other developments that bear very ominous tidings. It is increasingly becoming evident that they, the powers that be, are not willing to play by the book.

The irony here is unbearable. In spite of fresh assertions on the part of our national institutions that they are totally committed to constitutional and democratic governance and that they will ensure the holding of free and fair elections, ground realities do not certify this resolve. Simultaneously, the passions that govern this society of low political culture are not being pacified through any planned and enlightened initiatives.

In some ways, the stage was set by the Senate elections. Little evidence is needed to show that some kind of engineering had taken place. It is possible to justify this as the hangover of our traditional politics in which unseen hands would pull some strings. But the present crisis of Pakistan demands a determined shift towards civilian supremacy and rule of law. This is not happening.

For instance, the Rao Anwar episode, as it played out this week, is an instructive illustration of how power is exercised to the detriment of all principles of law and morality. Here is a story that makes you shudder to think that this is the country in which you have to live and somehow survive.

On Wednesday, Rao Anwar, former SSP Malir in Karachi, surrendered to the Supreme Court in Islamabad. He had gone into hiding two months ago when he was being investigated for the extrajudicial killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud. There were numerous charged against him, mainly of extrajudicial killings. But he wielded so much power that no one seemed to be able to touch him. Anyhow, the manner in which he was produced before the Supreme Court had all the elements of high drama with a prevalent impression that his mysterious appearance was a result of intensive back-channel efforts and proceedings.

A divine coincidence it appeared to be that also on Wednesday, the Sindh police conceded before the Supreme Court that the murder of Perween Rehman, the director of the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP), was the result of a conspiracy hatched by those threatened by her efforts against land grabbing. The interim report stated that initial claims linking a Taliban commander, who was killed a day after Perween’s murder, to her murder was in all probability false.

For Rao Anwar, another grand show was staged in Karachi on Thursday when he was presented before an Anti-Terrorism Court. More than 20 police mobiles and two armoured personnel carriers escorted the police officer who had earned the admiration of Asif Zardari.

There are some other matters that relate to the judgments made by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. One intriguing development was the publication of a column on a detailed interview with Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar. Also, Sheikh Rashid urged the chief justice to impose a 90-day long ‘judicial martial law’ in the run up to the forthcoming general elections.

To conclude – and to underline the state of our societal degradation – let me quote a Gallup and Gilani Pakistan poll. The finding was that 58 percent Pakistanis believe that an educated person has a better chance to succeed in life than an illiterate person. What does this mean? As many as 42 percent do not believe that an educated person has an edge over an illiterate person. So help us God.

The writer is a senior journalist.

Email: [email protected]

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