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September 6, 2015



The law of unintended consequences

Sometimes the animal world brings a whole new perspective to the phrase ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’. It is really an amazing ritual when two horses use their muzzle and teeth to scratch each other’s backs. But they scratch their friend’s back according to how they would like their own backs to be scratched. As long as the scratching is mutually satisfying, the fun can go on an entire afternoon – if not, one or the other digs its teeth deeper into the other’s back and the scratching hour can come to an abrupt end.
That mutually beneficial arrangement between former president Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif seems to be coming under increasing stress as evident from Zardari’s second outburst in recent weeks. The reason is quite easily understood by the people and is really a simple one: Pakistan has moved ahead and any past understanding reached between political parties that does not serve public interest is fast losing relevance.
In public perception, the Charter of Democracy (CoD) signed between the late Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif was nothing but an alliance in corruption and criminality. It was no less despicable than the National Reconciliation Order (NRO) later promulgated by former president Musharaf. The CoD did little for promotion of democracy but promised every safeguard against accountability and prosecution in serious crimes and misdemeanours to politicians in opposition from those in power.
When the PPP was in power from 2008 to 2013, corruption flourished in the country while the opposition headed by the PML-N looked the other way. Pakistan actually regressed during that entire period instead of progressing since the population growth rate was higher than the meagre average GDP growth rate of 2.4 per cent. The PML-N therefore cannot escape responsibility for corruption and the present state of malaise in the country. Interestingly, the Sindh chief minister, who has been in power for the

last seven years, is not defending allegations of corruption with much gusto but only asking a valid question: does it exist only in Sindh?
Of course he is not wrong nor are the allegations recently levelled by Zardari against Nawaz Sharif void of any evidence, but equally true is the fact that the PPP knew about it all along when in power and did nothing. Doesn’t this suggest that the two parties were each other’s associates for their self-serving ends and all this talk about promoting democracy and letting the system work was mere rhetoric. Was Imran Khan much off the mark when he was saying this ad-nauseam from atop his container for nearly four months?
The constitutional amendments after the 2008 elections, fully supported by the PML-N, cemented that unholy understanding in which Punjab and Sindh – in the garb of devolution of power – have become the exclusive zones of ruling parties, both in the de-facto and de-jure sense, and virtually no-go areas for the federation. An agreed methodology between the government and the opposition for the constitution of the ECP has further enhanced prospects of a perpetual rule by the same two parties.
When politicians agreed to the National Action Plan (NAP) in the aftermath of the Peshawar incident in January this year , they knew what they were getting into except perhaps they didn’t fully ‘factor in’ the law of unintended consequences which almost always veers off from the intent of the initial action.
The reasons this ‘law’ nearly always works is that either sponsors of the initial action are ignorant of the far-reaching effects of what they intend to do or make errors of judgement in formulating their actions. Inclusion of the word ‘facilitator’ in the NAP was one such action whose broader unintended consequences were either insufficiently visualised by the political parties or they were helpless in the face of national grief.
The disclosure by the DG Rangers of illegal collection from Karachi of approximately Rs230 billion annually, part of it finding its way to terrorists and the crime mafia, preceded by a raid on the MQM headquarters, interception of a boatload of foreign currency in millions of dollars and recovery of billions of rupees from residences in Karachi reportedly belonging to ministers, exposed a serious national dilemma where the Rangers could fight terrorists till eternity but without tangible results unless the money line was intercepted. It is this dilemma that is becoming a real challenge to handle – exacerbated by the fact that the government’s own track record in corruption is as bad as that of the opposition.
On the other end of the spectrum, the people of Pakistan more than ever before, have realised that the massive corruption in their country is as dangerous as terrorism itself. There is enhanced public awareness about the direct relationship between runaway corruption and absence of governance, injustices, social breakdown and insecurity.
What has added to the mounting public anger is the perception that the ruling class has successfully compromised every criminal investigation procedure and law in the statue books, as a result of which there is not a single mega scandal that has reached any logical conclusion. The prevalent wisdom, therefore, is that fighting terrorism alone will serve little or no purpose unless something is done about corruption in high places.
Criminal law swings into action rather swiftly and effectively against the less privileged in society. That is why Gullu Butt, a small-time police tout, is in prison for a relatively less serious offence of smashing windscreens of vehicles while those who in broad daylight brutally killed 14 innocent people have yet to face justice.
The law is again not seen in any brighter light when an inspector at the Islamabad airport who only carried out his duty is dead while the model arrested for currency smuggling is a free person. There is little wonder then that every big thief and crook in Pakistan wants to be tried by normal courts. These are not healthy indicators of a just or fair society and act as catalysts to accentuate public dissatisfaction with the state. Zardari’s outbursts are seasonal and may or may not be of much significance but the higher cause of justice and fair play cannot be ignored much longer. The PML-N too has to put its demons on the table – the sooner the better.
Both the PML-N and the PPP are perceived to be corrupt to the bone – the former generally takes the business route while the latter indulges in reckless undermining of institutions in pursuit of its objectives. The PML-N, except for an ill-considered assault on the Supreme Court, has historically managed to keep judges in good humour while the PPP has invariably used intimidation against witnesses and other tactics.
Former prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani speaking remorselessly, even with a hint of pride, about his past convictions is a sad reflection of what normal courts in this country have been reduced to.
But such conduct is no longer acceptable as the mood on the Pakistani street is fast changing. When the MQM recently gave a call for a shutter-down strike, there was very poor response. Likewise, the PPP’s efforts to agitate against Dr Asim’s arrest fell on deaf ears.
If Zardari and Nawaz can help it, they would like their peculiar brand of democracy to flourish in the country but exposure by Sindh’s Rangers of the nexus between illegal money and terrorists is shattering those hopes. Resultantly, the ownership of this operation is fast shifting more to the people of Pakistan than other stakeholders.
It is not without reason that Nawaz Sharif looks gloomy these days and Raheel Sharif is sanguine. The new owners of this operation are already curious about the top few names in the army list and wonder how one of those men would like his name to be remembered in history when the time comes next year.
The writer is a retired vice admiral.
Email: [email protected]