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Legal Eye

September 3, 2011

Doing the right thing


September 3, 2011


The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.
Zulfiqar Mirza is not a likable fellow. It is his own utterances that have earned him the perception of not just being a bully but one that is brash, egotistical and bigoted. Yet his press conference this past week was not just persuasive and disarming, but sounded like a wake-up call. It was not just the content of his revelations but the directness with which Mirza approached much that is taboo in the realm of politics and statecraft that was incredible. Even more extraordinary was the identity of this whistleblower. It wasn’t Imran Khan echoing the sentiment of Pakistan’s urban middle class, criticising the ruling elite for its selfishness, corruption and abuse of authority. In a socio-cultural sense, Mirza is an embodiment of the feudal Sindhi mindset. His position within the PPP is a product of his affinity with Asif Zardari and not Benazir Bhutto. And as a politician, he was repository to the ugly realities of Karachi and power politics, as opposed to being an unblemished outsider.
Mirza did not set out to defend his personal actions or those of his party. But in admitting his own failings in Karachi, he unwittingly distinguished between crimes of commission and omission, and asserted that while PPP might be responsible for the latter it was the MQM that ought to be held to account for the former. By speaking of the unspeakable – Altaf Hussain’s alleged criminality and the MQM’s brutish ways – Mirza exhibited courage. But he did not address the press conference from a position of moral righteousness, but political pragmatism. While he shunned party office, his cabinet position and his membership of the Sindh Assembly, he reiterated his abiding allegiance to the PPP. Thus, he didn’t attempt to project himself as an emblem of scrupulousness, but came across as a conflicted man struggling to strike the right balance between his assumed obligations of solidarity to his family, friends, Asif Zardari,

PPP and its jiyala culture on the one hand and his desire to do the right thing on the other.
It was these obvious contradictions that made Mirza’s account believable, and inspired hope and hopelessness all at once. Is the reality of Karachi so ugly that even powerful insiders are forced to throw their hands up in helplessness and withdraw from politics? Or is there hope that notwithstanding dilemmas of loyalty, neither power and its compulsions nor threats of physical violence can drown out the piercing voice of one’s conscience? What was it that finally tipped Mirza over? Was it Sindhi nationalism and the law enforcement action in Lyari? Did he take Zardari into confidence before going public with his charge sheet? Did he have the president’s tacit approval to spill the beans? None of this really matters anymore. Zulfiqar Mirza has formally alleged what many people across Pakistan already suspected. His utterances cannot be erased, ignored or refuted simply by the MQM’s denial, counteraccusations or hollow rhetoric or the PPP’s reconciliatory expediency.
There are multiple issues highlighted by Mirza’s disclosures that need consideration, foremost being the MQM’s alleged usurpation of fundamental rights of the people of Sindh and the refusal of state institutions to uphold these constitutionally protected entitlements. Altaf Hussain’s fascist ways, the MQM’s reign of terror across Karachi and Hyderabad, and its uninhibited resort to violence are matters of the legend. Zulfiqar Mirza has now declared vociferously that the muzzled charges against Altaf Hussain and the MQM have substance. While his previous outbursts might have smacked of prejudice, this time around he has made concrete allegations that are factually verifiable. He has alleged that Altaf Hussain is a killer and a traitor. He has contended that the MQM is responsible for Wali Babar’s murder. He has asserted that assassins reared by the MQM were let out on parole in the dozens in 2008 and prisoners continue to be moved from one prison to another to defeat the law.
Mirza has stated that Governor Sindh Ishrat-ul-Ebad “fields” terrorists and patronises the land mafia. He has charged that the MQM indulges in extortion as a matter of policy and launders its exploits out of Pakistan. He has accused Altaf Hussain for offering political and street support to the UK in lieu of the latter’s help in dissolving the ISI. And most disturbing, he has sworn that Altaf Hussain shared with him his intention to continue killing the Pathans in Karachi and to assist the US in its design to redraw Pakistan’s boundaries and carve a new state out of Sindh. In other words, according to Mirza, Altaf Hussain and the MQM reject Article 5 (loyalty to state and obedience to Constitution and law) and are liable under Article 6 (treason for conspiring to subvert the Constitution), in terms of their obligations to the state.
And if Mirza’s allegations have substance, the MQM is responsible for expropriating the following constitutional rights of fellow citizens: Article 9 (right to life and liberty); Article 10 (safeguards against illegal detention); Article 14 (inviolability of dignity of man); Article 15 (freedom of movement); Article 16 (freedom of assembly); Article 17 (freedom of association); Article 18 (freedom of trade, business or profession); Article 19 (freedom of speech); Article 24 (protection against deprivation of property); and Article 25 (entitlement to equal protection of the law). Nonsensical press conferences such as the one recently conducted by Faisal Sabzwari will not cut it anymore for the MQM. The extremely grave charges levelled by Mirza – backed by documentary evidence also presented by him – can only be laid to rest after a rigorous factual inquiry.
Let Pir Mazhar-ul-Haq come out and contradict Mirza’s account of the meeting with Altaf Hussain. Let the Karachi corps commander, DG ISI and the army chief deny that Mirza never reported the murderous intent that Altaf Hussain shared with him in London. Let the MQM and the British government state that the letter reportedly written by Altaf Hussain to Tony Blair is a forgery. Let the MQM explain who runs and protects the elaborate network of terror-mongers, extortionists, land grabbers, car snatchers and kidnappers in a city that the MQM has a stranglehold over. Let Altaf Hussain, Ishrat-ul-Ebad and other MQM leaders sue Mirza for defaming their good names and stealing their virtue. Zulfiqar Mirza has let the genie out of the bottle. It cannot be forced back in.
Tyranny remains equally brutal whether practiced in the name of religion or a secular ideology. The denial of rights and liberties to ordinary citizens is as culpable in Karachi as it is in Swat. At stake in both instances is the rule of law and the writ and legitimacy of the state. Probably more daunting is the challenge posed to rule of law by a genuine political force embroiled in criminality and violence, as opposed to a religious militia, for the former tends to erode the credibility of constitutional democracy from within. After Mirza’s disclosures the institutions of the state – the federal and provincial governments, the parliament, and the judiciary – obligated to protect and defend the constitution and rule of law in Pakistan no longer have the luxury to look the other way. The ruling regime cannot use the mantra of reconciliation to evade its legal obligation to quell criminality and violence in Karachi. And the media must no longer indulge in self-censorship out of the fear of the MQM goons.
Be it in dealing with the MQM, the Sindhi nationalists or Rehman Malik, Zulfiqar Mirza’s actions have only strengthened Asif Zardari’s hand so far. But if the president elects indolence or opts to sleep with the MQM to aggrandise his political power, he will become an abettor of the crimes Mirza has accused the MQM of perpetrating. And Asif Zardari would do so at his own peril.
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