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February 20, 2016

Dekh magar pyar sey


February 20, 2016

Roughly translated, the title means “You may look at me but only with love in your eyes”. This phrase – a favourite of rickshaw and truck drivers – is what comes to mind when thinking about the prime minister’s words of infinite wisdom to the National Accountability Bureau two days ago. Simply put, his warning means that NAB can nab but it must nab with love. In other words the watchdog must be watched lest it bites the hand that chose its chairman.

In recent years, Pakistani politics has coughed up some interesting euphemisms. For instance, we all know that ‘mafhamat ki siyasat’ (reconciliatory politics) means ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’. If a politician on prime-time is bad-mouthing his opponent and exposing his grubby deeds, it is ‘jamhooriat ka husn’ (the beauty of democracy); if the opponent on another channel administers a dose of the same medicine and exposes equally grubby deeds in return, it is ‘jamhooriat key liye khatra’ (undermining democracy).

Similarly, ‘across the board accountability’ has also taken on a whole new meaning; it now means ‘catch all crooks but spare me’. As long as others are being nabbed and put on the mat it is ‘accountability’; if the heat is closer to home then ‘accountability’ becomes ‘harassment’.

The PM says NAB has entered the houses of ‘the innocents’. My, my, what a shame! Poor little innocent people living opulent lives in massive mansions, who never indulge in wrongdoing such as earn honest money or repay hefty loans or pay taxes or refuse to shake hands with terrorists.

They have never indulged in any of these acts because such acts would be criminal in the larger scheme of Pakistani politics. Of course they are innocent and you, Mr NAB Chairman, must recall the adage: ‘ba-adab ba-naseeb, bey-adab bey-naseeb’.

The PML-N government has deliberately ‘failed’ to fulfil its commitment of replacing NAB with an independent accountability commission because independence is something that does not rhyme with the word democracy and so it is jarring and out of sync for the champions of democracy.

A pliant NAB would be easier to handle; except that the pliant NAB is caught in a soup at the moment. Damned if they nab and damned if they don’t. How this plays out will be interesting to watch.

For now NAB has shown suitable ‘ehteram’ in response to the PM’s rebuke. The chairman and his team understand that the high and mighty prefer to be spectators rather than occupy centre-stage. My favourite poet Ibn-e-Insha correctly points out that the heat of the fire varies in intensity for those burning in it and those watching the spectacle.

Speaking of spectators, the Pakistani nation is the audience in the theatre too; watching the rigmarole of political comedy which would have been hilarious were it not so tragic. So the nation both cries and laughs like the fairy-tale princess who laughed because the life of the giant was in a caged parrot but cried for there was no one so brave as to slay the dragon guarding the castle where the cage was.

So the nation looks to the uniformed dragon-slayer. Please sir can you slay the dragon, Sir? They ask. Please Sir, can you rid us of the giant, Sir? What they don’t realise is that the magical sword needed for slaying the dragon can only be manufactured by the people. What they continue to deny is that their silence is deafening. The dragon-slayer cannot break the silence for them. Only they have the power to break it.

The dragon-slayer heads an institution whose past sins are many. But the nation is ready to forgive for the dragon-slayer’s valiant soldiers are paying with their blood for the sins of their erstwhile policymakers. They are dying and while they die and their children become orphans, the political ‘innocents’ and their pure descendants get richer, fatter and more arrogant. Come get me, they challenge. Catch me if you can.

These soldiers and their children are innocent too, Mr Prime Minister; as innocent as those thousands of civilian victims of terrorist attacks. NAB did not enter their houses but death did and death was just as unwelcome but the dead had no choice. How often have you spoken for them? How often do you think about them? I am sure the heat must be bearable for you and your innocent friends for they are not inside the furnace.

When faced with the possibility of accountability our parliamentarians raise the slogan of the 18th Amendment. And when provincial governments, apparently empowered by this amendment, let children die of malnutrition they divert attention by raising the slogan of the 21st Amendment. These wise men and women have no shortage of constitutional excuses. The constitution, after all, is there to protect their interests and their interests alone. Period.

Parliament with all its ‘baladasti’ (supremacy) has so far failed to legislate to substantially improve the life of thousands upon thousands of ordinary citizens who remain deprived of basic human rights and civic amenities. They remain at the mercy of the mad terrorist because NAP is napping and NAB mustn’t nab.

The assembly sessions have become notorious for thin attendance, yet when it comes to the survival of the corrupt system the members rally together and throng to the Parliament. There the Fazlur Rahmans, Achakzais and Aitezaz Ahsans of our absurd world eulogise democracy and how it is absolutely dependent for its survival upon the corrupt, self-serving, dirty scoundrels.

They are likely to gather again soon and pass a law ensuring accountability does not touch them. All in the name of constitutional law. Justice will be served and they will congratulate each other for the great democratic feat. The democratic institutions would be strengthened and Pakistan would have been saved yet again from the omnipotent ‘’non-democratic forces’’ waiting in the shadows, ready to pounce on the innocents.

Afterwards, in between regular electricity outages, the nation will watch frenzied discussions on their television screens and then most will go back to sleep. Some will sit on their prayer mats and ask Allah to work a miracle and make their blind leaders look at their children and look at them with love. I am not sure Allah will entertain such a request. Even miracles can’t be that irrational.

The writer is an academic currently affiliated with Meliksah University, Turkey.

Email: [email protected]



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