Handle with care

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

geust-contOur media feeds us news-shockers and pop intellectual celebrity responses to the latest political sin of omission or commission on a daily basis. The storm of noise obscures (perhaps unintendedly) that the root problem for national authorities in Karachi is the approach to Bilawal House and the PPP: How different can it remain from the approach already taken to 90 and the MQM? Thorny difficulties arise when handling principled and pragmatic aspects of the matter, whether deterrent authority dons a political velvet glove or shows a military iron hand.

The nettle will have to be plucked though, for Karachi truly is a cosmopolitan city: Its populace might not count for much other than statistically, but what happens there and to it has high visibility.

Contenders for and recipients of political power and its addictive privileges are unlikely to forgo opportunities to embarrass each other about how matters are/are not being tackled: Notwithstanding that many prefer to soft-pedal on accountability for some (though not all) so as to lessen the chances of its reaching them in turn. And that is not the only complexification.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s father (who served a complete if partisan term as democratic Pakistan’s president) and Altaf Bhai have already reminded us they command considerable street power. Given that undeniable ugly reality, should the ongoing operation’s creeping approach to dis-enabling the full range of “legitimately” appointed employees and duly elected powerful politicians, decelerate, accelerate or stagnate? The two party heads and patrons have made a mockery of law and civil administration in the city and the province. Governance and security are issues in other provinces too as those fearful of dislodgement in Sindh are swift to point out.

That is only too true but the origins and manifestation are different. Which does not mean that they can be ignored.

The faceless masses have been bewailing the malfeasance and corruption that undermine the functionality of the State through years of civil and military misrule. There have been attempts to set things right and punish offenders but not disinterestedly enough well-meaning ones. Transparent accountability, free and fair, is even more difficult to attain than an electoral process that will satisfy the PTI –Imran does not fuss when he wins. And with accountability everyone stands to lose, excepting the cheated electorate.

At the risk of reiteration, no party and no institution may emerge unscathed from an impartial and all-encompassing accountability.

So who conducts it and how?

Politicians lack a consistent will, and prolonged recourse to military control and monitoring enlarges its due role in civil process. PAT emphatically terms the problem systemic. But the PAT variety of force majeure has never been the people’s choice; and the PTI, which illogically claims to be the only true parliamentary opposition in the otherwise falsely elected body, only trusts itself. Fiscally Imran has no political slate to wipe clean. However, his record has not been democratically impressive. He has shown too much reliance on civil unrest and street pressure and no small degree of institutional contempt for the legislature and judiciary. He is linked with amorphous and thereby all the more insidious speculation about “third umpires”. Is the seesaw of public opinion inclining towards a quick-fix military-backed solution? Not just on terrorism or the MQM’s militancy and alleged treason, but also on eradicating a metastasizing political rapacity and discrimination that relentlessly devours the national fabric.

Could an all-powerful caretaking council become a cry of the vox populi?

The usurped civil political element was able to bank on public rejection of military and establishment power play post-Zia. But the PPP and the PML-N’s subsequent trial and error learning process proved un-edifyingly repetitive. COAS Musharraf took over amid popular acclaim and endorsement from the liberal intelligentsia after ten years of civil democratic life.

Yet, his own necessities soon demanded civil political compromise. Eventually he re-accommodated the PPP in a post-NRO transition to democracy. The 2008 parliament and the venal governments it yielded banked on the blanket international endorsement afforded civil democracy in Pakistan in a post 9/11 context. Even when elected representatives overplayed/misplayed their hands grossly, the military wisely held its own. Local military interventionism could precipitate external “assistance” for a threatened civil democracy. Nonetheless, we now have a strongly sustained attempt to impugn, if not nullify, the 2013 national elections and thereby reset the local democratic process.

Post the APS atrocity at Peshawar in December last year, special powers for the military in law-enforcement were welcomed. But an enhancement of the army’s role and autonomy in the civil context is not a healthy sign for democracy. Its proponents can only remind undoubtedly ill-served and misgoverned citizens that the party voted into office at the Federal Centre in 2008 was voted out decisively in 2013. The provincial verdicts too reflected change: Not to the degree the PTI would have it exists, but enough to satisfy the wider electorate. Like any system, democracy has inbuilt limitations. Moreover as locally practiced it shows toxic and deliberate perversions. But the wiser way to right it is democratically: it is possible to vote out a no longer wanted elected government. It is only possible to overthrow forcibly an unwanted military dictatorship.

And we all need to remember that invoking civil chaos and paralysis also invites a deprivation of civil rights and liberties. If the democratically garbed virtually encourage insurgency from their self-seeking adherents, a much vaster nationally-minded constituency should frustrate such rabble-rousers with clear rejection. Military response then becomes redundant or suitably subordinated to the civil polity.