OVER A COFFEE: The political underworld of Pakistan —Dr Haider Shah
More than anything else, it is the first test of the independence of the judiciary. Not just analysts but even a layman is on the lookout for how the SC will deal with the designers and executioners of a stinking scam
Forget about the Godfather series of Hollywood or the gangster movies of Bollywood. Just watch the talk shows on these days and you will be thrilled to see how the underworld operates in Pakistani politics with impunity.
The lid on the much-awaited Asghar Khan case has finally been lifted after much hesitation by the Supreme Court (SC). The Pandora’s Box contains not only politicians’ dirty linen but also the manual on how the real state operates while we remain busy in watching the movie. It reminds me of Plato’s famous analogy of shadows in a cave. It centred on the notion of ideal forms that resided in the heavens, while on earth we only see their reflections. Illustrating the point, he gives the example of a person who is chained inside a cave and on the wall in front of him, sees shadows of objects moving behind him. If the prisoner was born and raised like this, he would treat the shadows as real. But if he is released and sees the real objects he would then realise that all through his life he had only been watching shadows.
Mehrangate has provided us with a similar realisation as many inside stories are now open to the public. When the court began hearing Khan’s petition last week, the general expectation was that the government and the new entrant PTI would be the main beneficiaries. But as the saying goes, “Never wrestle with a pig: you both get all dirty, and the pig likes it.” If Imran Khan was expecting that his party would be the major beneficiary, he must be now repenting his insistence on putting all his eggs in one basket. The only legitimacy-providing political figure of the party, Javed Hashmi, is allegedly one of the recipients of the handouts, if Younis Habib is to be believed. The setback is that the party can no longer use the case as a salvo against PML-N, the party that it has specifically targeted in its campaign. If it declares that Hashmi has wrongly been accused, then the much smaller amounts mentioned against PML-N leaders could be defended too. Since the party had a single-point campaign of corruption, the alleged involvement of one of its main leaders damages it worse than it does any other political party.
The dust storm caused by the Khan case has not spared the ruling coalition either. One of the basic maxims of equity-based jurisprudence is, “He who comes into equity must come with clean hands.” If the then PPP government was victimised by plotters in the military, it should have challenged them on assuming power or at least shown some abhorrence. But, all the plotters were rewarded in one way or another. The more damaging revelation is, however, relating to the use of Habib’s Rs 50 million by the PPP with express approval of the then Prime Minister late Benzair Bhutto for dislodging Pir Sabir Shah’s government in NWFP. Similarly, the revelation of misuse of secret funds of the Intelligence Bureau for destabilising rival political governments by the PPP does further damage. The MQM, like ever, is in denial mode and celebrating the self-proclaimed acquittal of its saint-like leader. The religious parties wearing angelic robes have also not escaped the muddy stains right under their ‘holier than thou’ badges.
Three important points are related to the scenario. First, due process of law should take its course and the media should not dictate the outcome of the court proceedings. Sometime back when the SC acquitted the accused in the Mukhtaran Mai case, expressing my concerns, I had cautioned that the court made the correct decision in the light of available evidence. It would be a very dangerous trend if the courts start playing to the gallery. No one is above the law and no one is below the law. Therefore, all accused in the Khan case should not be treated any differently and must be considered innocent till proven guilty. Second, the role of the spy agencies, both military and civil, has become public and cannot be ignored. The recipients’ guilt is not yet proved; however, those who misused their official position made a mockery of their oath about not indulging in political activities, and tried to subvert the outcome of elections. They have already confessed their crime. More than anything else, it is the first test of the independence of the judiciary. Not just analysts but even a layman is on the lookout for how the SC will deal with the designers and executioners of a stinking scam.
The third point is the most important one. History repeats itself if lessons are not learnt and remedial measures not adopted. The underworld gangsters carried out their dirty operations feeling they were above the law. Nobody knows what is the legal framework under which the intelligence agencies of Pakistan work. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
During Musharraf’s regime Senator Farhatullah Babar moved a motion asking for the legal framework that controlled the intelligence agencies. Such is the power of our underworld operators that the then chairman of the Senate, killing the motion, did not allow any discussion. Now Babar is back in the Senate controlled by his own party. Hopefully, without delay, he would reintroduce the motion. Just a few days ago PML-N moved a motion in the National Assembly for a monitoring mechanism of the intelligence agencies. If both opposition and government are on the same wavelength, what prevents them from making an accountability mechanism of the underworld operators? Actions speak louder than words. The actions of both PML-N and the PPP-led coalition government will be keenly watched. If they just keep throwing mud at each other, and the animal farm is not properly locked, the leaders of the animals will be weaving a thicker cobweb for them.
The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at email@example.com