OVER A COFFEE : From Yunis Habib to Malik Riaz — Dr Haider Shah
Entrepreneurs that create wealth need recognition as national heroes. However, as Karl Marx says, money is power and in private hands, it becomes a personal power
With the appearance of a ‘planted’ interview of Malik Riaz by a Lahore-based private channel, the fast paced and high-pitched drama that began with a whispering campaign has taken a new sensational turn. As a columnist of a national daily, I must say that I have been suffering from a kind of bipolar depression after reading news stories, op-ed pieces and watching various talk shows for the last few days. ‘It is the best of times, it is the worst of times’ is the line that best represents the pendulum-like movement of my emotional state after watching the conduct of various media personalities.
At a bigger level, Pakistan appears to be like the mythical Sisyphus who is suffering from the curse of moving in circles. Whenever one feels that a new era has begun, the ghost of bygone periods is resurrected and we begin the same excruciating ordeal all over again. Just a few months ago, the Asghar Khan case helped everyone see how dirty money was used by the intelligence agencies to ‘manage’ the political process of the country. For the first time, the shady character, Yunis Habib was exposed and former heads of the military establishment were made answerable for their past actions. However, here we are, dealing with another storm with a new tycoon at the centre.
Some time ago, an officer shared with me some interesting facts about Raja Zarat who was once just a clerk in the customs department. The clerk soon became chairman of Bawan Shah Group of industries and attained so much power that even collectors would seek his favour for postings. When his misdeeds became well known, he was arrested for a multi-billion rupees fraud. When asked why he was not arrested earlier, the answer was that he not only enjoyed the blessings of certain bigwigs of politics but intelligence agencies would also come to his rescue. Unfortunately, that is how a scheme of things works in reality behind the façade of patriotic slogans.
Moneyed men are mostly very risk-averse individuals who normally are frightened by their own shadows. When they roar like lions one must, therefore, not take everything at its face value. If the dots are joined, one can have a feeling that bekhudi besabab nahi Ghalib (ecstasy is not without a cause Ghalib). The extra cautious prime minister suddenly started putting up a very defiant show in the wake of his contempt of court conviction. The government seems to have reached a strategic agreement with the security establishment as both consider the expanding power and the growing prestige of the independent judiciary a cause for concern. After opening the Pandora’s Box of the Asghar Khan case, the Supreme Court has started ignoring the red lines drawn by the security establishment, for instance, asking difficult questions in the missing persons cases. Just as the US and international jihadis forged a strategic alliance in the 1980s to deal with the more potent threat of the Soviet Union, one can see a possibility of a similar alliance developing between the present government and the security establishment. Riaz Malik’s boldness may therefore be on account of some assurances received from these seats of power.
Sometime ago, I had written about the power of discourse and how various vested interest groups try to manipulate the social discourse by giving a strategic spin to observed facts. The Malik Riaz affair is also a good case study for understanding the mechanics of controlling the social discourse. First, let us examine the bare facts. A business tycoon has levelled an allegation against the son of the Chief Justice of Pakistan that he was looked after very well during his foreign visits by the family members of Malik Riaz and a few millions of rupees were spent on his protocol. The news is whispered into the ears of a few well-known media personalities, the Chief Justice takes a suo motu notice and the case is heard in the Supreme Court. Now these facts can generate three possible discourses. One, these allegations are baseless and one should not give them any attention. Second, these are allegations and can have a malicious motive, but must be properly investigated and whoever is found guilty must be punished. Third, the allegations are very serious and hence the Chief Justice must resign. If we wish to see rule of law and good governance flourish in the country, it is the second kind of discourse that we should promote. The most dangerous is the third type, which certain media personalities are trying to sell. Institutions are the sum total of the individuals that make them up and the values that drive the conduct of those individuals. If holding press conferences against the courts is not stopped, the state will disintegrate soon.
No individual should be punished just because we feel jealous of his rags to riches story. Entrepreneurs that create wealth need recognition as national heroes. However, as Karl Marx says, money is power and in private hands, it becomes a personal power. The law should deter amassing of wealth through dubious means or its abuse in any form. Just today, a tycoon Allen Stanford was sentenced to 110 years in jail by a US court for operating a Ponzi scheme that defrauded 30,000 individual investors of more than $ seven billion. We need to see the same long reach of the law, which should facilitate genuine entrepreneurs in Pakistan but must award exemplary punishments to those that use money to create more money by trying to purchase opinion makers and honourable judges of the country.
The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org