Accountability for all crimes is what we need. Incomplete and partial accountability is no accountability at all
Dr. Haider Shah
For the past few days, the bells have tolled in the media for the leaders of MQM. Being a vehement supporter of the rule of law and a regular critic of the politics of MQM, I should be filled with a blissful feeling that finally judgment day has arrived. But my happiness is blotted by a feeling of discomfort as I can see some manufacturing as well. My optimism tells me that finally truth will prevail in a long drawn out battle but my scepticism alerts me that it might end up a pyrrhic victory. The conspiracy theorist whispers in my ears that this is in fact a targeted operation to dislodge a politician from a seat for which a new aspirant is registering his claim, masquerading as a law enforcement operation. As a friend puts it, the fast paced thriller looks like it is bulldozing the way to installing a New Kaka in Karachi.
A law enforcement operation against criminal activities is an initiative that enjoys the support of all sections of society. When the arrests of the alleged killers in famous cases, like those of Zahra Shahid Hussain and Parween Rahman, are splashed as breaking news all over the national media, we feel as if we are entering a new era. An era in which, in Faiz’s words: “kuch apni saza ko phuncheingei, kuch apni jaza lejaengei” (some will receive penalties, some will be rewarded). But then the sceptic in me becomes a bit restless. Why now and so suddenly? In all these years, even when Army chief Musharraf and his raft of Army monitoring teams in all public sector organisations was in total control of the country, the killers were not apprehended.
The revelations of Soulat Mirza are dramatic and shocking but they were already in the public domain. While his allegations may be used by the law enforcement agencies to book some big politicians, some disturbing side effects may outweigh the benefits. In their enthusiasm to settle scores with the leadership of MQM, they have rent the institutional processes to punish culprits asunder. If a convict shares confidential information with the law enforcement agencies, such information should be used to arrest the accused and to have them convicted in a court of law. It is unprecedented to see a carefully recorded and edited video message of a convicted murderer being shown on electronic media as a breaking news item. Never in the past has a convicted murderer addressed the nation like a celebrity. Although I do not have high opinions of the people named by Soulat Mirza, I am perturbed by the manner in which this whole confession speech was made available to the addressees.
Accountability for all crimes is what we need. Incomplete and partial accountability is no accountability at all. If past crimes are being investigated and those who planned them are getting nabbed, then the organisers of the 12th May massacre also need to be arrested and brought to justice. Because Musharraf publicly took ownership of the proceedings of that fateful day in Karachi, impartial accountability demands that he should also be arrested along with all the others that facilitated the bloodstained events of that day. In the same Karachi, a murder attack was carried out on Hamid Mir in broad day light. No one knows what happened to the judicial commission and police investigations about that event. And everyone knows what happened to Geo for naming the suspect. Ironically, it was the same channel that relayed the murder accusations of Saulat Mirza against political leaders. It is interesting to see how quickly patriotism and villainy become interchanged in Pakistan. There is a perception in certain quarters that schemers had been working behind the scenes to persuade Altaf Hussain to vacate the party chief slot for Musharaff. After a stubborn refusal, the current media focused trial aims to teach him a lesson. This story may actually be a figment of the imagination, but the manner in which the electronic media has been used doesn’t help in dispelling the perception that MQM has fallen foul of the security establishment.
Releasing video messages to media channels in a clandestine manner has been the hallmark of terrorist outfits, like the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. When the leaders of the state opt for similar techniques, institutional development stalls and gives way to the whims of powerful personalities. It is the sad saga of our political history that the military first spends 10 years trying to enforce an Islamic system in the country and promote jihadism in every nook and corner, then it calls for 10 more years to clean up the mess created by its earlier rule. Currently, a popularly elected government is leading the country in theory, but it is anyone’s guess who is really calling the shots. Both the civilian leaders and military institutions can restore the confidence of independent observers in the integrity of the political system if no wilful overstepping of the due process of law is done and accountability is ensured across the board.