The Tal­iban or the rulers?

The Pak Banker - - Front Page - Asif Ezdi

WITH a few ex­cep­tions, such as as when as­cer­tain­ing the wishes of a peo­ple un­der for­eign rule, ref­er­en­dums are lit­tle more than po­lit­i­cal gim­micks. Their pur­pose is mostly ei­ther to seek pop­u­lar le­git­i­macy for de­ci­sions that have been ar­rived at al­ready or to score a pro­pa­ganda point.

The “ref­er­en­dum” an­nounced by the MQM ear­lier this month, in which peo­ple would be asked whether they wanted Jin­nah’s Pak­istan or that of the Tal­iban, falls in the lat­ter cat­e­gory. It is ac­tu­ally not a ref­er­en­dum at all be­cause it is to be con­ducted not by the state but a sin­gle party.

The sig­nif­i­cance of the “ref­er­en­dum”, since post­poned, ac­tu­ally lies in the way it typ­i­fies the at­tempt of our po­lit­i­cal class to dis­tract at­ten­tion from its own mis­deeds and fail­ings and shift the blame for the coun­try’s woes to the Tal­iban. Gen Zia tried a sim­i­lar tac­tic in his 1984 ref­er­en­dum. Hav­ing over­thrown a civil­ian gov­ern­ment, he sought le­git­i­macy by giv­ing his mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship an Is­lamic garb. If an “Is­lamic sys­tem of gov­ern­ment” was pre­sented then as the an­swer to the coun­try’s prob­lems, to­day many of our “lib­eral” par­ties claim to be aim­ing for “Jin­nah’s Pak­istan” as they in­ter­pret it, while de­nounc­ing the Tal­iban as the source of all evil.

It is not just the MQM but a large num­ber of other po­lit­i­cal par­ties as well that seek to use the Tal­iban as a scape­goat to cover up their own faults. They are as­sisted in this ef­fort by our self-styled “lib­eral” com­men­ta­tors who do not tire of cas­ti­gat­ing the Tal­iban for pos­ing a threat to the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity while gloss­ing over the more in­sid­i­ous long-term dan­gers posed to the so­cial or­der by the an­tics of our politi­cians.

The Tehreek-e-Tal­iban Pak­istan (TTP) has no doubt made it­self an easy tar­get by such out­ra­geous ac­tions as the in­dis­crim­i­nate killing of civil­ians by sui­cide bomb- ings and other ter­ror­ist at­tacks, op­po­si­tion to girls’ ed­u­ca­tion and the “ex­e­cu­tion” of cap­tured sol­diers. But none of these rep­re­hen­si­ble ac­tions by the Tal­iban can ab­solve the rul­ing classes of their re­spon­si­bil­ity for bring­ing the coun­try to the precipice. They have been in power in one shape or the other for nearly six decades and, while they them­selves have ac­cu­mu­lated wealth in the county and out­side and have pros­pered in other ways, the coun­try has been go­ing down­hill and the lot of the com­mon man has hardly im­proved.

In fact, the rise of the TTP it­self is the re­sult of the self-seek­ing poli­cies of our rul­ing class. The so­cio-eco­nomic de­pri­va­tion of the com­mon man pro­vides the breed­ing ground for the ex­trem­ist mind­set we so love to de­nounce. The or­di­nary ci­ti­zen has lit­tle chance of get­ting a de­cent ed­u­ca­tion or earn­ing a de­cent liveli­hood. It is not sur­pris­ing that some of them turn to ex­trem­ist so­lu­tions. They are fed up with a cor­rupt po­lit­i­cal sys­tem and an un­just so­cio-eco­nomic or­der that leaves them with no prospect of break­ing the shack­les of poverty.

Ev­ery day we watch how the con­sti­tu­tion and the law are twisted to give our rulers im­punity from ac­count­abil­ity for their mis­deeds. The NRO was the most shock­ing ex­am­ple. Even af­ter it was in­val­i­dated, al­most ev­ery­one has es­caped con­vic­tion ei­ther be­cause there was some tech­ni­cal flaw in pur­su­ing the mat­ter or be­cause the pros­e­cu­tion did not pre­pare a wa­ter­tight case. The new ac­count­abil­ity law that the gov­ern­ment is try­ing to steam­roll through par­lia­ment is full of loop­holes that will make the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, pros­e­cu­tion and con­vic­tion of the cor­rupt even more dif­fi­cult, so that our elected “rep­re­sen­ta­tives” are left in peace as they go about the busi­ness of help­ing them­selves to money from the pub­lic ex­che­quer or from the pock­ets of the lesser cit­i­zens of the coun­try.

Only last week, the honourable mem­bers of par­lia­ment, who al­ways jeal­ously guard the priv­i­leges of their class, kicked up an almighty ruckus at the prospect of a for­mer prime min­is­ter, now dis­qual­i­fied from hold­ing elected of­fice, be­ing in­ter­ro­gated in the course of in­ves­ti­ga­tions into cor­rup­tion. A se­nior min­is­ter threat­ened to have the of­fi­cial who has been en­trusted with this task brought be­fore the house in hand­cuffs for his “masti (im­pu­dence)”. So much for the re­spect of our “rep­re­sen­ta­tives” for the rule of law.

One priv­i­lege that they are par­tic­u­larly pos­ses­sive of is their re­fusal to pay a fair share of taxes. In other coun­tries, it is the well-to-do who pay the bulk of the money needed to pro­vide the es­sen­tial ser­vices that ben­e­fit all cit­i­zens, es­pe­cially the less for­tu­nate sec­tions of so­ci­ety. In Pak­istan, the re­verse is true. The poor bear more than

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