A Brutalized and Surreal Polity
By Shireen M Mazari

The trauma of Karachi on May 12 was revived on September 29 in Islamabad. Only this time, in full view of the civil society through live coverage, the guilty were the supposed protectors of the very people being beaten and savaged. No condemnation for the police force can be too harsh in terms of what they did to the lawyers and journalists on Constitution Avenue that day. It was not the crowds running amuck but the police force -- which clearly showed not an iota of discipline let alone humanity. Is this what our police academies are now sending into society?
No professionalism, only a barbarianism determined to unleash violence and abuse on the intelligentsia of this society. Are these the enforcers of law and protectors of the nation in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan? Where is the accountability and what is their punishment? Merely a limited "suspension" forced upon the bureaucracy by the Supreme Court. What is this farce of "inquiry committees" to establish who did what when documented evidence is on tape after tape showing the inspector-general of police himself along with other police officials beating up the civilian protestors. Inquiry committees are certainly needed to establish the "who" and "why" aspects. After all, why did the police lose control of any professionalism they may have had? And who gave the orders? Or was it simply that the police chief let his murderous streak run free and led his men in a surreal battle with peaceful, if verbally aggressive protestors and even more peaceful journalists who were simply trying to do their job?
But why are we not surprised by such violence anymore? We are filled with intolerance at all levels. If things go the way we want, we become effusive in our praise and laurels, but if things go against our expectations, then the same laurels turn to abuse. Thus, swinging from one extreme to another, civil society is being suffocated from all sides. It is threatened by extremist doctrines and intolerance from one side, acts of terrorism from another, and increasingly endangered from the very forces created for our protection. Thus making us into a brutalized polity dominated by hatred, suspicions and cynicism. Was it not an irony to see people express their skepticism about lawyers and politicians in the wake of the September 28 Supreme Court decision and the mayhem of the following day. Unfortunately, the media have become victims in this bizarre crossfire at multiple levels.
Amid all this violence and political jockeying for power, no one is looking to the very real threats to the nation. Women abuse is on the increase; extremists are destroying the future of our youth by closing down schools; our cultural diversity is being threatened by the same militants; and every day existence is becoming difficult for the ordinary citizen in the wake of spiraling prices, especially of basic food items. Despite a bumper wheat crop, wheat shortages abound because the political elite is busy amassing money through wheat smuggling and hoarding. The sugar mafia has now been joined by the wheat mafia. We all know who they are, but who will move to bring them to book? After all, presently, we are in the process of seeing past corruption slates also being wiped clean.
What are our political elites doing? Making deals, playing musical chairs with "resignations", doing everything but seeking to ameliorate the suffering of the nation at multiple levels. Extremism and violence are becoming endemic; security for the ordinary man is non-existent with the police themselves acting as a source of threat; and those depriving the people of their basic food items -- the mafias – are not being brought to book. No wonder people are expressing a growing cynicism -- as witnessed, to the surprise of many, in the set of TV interviews conducted in Karachi by Geo television post-September 29.
Yet, the political landscape continues to become ever more surreal. Alliances and counter alliances; promises of "shariah"; promises of unfettered democracy by those who themselves have shown an inability to tolerate any form of dissent; and, perhaps most dangerous, efforts by some to dance to the US tune in the belief that the US will decide our political fate. No one is going that extra mile for the US as much as Ms Bhutto and Mr Farhatullah Babar, a sincere man for whom I have nothing but respect, who is having a difficult time in trying to provide rational explanations within a nationalist context of his leader's bizarre outbursts.
On the A.Q. Khan issue, the real issue is not one of the Pakistani government cooperating with an international organization but of a Pakistani political leader reopening an issue which has been effectively closed. Already, the present government went an extra mile -- some of us felt it was unnecessary -- in cooperating with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) including sending our old centrifuges for inspection to the Agency. We were under no international legal obligation to do so, but in the spirit of cooperation on non-proliferation, the Government of Pakistan chose to do so. That is why the head of the IAEA stated categorically to the agency's board, in June 2006, that the IAEA had received all the cooperation it had sought from Pakistan and the issue was now closed. It is keeping this fact in mind that one is suspicious of why Ms Bhutto would want to resuscitate this issue at this particular time. The suspicions become stronger when one listens to her response to a question asked in a CNN interview on September 26. She was asked whether she would ever allow Dr Khan to be handed over to the US and her response is telling. It was not a clear cut "no" as it should have been. Instead, she declared that she would not be handing him over "to anyone unlawfully." So here we have her keeping that dangerous option open for the US to gain physical access to Dr Khan.
As if that was not enough, she has now declared that she will allow the US to enter Pakistani territory -- within certain ifs and buts of course -- in its pursuit of Bin Laden. So effectively, this implies that the US will be allowed to violate or undermine Pakistani sovereignty if it sought to do so within the context of the war on terror! Clearly, it is this "moderation" that endears her to the US as the only "acceptable" political option for Pakistan. Too bad for the US that the people of Pakistan may not agree to that -- if given a chance at truly fair and free elections.
The real tragedy is that as a result of the brutalisation of civil society, we as a people are in danger of losing our humaneness and tolerance. The savagery that filled the faces of the police force on September 29 was only too evident. But we need to also look at the faces of those decrying the Supreme Court judgment on September 28; look into the eyes of those who suffered violence on September 29; and look at the marchers across the country on September 30. It is as sad as it is terrifying. The Pakistan so many of us love passionately is receding in a haze of brutal surrealism.
(The writer is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad. Courtesy The News)


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