Mar 2, 2009

Poor governance and the rising tide of extremism

Two months after President Zardari told the nation that he knew the identity of those who killed Ms Benazir Bhutto and would identify them, we are told that the PPP government is now toying with the idea of joining hands with the PML-Q, once referred to by Mr Zardari as the “Qatil” League. There are so many ironies in politics, more so in Pakistan. It is interesting to see Mian Nawaz Sharif now championing the cause of both the judiciary and of the media. What is ironic for us is that many who are today part of the long march were twelve years back storming the Supreme Court building. President Leghari at the time had accused Mian Nawaz Sharif of masterminding the attack. We do not know who to believe.All our leaders - President Zardari, Mian Nawaz Sharif, General (Retd) Musharraf claim to be speaking for the common man. One look at their houses, the cars they drive and the luxury they surround themselves with; how can they claim to suffer the pain? While we suffer and endure long marches and dismissal of governments, the real problem, that of poor governance, remains. A news report published this month talks about how gangsters have taken over Lyari, a lower income locality of Karachi and a bastion of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party.Encouraged by their links with the police and politicians, it is said that these gangsters have started to issue notices to residents and shopkeepers, asking them to cough up protection money or face the consequences. Those who resist are killed. Businessmen are kidnapped, people are robbed, families are harassed. The only other option for the people of this economically deprived area is to move out. The police and the home minister, Zulfiqar Mirza, who once said main hun na as a sort of assurance that he would take care of things, are surprisingly missing from the scene. This is in an area that is the vote bank of the PPP. One can only wonder what the priorities of our ministers are.But how long can people keep on moving out? We change localities, cities and even move out of the country. But that is not the solution to the problem of bad governance where our leaders are embroiled in mindless battles while the people suffer.One would not be surprised that within a year or two a Taliban office springs up in Lyari and gains popularity for ensuring quick justice. We saw it happening in Swat, we can see it happening elsewhere in Pakistan.The problem is that the Taliban are not the solution. At the same time we are no closer to a better Pakistan than we were ten years ago. Nothing is being done to tackle the real problems of Pakistan: poverty, illiteracy, poor social indicators and bad governance. The lawyers have been protesting for two years now but they are not talking about a better system of justice. In all this, the religious extremists are gaining ground. And the police is sleeping. This year on February 14, angry students of madressahs stormed an amusement park area of the Nisar Shaheed Park, in Karachi’s upmarket Defence Authority area. They said that the music from the Valentine-cum-Basant show was disturbing them in their prayers and, by bullying the organizers and harassing the families and people present, had the show shut down.The police were no help at all. Instead of arresting the extremists, who took the law into their hands by barging into a private area with sticks and stones, they instead defended the action. The TPO claimed that the incident happened because no permission for such a show had been sought from them. It needs to be pointed out that there is no need for such permission. But the police blamed the organizers and insisted on a compromise - which meant the closing down of the show. The police “inspired” compromise was not for the militant elements to apologise or be reprimanded. This may be one of several such incidents all across the country but shows the mindset of our law enforcers and government, which in turn emboldens extremist elements by taking no action at all. Given the high sums that are deducted from our salaries in the form of taxes and other levies that we pay through indirect taxes, why is it that the police and the public servants are unable to perform their most basic functions.Take for example the role played by Waseem Ahmed, formerly of the FIA and currently chief of Karachi’s police. On the first day of the incident, Ahmed blamed the organizers for not seeking permission. When asked why those who took the law into their hands were not arrested, Ahmed said that no such destruction took place to warrant that measure. But eye witnesses and initial police reports suggested otherwise.Then, when prodded further, Ahmed said that a police inquiry had been ordered into the incident. There has been no report from the inquiry despite the passage of two weeks. He also said that an FIR has not been registered because there was no complainant. In such instances, the state can take notice and make arrests based on evidence of damage to public and private property. Why should some one come forward when the police themselves are too scared to act?Why is it that our high and mighty police and other law enforcers become kittens when it comes to taking on the extremist elements? Take for example the “permission” given by the DHA to a women’s religious organization to run a seminary on main Sunset Boulevard on “Fi Sabeel Illah” basis at a time when all schools, or other enterprises on that road were shut under its otherwise impressive zero-tolerance policy. For ten years, this women’s seminary was running under the very noses of the DHA and no one took notice. It was only after this newspaper highlighted the anomaly that the DHA sprung into action. Now the religious organization, whose founder has migrated to Canada on false pretences, has been accommodated at the DHA library’s auditorium. One wonders should we be more scared of the extremist elements in our society or their apologists. One theory given by a right minded journalist is that the police and other state wings are so inept and corrupt that they bend over to please the extremists because they have neither the awareness nor the moral courage to take them on.How else can we explain the fact that most mosques in Karachi are built on encroached land? And that the government cannot remove them. We need to ask our more rational religious scholars how can Namaaz be offered in a mosque that is illegally built? Or is that too hot an issue for us to take on?One apologist is Imran Khan, who has otherwise done some good work. His achievements include the Cricket World Cup (although he did not acknowledge the contribution of his team in his winning speech) and the Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital. But despite the fact he has matured as a politician over the years, Imran Khan should also keep his idealism of tribal justice and the Taliban to himself. If during his years of education in the UK he had paid more attention to his books, he would realize how off the mark he is. Why is it that most religious organizations are afraid to condemn suicide bombings and terror attacks? Not taking anything away from the terror wrought by the Israelis in Gaza, why does the same force of condemnation not come forth for the people who have bombed, killed and injured in Swat and the Tribal Areas?This week was also interesting because we were told by the head of the army’s PR machine that the army could not win the war in Swat because the people were not with it. He also said that there was a paucity of resources and that the funding for the extremists came from a variety of sources.This newspaper did a report on refugees from Swat in Karachi. They said that they were not sure who to fear more - the militants who killed them on suspicion of collaborating with the government or the army which bombed them on suspicion of harbouring militants. In the final analysis, poor governance is creating the space for extremism to flourish. And we are still not learning our lesson.

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