Mar 25, 2009
Sauce for the goose
The ongoing auction for votes in the Punjab Provincial Assembly, so soon after the restoration of the judges, is further proof that the federation is dysfunctional. As the politicians squabble, officials disobey "illegal" orders and soldiers refuse to take on fellow Muslims in the borderlands (curiously, no such hesitancy was evident in East Pakistan). The refusal by some brigadiers to obey orders to fire on an opposition crowd in Lahore in 1977 was a trendsetter; earlier the police strike in Lahore continued this trend and last week's defiance of the police to arrest or confine opposition politicians, again in Lahore, suggests that what is presently an infection may become a contagion. Politicians should pause to ponder the consequences of promoting indiscipline and brazen flouting of authority. Identical "illegal" orders for the arrest of popular Sindhi leaders, for example, were never challenged. No one balked at carrying out the edict of a soldier usurper for the arrest of Z A Bhutto. Not a leaf stirred uniformed conscience was pricked when he was murdered at the behest of the dictator. It was noticeable that none of the hundreds of police officials surrounding BB's residence in Lahore in November 2007 refused to abide by what were manifestly "illegal" orders from yet another soldier dictator. Similarly, there is no record that the soldier or airman ordered to terminate the aged, infirm, cornered and defenceless Akbar Bughti stood down because the use of excessive force is a crime. Such memories linger and rankle. Mujibur Rahman trotted out examples of discrimination against Bengalis to fan his secessionist agenda and it worked. Nawaz Sharif's appeal to his fellow Punjabis to follow where he leads was a powerful reminder that Pakistan is less a nation state than a state of nations, three stood excluded from his call. Whipping up Punjabi chauvinism could prove lethal.The 1973 Constitution posited a federal arrangement for Pakistan. But very quickly the spirit of that the Constitution was violated and the document itself trashed by successive military regimes. And as people lose hope that it will ever be implemented so demands for the promised autonomy have been replaced by those for outright independence. Hence, the current insurgency in Balochistan was preceded by a declaration of independence. The recent fracas over the "desecration" of Benazir Bhutto's pictures and epithets directed against Sindh; the threat by the MQM to quit the coalition unless appropriate apologies were received; the incensed reaction of PPP workers in Sindh are vivid reminders that key segments of civil society are fretting, angry and losing hope that the promise of a truly federal structure will ever be redeemed. Sindh, in particular, comprising 30 percent of Pakistan's population while contributing as much as 60 percent of the national wealth and 70 percent of Pakistan's oil and gas requirements, feels especially short-changed. Looking towards Islamabad for its developmental needs is galling when they can be easily met from Sindh's own revenues. A Sindhi often asks why the sins of one province should be visited on another; why his development should be withheld to fund those of another provinces; why Sindh's courts should be manned by judges from another province; why the policeman or Ranger deployed in his province should be recruited from another province; why most bureaucrats manning the provincial secretariat be domiciled in another province, etc., etc. And whereas he will readily concede that Sindh's parochial interests cannot alone decide the nation's foreign and defence policies, he does wonder why some dictator plays truant with his rights; and why Islamabad is allowed by law to stake his prosperity, peace of mind, security and future on wholly avoidable wars. This has been Sindh's fate thus far, but it need not be. If elusive justice can be obtained by a long march so can equally elusive self-rule, of course, within the ambit of Pakistan. Indeed, Mr Zardari can reclaim much of the respect and affection he has squandered by his antics during the judges matter by leading the next long march for the rights of the other nations which comprise Pakistan. And if, by some miracle, he decides to emerge from his bunker to do so, Mr Nawaz Sharif is best placed by his recent experience to advise him how to ensure success, beginning with a stirring call to Sindhi nationalism, followed by threats of all kinds and finally a warning to the federal authorities to lay off or face revolt. Nobody could object, after all what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.