If President and Prime Minister can’t do anything about Balochistan, let us decide, said the Chief Justice of Pakistan, the other day. He made this remark while presiding over a three-member Supreme Court bench, which is hearing a constitutional petition filed by the Balochistan High Court Bar Association against target killing, kidnapping for ransom, as well as missing persons in Balochistan.
The Chief Justice further observed that the court had knocked on every door to resolve the Balochistan issue, but if the government wanted to let people die, it would be held responsible for the killings.
Month after month, and year after year, the killings and disappearances have continued unchecked with culprits untraced, unpunished and both provincial and federal governments twiddling their thumbs and making meaningless noises. While the people have been increasingly alienated and nationalists are getting stronger by the day, little is done by the provincial administration. All that the federal government could think of was the announcement of a programme named Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan. The Chief Minister literally fiddles, while his large fiefdom burns. Islamabad intermittently doles out some patronage and lapses back into unconcern and indifference.
No responsible state functionary tells the truth. No responsible government authority provides the facts and takes the people into confidence. Seldom has the ISPR spoken on the subject. The heated discussions in the talk shows on the TV channels only add to confusion.
When the unresolved matters land in the higher courts, these linger on because of a non-cooperative executive. Cheers for the judges, who perform their tasks diligently and conscientiously day after day.
I have cited above the case of Balochistan. But there are so many other serious issues that need to be addressed. Non-stop target killings in Karachi for instance. Recently, we saw another kind of disaster - a fire engulfing a big factory, which took the heavy toll of more than 250 deaths. In addition to an inadequate fire-fighting setup, it has been discovered that for the last many years checking of factories had been stopped altogether. Further under a 78-year-old law, the punishments prescribed for the violation of safety and other essential requisites are just a few hundred rupees.
The very mention of Karachi evokes grim memories of horrid occurrences: a murderous attack on late Benazir Bhutto’s procession; blocking the city roads and stopping the Chief Justice from entering the city; literally burning a number of lawyers to death; killing of dozens of doctors and other well known professionals; and threat-laced rapacious extortions. And years back, shooting down of the Prime Minister’s brother by the police in broad daylight.
Add to these horrific happenings, the gruesome killings of Hazaras in Quetta and Shias in Gilgit-Baltistan and Balochistan. The latest are the bomb blasts in the most peaceful residential areas of the Bohra community in Karachi. For limited space, one may not mention other disastrous events caused by extremists, as also a general breakdown of law and order and how the police itself has become a part of the problem.
The big question is: with this hideous record, can any civilised or even a semi-civilised society afford to allow an incompetent and (in certain cases) complicit administration to continue to hold power and indulge in rank misgovernance.
We boast of a democracy - a parliament, elected assemblies, a senate and elaborate trappings of standing committees, of cabinet ministers, parliamentary secretaries and a vast network of government servants, a Constitution, laws, courts and dozens of well organised institutions. In addition, there are the provincial corresponding legislative and administrative entities.
Besides the above mentioned state of collapsed law and order, there is rampant corruption and misuse of official resources. Also, there is open defiance of the court verdicts.
In the past, the military would intervene as an institution of last resort to, presumably, save the country from the misconduct and shenanigans of an incompetent and corrupt government. For various reasons, the army is not inclined to march in and assume the responsibility of running the country. It is bogged down in the tribal areas and a lot of its personnel are safeguarding our border with Afghanistan. The bulk of the forces are stationed at the eastern border where on the opposite side hundreds of thousands of Indian troops remain at the ready.
In these circumstances, any moderately wise Army Chief would think a hundred times before he persuades himself to take up the daunting (and forbidding) task of managing an economically and administratively failing state bedevilled by all sorts of distortions, shortages, breakdowns and disasters.
To stop the rot, the only entity that can, to some extent, arrest the country’s headlong fall into the precipice is the political opposition, which, by and large, consists of the PML-N, PTI and one or two religious groups. Unfortunately, all four and a half years that the rulers ran riot to ruin the country, the leading opposition, the PML-N, acted in a most disappointing manner.
To begin with, it wasted precious time by joining an untrustworthy (PPP) government and later unwittingly helped bolster it, letting it play havoc with the country’s economy and administration. It, finally, after the passage of four years, realised its stupidities and even now all it does is to verbally denounce the PPP government and press for elections. It is hardly a match to an extremely clever and unprincipled player, who uses all kinds of tricks and devices, including the use of money and other government resources, to buy support and keep opponents entangled in artificially-created crises.
The PTI, too, is content with making laudable statements of and holding rallies here and there to demonstrate its strength. Myopic, indeed, that Imran Khan is stubbornly unwilling to make a common front against the ruling junta.
The immediate challenge is to mobilise protests and effective resistance singly (and, if possible, collectively) focusing on corruption, incompetence and other malpractices of the rulers. The immediate aim should be to stop the government in its tracks and not letting it to do more damage to the country and the society.
Why can’t the PML-N join hands with Jamaat-i-Islami and some other opposition entities to launch a sustained massive movement - taking up issues one after the other?
Imran Khan claims wide support. Let him undertake a similar set of initiatives with the same objective.
Secondly, all the opposition parties should collectively demand the immediate setting up of a neutral, unbiased and competent caretaker government to get rid of the existing corrosive and unwholesome ruling setup.
Hopefully, an efficient, right-minded and determined caretaker government will provide maximum support to the conscientious Chief Election Commissioner, thus enabling him to hold free and fair elections.
Tailpiece: The Supreme Court, too, had become soft and a little slow. Its latest order zeroing in on dual nationality holders, its refusal to recognise the UN Commission on Missing Persons and its appropriate handling of the Attorney General, are indicators of a healthy upswing.
The writer is an ex-federal secretary
and ambassador, and political and international relations analyst.