While much is being said about the elite’s perception of anarchy in Pakistan little attention is paid to events and images that constitute the mosaic of anarchy as seen by common citizens. It is the latter version of anarchy that is undermining the majority’s confidence in the state.
The difference between the perceptions of order held by a small elite and those of the wretched majority was summed up recently by Nasir Aslam Zahid. The former judge said that the common citizen’s view of justice was not formed by the superior judiciary’s decisions in constitutional cases as much as it was based on an innocent man’s failure to obtain bail from a magistrate, or another innocent person’s inability to escape illegal detention for his failure to bribe an SHO, or when he sees a privileged person enjoying a facility that is denied to all others.
The unexceptionable argument is that anarchy does not mean only the rise of numerous power centres in a state, though that may be the final manifestation of chaos, it also means the selective and whimsical dispensation of favours and a tendency to drown the people in a sea of banalities as a way of preventing them from making a realistic assessment of their plight. Thus, any violation of the principle of equity or any deviation from the path of sanity is a step towards anarchy.
For instance, the president was not harmed by the barbs aimed at him by the brigade of professional sharpshooters as much as he was by his hasty decision to grant remission to prisoners on the adoption of the 18th Amendment bill by the National Assembly. The gesture would have been in order perhaps after the measure had become law but at the stage it was made it was a premature act and aroused suspicion of ulterior motives. The allegation that all this was done to secure the release of a president’s buddy was not controverted by the government’s denial-making apparatus and was hence accepted as correct by the citizens. The government was seen as preferring anarchy to order.
Similarly, selective use of authority is manifest in the conversion of former additional director general of the Federal Investigation Agency Rehman Malik’s dismissal into retirement (possibly with all retirement benefits) and Gen Ziauddin Butt’s being rewarded with a sinecure by the Punjab government. It is quite possible that Mr Malik had morality (if not law) on his side and that Gen Butt had improved his qualifications for an ombudsman-like job during the years of forced idleness since he became a dispensable pawn in the contest for power between Mian Nawaz Sharif and Gen Musharraf. No, for want of knowledge if nothing else, these acts are not being criticised on merit; they attract attention for being discriminatory.
Thousands of people have been unjustly punished since Ayub Khan started the indefensible practice of sacking civil servants and punishing politicians without trial. During almost each regime change those close to power got the wrongs done to them undone. In some cases, such as the completely unjust sacking of superior courts’ judges by Gen Musharraf in his first (and less dramatised) assault on the Supreme Court, the despot himself softened the blow by converting dismissal into retirement. But what about the majority of victims of the state’s arbitrariness? All those who received a raw deal from the past regimes have as much right to redress as anyone else.
It seems the government should have created a tribunal to hear cases of injustice done by the past governments, at least the dictatorial ones. The government could have excused itself from paying compensation and only offered possibility of clearance of name and reputation of the victims. Matters would have dragged on. But this approach would have been within the definition of equity and not open to attack that selective justice always is.
From the common person’s point of view the reports about the two main parties’ hobnobbing with extremist outfits, for the sake of a few votes (wrong assumptions perhaps) betrayed a form of anarchy.
Some acts of omission on the part of the authorities also contribute to anarchy. The common citizen cannot be convinced that the state of anarchy has ended so long as the government and the judiciary fail to recover and free the people known to have been abducted, detained and tortured by state agencies. Wherever some minions of state acquire the strength to defy its writ the situation can only be described as anarchy.
Similarly, the Punjab University teachers’ case against a student body notorious for its violent ways convinced the citizens of anarchy in their land. For three weeks the university was closed in protest against the administration’s failure to catch some boys accused of beating up a teacher (incidentally guilty of identifying himself as a Baloch). The affair did not enhance the provincial government’s reputation for firmness or efficiency nor did it bring any credit to the offenders’ patron party. Both seemed to be fuelling the fires of anarchy.
Quite a few other cases of discrimination also upset ordinary citizens. The whole population is suffering hugely as a result of electricity outages. Everybody is entitled to get angry on learning that there is no loadshedding in a town during the visit of a minister’s family or that there is relatively less loadshedding in localities where the power barons live. Perhaps one of the most dangerous forms of anarchy is seen when a whole people and the state go crazy about petty affairs. The way the government and the media treated the Sania–Shoaib marriage revealed Pakistan in a pathetic state. How does one justify a federal minister’s pilgrimage to India to crown (in gold) a Pakistani who had done no more than what many others had done? What public interest did the prime minister serve while reportedly spending public money on an unnecessarily hyped marriage?
It seems the government shares the media theory, successfully tried by authoritarian rulers, to keep the people involved in the joys of a make-believe existence and prevent them from looking at their own deprivations. And if the idea is that each time a Pakistani male wins over an Indian damsel (and we can feign ignorance of the movement in the reverse direction) the Pakistani people win some kind of a libidinal contest and many historical scores with India are settled, then God alone knows the disaster we are courting by choosing the path of anarchy.For the common Pakistani anarchy is not the effect of a single cause; he/she views anarchy as a mosaic of small pieces of anarchic behaviour and deviations from the path of culture. No single act of parliament or judiciary can stop the drift to suicidal anarchy; all the pieces of the mosaic have to be replaced.
Thursday, 06 May, 2010