Apr 292008

The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting
Early last century America was gripped by pulp fiction. For just 10 cents a copy, readers got all the thrills that their daily lives lacked. Dripping with stories of a weird kind, pulp fiction ruled for decades until ‘glossies’ came along and the sophisticated reader switched over to worthier content. In some ways Pakistani politics and pulp fiction are twins. NAB (National Accountability Bureau) and the NRO (National Reconciliation Ordinance) when studied side by side are a splitting image of pulp. Mix the fleshy pips of NAB’s news stories of last ten years with the NRO and you have perfect pulp fiction!

When I read Jimmy Hoffa’s boast: “I have my faults, but being wrong ain’t one of them,” Pakistani leaders come to mind. Hoffa was an American labour union leader, powerful and controversial. Convicted for fraud, he spent years in jail and in the end died mysteriously. Most of our leaders today, yesterday (and tomorrow) are convicts, felons, and jailbirds. Yet they are our masters today and will be forever. This time however the media willfully remains silent to allow the new coalition government to grow a second skin at their own pace. It has erased from its memory banks the shadowy past of men and women whose dark deeds once blackened the newspapers and caused headlines to scream ‘blue murder.’

Perhaps this is the way it should be. Civilized societies allow a grace period to their new leaders to lead. Guerilla tactics are best avoided and a quietus preferred. Columnists and anchors hush up to give a wide berth to the rulers. Still, I had a queasy feeling when the same old faces showed up to sermon us on how to govern and run the affairs of state left in shambles by the shameless Shaukat Aziz combine led by the then General Pervez Musharraf, chief of the army staff and president of Pakistan. How oxymoronic that a decade later, names and faces frozen out by the National Accountability Bureau and castigated by Musharraf suddenly get dry-cleaned.

It was the time when a national debate was already raging on whether the general would rid himself of his uniform or continue as the army chief well past his constitutional term. The debate became a dead bore, with the likes of Sheikh Rashid and Mohammad Ali Durrani smutting around theories why the general should continue as COAS. Then came the news that the general was already secretly in talks with Benazir Bhutto. His famous dash to Dubai end July last sealed the fate of our future to come. Any moron would have told you that if BB returned, so would Nawaz Sharif. The two most high-profile émigrés living charmed lives in limpid luxury abroad were to govern once more with Musharraf at the wheel.

Politics in coming months thus became predictable with ‘deals’ (remember the word ‘deal’?) brokered by the Americans, Brits and the Saudis. But what man proposes, God disposes — do forgive this cliché — I can’t think of a better fit than this one-liner. Few of us were prepared for the death of Benazir Bhutto even though the terrorists were seen baying under the tree for her life. She seemed indestructible, undestroyable.

December 27 was her last sunset on earth. She left the world stunned; her family shocked; her party rudderless; her critics crying; and her husband in charge of the destiny of 160 million Pakistanis.

Asif Zardari guarded his party, family and friends like a lion. He grieved in private the loss of a beautiful wife who didn’t even have time to bid him and their children goodbye. We too cried. And a sigh will always be heard from some quarter when BB’s beauteous last moments light up the mini screens. She is larger than life.

Battle-tested Asif Zardari began by appointing men who had a controversial past, to say the least. But what has caused ripples in otherwise calm waters is the continuation of Attorney General Malik Qayyum. According to a senior Supreme Court attorney Akram Sheikh, who was once Nawaz Sharif’s legal eagle in his second term, Qayyum is to go to Switzerland, Spain and London on taxpayer’s expense to close Zardari and Rahman Malik’s cases that probably Qayyum himself helped draft for National Accountability Bureau. “He is there for the benefit of just one man — Asif Ali Zardari.” If this is not pulp fiction, pray what is?

Maybe, Asif thinks like Hillary Clinton who declares: “I have a lot of baggage, and everybody has rummaged through it for years.” Likewise Asif’s ‘get-out-of-scandal-free’ card courtesy NAB now makes him infallible.

A longwinded memo by the PPP co-chairman has been leaked to the press. It is addressed to his ministers and office-bearers. How to “behave and act” is the sum of his missive. An ‘ethics committee’ has been appointed to keep an eye on these fellows with orders that they drive around in small cars (how small?); not carry weapons and not have too many (how many?) bodyguards; shun lavish lifestyle and ostentatious display of wealth (how lavish and how ostentatious?); practice simplicity and modesty; avoid big entourages and utilize their time meaningfully.

“The people and the media watch you,” Zardari continues, “and there is no way to escape accountability and censure for failure to deliver or of any improper conduct…in this age of increasing public and free media attention, the rationale for any decision that you will take will be ruthlessly examined and you must be prepared to defend it on the touchstones of public good.”

Excellent advice! And one wishes Asif Zardari Godspeed in his mission to “save Pakistan.”

But news trickling in is troubling. Two appointees of Zardari have been put in charge directly to control agencies that can make anyone a millionaire overnight by the stroke of a pen. Provincial Minister Agha Siraj Durrani has taken reins from City Nazim Mustafa Kamal in Karachi. Durrani will now be the ‘town planner’ and ‘building controller.’ Karachi’s real estate and every shady deal associated with it will henceforth come under Durrani’s domain. Mustafa Kamal has contested this seizure. Let’s see who wins — the PPP or the MQM.

The CDA (Capital Development Authority) is another Garden of Eden. News has it that a ‘political adviser’ whose notification has yet to be anointed has spread his fangs in the CDA secretariat and demanded that all prior allotments be cancelled and new ones vetted by him. His influence has infiltrated to all the corners of the CDA that are aghast at the ‘adviser’s’ outrageous demands that he be shown all the old records and be the final arbitrator of awarding lucrative contracts in the future. Earlier, one heard that CDA Chairman Kamran Lashari, who knows how to ‘manage’ VVIPs and obliges them regularly to stay in the saddle, was to be replaced by Pir Mukarram Shah, husband of MNA Farzana Raja. The couple is very close to Zardari. Shah too is a jailbird who as managing director of the Printing Corporation of Pakistan was convicted on corruption charges by, yes, you guessed it! NAB. Maybe from now on the CDA will be run by Lashari, Shah & Co?

There’s a fascinating blogger who goes by the name of ‘Temporal.’ In his blog called Baithak he writes that “even after the recent elections the centre of power is spread all over (in no particular order) among: Zardari House; Sharif Estate; Army Camp House; NA (National Assembly); Kayani (COAS); and the agencies and assorted interest groups”. Currently other than raw power flowing from these citadels of command, nothing else appears happening apart from power outages!

And while the poor are killing themselves for lack of livelihood; and while we’re being warned that Pakistan is heading towards a food and energy crisis (but don’t we already have 5-10 hours of loadshedding and roti costing Rs5 each?) what are our leaders doing? Well Mr Asif Zardari has pushed off to Dubai, leaving the sacked judges in the lurch; Shahbaz Sharif has gathered his heavyweights — Khawaja Asif and Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan — to give a hot chase to Zardari.

“Shahbaz to remind Asif of deadline on judges” announces a headline in English daily. Is Asif’s engagement calendar so clogged that he has already forgotten the April 30 deadline and his memory needs to be jogged by Shahbaz?

If this is not pulp fiction, what is? Dear reader. I have reported, you decide.

Email: aniaz@fas.harvard.edu
Source: The News, 29/4/2008

 Posted by at 8:01 am

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