Whatever possessed Altaf Hussain to make statements supporting a martial law, his comments are short-sighted and ill-conceived. In fact, Altaf gets the whole thing backwards. If we’re going to make progress in eliminative corruption, the only way to do so is to let the democratic process work.
Remember that it was Pervez Musharraf who oversaw the last martial law regime. I know that the memory can be short, but do we really want to pretend that there was no corruption? Military is doing an excellent job of fighting militancy and simultaneously overseeing rescue and relief operations for flood victims. But a khaki uniform is not an angel’s wings. Removing corruption cannot be achieved with a gun, it requires a social transformation.
I think Basil Nabi Malik’s column for Express Tribune is an excellent explanation on this point. Zardari may be everyone’s favourite punching bag, but isn’t that really just to distract from our own complicity?
After all, it is in this country that you find a public which plays a decisive role in promoting and encouraging the taking and giving of bribes to policemen, judicial officials, and other government officials in order to ‘speed along’ their transactions or actions of interest. They openly and shamelessly evade taxes whilst demanding that the president declare his assets. Furthermore, it was the average Pakistani who gathered relief goods, for the affected families of the 2005 earthquake and then sold them in the open market for a quick buck rather than actually distributing them amongst the needy. In recent times, the public was also seen running towards the wreckage of Flight ED202, not to search for survivors, but rather to steal whatever ‘booty’ they could lay their hands on in a moment of opportunity. This public is also composed of those businessmen who hoard goods, inflate prices, and ensure that essential items remain out of the reach of the less fortunate. And finally our public is further represented by those traffic police officers and other officials who vow to hold the powers that be accountable for their actions and yet are caught innumerable times violating the rules themselves.
All of these persons are members of the public and represent the level of corruption and decadence which is seemingly seeping into the core of our social fabric. Now this is not to say that each and every member of the public is rotten to the core, because clearly that isn’t the case. However, when one sees the types of activities and ethical ‘misconduct’ mentioned above, taking place in all spheres of public and private life in Pakistan, one finds it hard to digest criticism of a president who in fact seems to be a splitting image of the kind of society we now live in.
The fact is, it is the exact opposite of Altaf Hussain’s suggestion that will help to end corruption.
It is famously said that “sunlight is the best disinfectant”. Also, “roaches scatter in the sunglight.” Both of these sayings are meant to communicate that openness and transparency are the key to ending corruption. Openness and transparency, however, are not natural to military regimes. In order for an armed forces to operate effectively, military discipline requires a strong hierarchy of authority that is rarely if ever questioned. A properly functioning civil government requires the opposite. Just as you cannot have a properly functioning military in which every private gets to debate with every general, so you cannot have a properly functioning civil government if one man makes all the final decisions with no input from the people.
A proper civil government also requires healthy and informed debate about issues. Whether it is freedom and accountability of media or religion or education or business…different people will have different perspectives that, put together in a pot and stewed in a proper debating forum such a parliament, will form through the process of consensus building into progress for the nation.
It’s understandable that Altaf wants to find an instant solution, but we are talking about the country, not a bowl of noodles. This is the same old story about the “Bangladesh option” that was popular for a while. But look what happened at the end of that? Sheikh Hasina is PM, and Khaleda Zia is the opposition leader. They may have changed position on the chessboard, but the same two begums are in still in power.
What Pakistan needs is not a martial regime – however temporary – to root out corruption. What Pakistan needs is Patience, Perseverance, and Process. Only then will we see the final reward: Progress. Saleem Zia is correct that the armed forces are greatly respected and that “every organisation should play its due role as envisaged in the Constitution”. That includes the role of every citizen who must hold the politicians accountable…at the ballot box.