Reality Check

zardari-speech

PPP may have faded in recent polls, but party co-Chairman Asif Zardari brought the party firmly back into the spotlight with a fiery speech that lashed out at the security establishment for overstepping its domain. If Zardari’s rhetoric was over the top, it has been outdone by hyperventilating media responses terming the speech as ‘declaring war on the military‘. I think a reality check is needed. Ejaz Haider noted that, with the current Rangers operations expanding in Sindh, “Zardari finds himself in a bind. He could act meek or throw down the gauntlet”. Zardari is many things, but “meek” is not one of his better known traits. Even though, he spent five years as President taking all manner of attacks against his party and himself. Only now is he really lashing out. Whether or not this is a wise political strategy only time will tell, but underestimating the PPP co-Chairman has never been a good bet. This time may be no different.

Among the hyper-nationalist defences of the nation’s only institution that is beyond criticism, there is something that should be paid attention to – a sympathy with what Zardari said, even if they are uncomfortable with how he said it. In his analysis, Ejaz Haider (no Army hater himself) admits that there has been a problem in the institution:

What he has said about the generals is well-recorded.  The generals, at various times in this country’s history, have blundered and blundered terribly. Putting out a list of their misdemeanors and acts of omission and commission will merely add another document to the list of knowns. If Zardari can bring to the list some known unknowns, that will be of help to those of us who record such things.

Even Ansar Abbasi, who has no sympathy or love for Zardari, wrote this in his criticism:

What Zardari said on Tuesday has also a lesson for the military establishment which has been protecting the retired generals including Musharraf from being tried for their serious wrongs like abrogating the constitution, using the ISI for political means and bribing political parties etc.

The institution of Army must be respected by all. Similarly the political parties, enjoying the mandate of the people, should have the right to rule. However, in both the cases neither the institution nor the mandate be used by either side to protect the wrongdoings or illegalities of any individual.

Gen Musharraf’s abrogation of the Constitution and ISI’s political manipulation are indeed well recorded. What is also well recorded is the more mundane criminal activities taking place behind military uniforms. Recent investigations have uncovered “alleged involvement of almost a hundred armed forces officials in corruption“. Auditor General of Pakistan uncovered “serious financial irregularities…including embezzlements, violation of rules, unauthorised occupation of public land and related malpractices” amounting to BILLIONS in accounts of Pakistan Air Force. Today, there are new reports that no less than Pakistan Rangers are running an illegal construction business in…Karachi.

When contacted, Rangers officials initially disowned their involvement in any commercial business in Karachi, however they later accepted that the paramilitary force was engaged in construction business to “finance its construction projects in the city and to meet financial expenses of the paramilitary force here”.

Rangers Sindh spokesperson Colonel Tahir Mehmood diverted Pakistan Today’s query to Major Sibtain, saying “I will get back to you on this”.

These are well recorded, but what is done about them? Who is cleaning up this mess?

There is no excuse for any individual to engage in criminal activity or corruption. Political parties need to clean house. This is an unavoidable reality. But the military needs to purge its own demons before it has the moral authority to purge anyone elses. This is also an unavoidable reality. Otherwise, the military will simply become the very demon it is trying to exorcise.

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