Strange, if not weird, are the ways of Pakistani politicos and leaders. For decades, they’ve turned a blind eye to the presence of more than a million illegal Bangladeshi migrants in Karachi, where their presence has been a source of constant frustration and friction to local workers and labourers.
For more than four decades — since the truncation of Pakistan and the rise of independent Bangladesh — successive Pakistani politicians have refused to acknowledge stranded Pakistanis in Bangladesh — their numbers more than 3,00,000 according to the UNHCR — who have no desire to live there. These poor souls — hailing from Bihar whence they migrated to what was then East Pakistan during Partition — have been shunned and forsaken with scorn. The Pakistanis have done so with impunity by declaring them as ‘Biharis’ — a Pakistani moniker for pariahs.
However, the same Pakistani leaders who feel no obligation, vis-à-vis the Biharis, recently rolled out the red carpet for the Chief Minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar. Wherever the Bihari leader ventured on Pakistani soil, he was received with open arms and showered with both rose petals and words redolent with accolades. Nitish Kumar was in Pakistan at the invitation of Chief Minister of the Pakistani Punjab Mian Shahbaz Sharif. Sharif isn’t alone in the fan club of the Bihari leader: he’s got, among many others, cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan for company.
Pakistan, today, is in much the same throes that defined Bihar, before Nitish Kumar dug it out of a deep hole. He couldn’t have arrived in Pakistan a moment too soon to share his hands-on experience as a trouble-shooter and reformer with his Pakistani hosts.
Corruption of every identifiable persuasion remains endemic as ever in Pakistan’s political culture, involving all the stakeholders: politicians, generals, bureaucrats, media moguls — you name it. On top of it, the past five years, in particular, have spawned a relentless and rampant spate of lawlessness that has been stalking the country. An incessant orgy of blood-letting, mayhem and murder has become a favourite sport in Pakistan. Hoodlums and murderers, on the pay-roll of political parties and ethnic factions, hold the layman in their thrall, and law-enforcing agencies just seem helpless to stand up to them. Blood-thirsty Taliban have been ruling the roost in the north, while goons of political mafias are holding the people of southern Pakistan to ransom. It is, in short, a state of anarchy pervading in Pakistan.
By sheer accident, Nitish Kumar’s Pakistan yatra coincided with another spasmodic convulsion of Karachi, clutched in a frenzy of indiscriminate mayhem and murder. In Pakistani parlance they’ve been calling it ‘targeted-killing’. The murder toll in the city — while Nitish Kumar was being feted to sumptuous banquets — was between 10 and 12, a modest figure by Karachi’s gory standard, and one insignificant enough to not disturb its somnolent CM one bit. He has dismissed the mayhem as just a ‘media hype’.
So what advice did Nitish Kumar have to tender to his Pakistani counterparts? Nitish Kumar’s advice was plain and simple. He wasn’t a sorcerer and didn’t utter abracadabra to put an end to Bihar’s nightmare of lawlessness in a trice. He turned things around, painstakingly, with smart legislation and enabling the courts to dispense justice to law-breakers who had been untouchable before.
Smart legislation, such as the Bihar Court Trial Act, beefed up security for witnesses to come to court and depose against the accused gangsters and mafia goons. That simple device raised the morale of the layman, who was previously scared to depose against the mafias. Conviction rate galloped in Bihar’s courts. According to him, courts had dispensed 74,000 convictions over the past three years. That’s where Pakistan’s justice system is struck by near-paralysis, with a paltry conviction rate of just 3 per cent.
There was hardly any novelty or mystery in what Nitish Kumar prescribed: good governance can’t be had without the rule of law. The real magic is embedded in that rule of law being enforced over the populace without any regard for the high and the mighty, or discrimination against those branded as the riff-raff, the wretched of the earth.
However, on this catalytic point Nitish Kumar could well have been talking to the wrong audience. The biggest dilemma haemorrhaging good governance and handicapping the rule of law is its inability to make its privileged classes to bend to the law and accept the fundamental pre-requisite of a modern society where all men are equal before law. They are not prepared to accept that they are as good or bad as the man-on-the-street when it comes to submitting to the reach of the law.
The spirit of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, where some were more-equal than others, best defines Pakistan’s VIP culture of privileges and perks, in which enforcement of law stops and cuts a sorry figure at the door-steps of its pampered power-barons.
The current case of some powerful generals — faulted with lording over the land as its king-makers, or caught with their hands in the cookie jar of corruption — is a case in point. These Pakistani Bonapartes are daring the state to put them in the dock, smugly confident that the corrupt ruling cabal in Islamabad has no backbone to pick up the gauntlet.
Politicians are no better than hectoring generals in their own unabashed resistance against the law of the land being applied to them. The case of former PM Yousuf Raza Gilani’s two sons — both MPs — sheds ample light on this dilemma. Both are wanted by the Federal Investigation Authority (FIA) to depose before it; the two are accused of amassing billions in shady deals. Instead of heeding the call of investigators, they are rallying the parliament to stand behind them and provide cover for their black deeds.
Nitish Kumar had the gall and common-sense to come up with the right mix of power and governance to fix a broken Bihar. However, the wily politician in him must sniff Pakistan’s strange chemistry. It’s a different kettle of fish there, and it smells awful. It’s as putrid as the Augean Stables that took a Hercules to cleanse. Sadly for all friends of Pakistan, there is neither a Hercules nor even a Nitish Kumar in sight to steer Pakistan out of its rot. It’s the classical example in Pakistan of taking the horse to the water but being unable to force it to drink it.
Karamatullah K Ghori is a former Pakistani diplomat.