Just when Sindh’s former, firebrand, minister Zulfikar Mirza was proudly revealing to the media in Badin the other day that during his tenure as a minister he got 300,000 arms licenses issued to a bunch of ghairatmand citizens (those with a sense of honour), interior minister Rehman Malik rewarded a boy in Karachi with Rs25,000 for breaking his toy gun.
While Mirza said he would do what he did over and over again if given the opportunity, so that every time an innocent person is killed in Karachi citizens will shoot down at least five terrorists, Malik urged little boys to not play with toy guns and promised to deweaponise Karachi.
Earlier, on the eve of Eid, Malik, while visiting the Karachi Saddar shopping district, had annulled the ban imposed on pillion riding by the city administration for the duration of Eid holidays. Mirza may be wrong on many counts, but when he says that Malik as a federal representative has no right to manage and run Karachi’s affairs, and terms it interference from the centre into what are provincial matters, you have to agree that he is right.
If you look at the conduct of these two PPP ministers, you realise how deeply rooted the feudal mindset is in Pakistan. Whimsically issuing verbal orders to put the ban on pillion riding in abeyance and rewarding a young boy with Rs25,000 instantly, or issuing arms licenses to people and asking them to kill the terrorists, are actions that make a mockery of rule of law, and with it of democracy. Is there really no law in this country or administrative procedures to be followed to impose and lift bans in public interest, or for issuing arms licenses for that matter?
In any other democracy, Malik would have stopped at promising the young men in the street who asked for the lifting of the ban on pillion riding that he would request the competent authority to look into this demand to lift the ban at least for Eid holidays to facilitate free movement of youngsters.
But no, he spoke like a king; he first asked the lads to give ‘him’ assurance that no criminal activity would take place if ‘he’ lifted the ban. The boys readily gave the assurance, and voila, the ban was declared lifted, even though Malik had no legal authority vested in him to do so (the provincial government and the city administration are the competent authorities in deciding all such matters). Then, again like a king, he rewarded a boy with a cash award. Why? And wouldn’t Rs500 have been a more decent amount instead of Rs25,000, out of the minister’s own pocket, hopefully. Or has he come to Karachi loaded with someone’s discretionary funds, tax payers’ money or worse still, an expensive loan from international money lenders, to blow on such frivolities?
It is preposterous to be carrying so much cash in your pocket; it is vulgar to go around doling such sums out to show ‘your’ pleasure. Arab despots like Saddam or Qadhafi or absolute monarchs in the same region may do so because they are accountable only to themselves. When democratically elected leaders make such gestures, they only reveal their undemocratic mindset which says it all: ‘I am king, I can do anything’.
This is precisely what is wrong with our governance. It simply lacks respect for the rule of law, decorum and all convention and procedure as laid out in the system. From the president and prime minister to the chief ministers and their cabinets (all elected individuals), just notice the abuse of the personal pronoun ‘I’ and its possessive form, ‘my’.
At international forums, President Zardari calls the army ‘my army’ and the police ‘my police’. PM Gilani, while ordering the release of the judges sent packing by Gen Musharraf (also verbally), declared in his inaugural speech in 2008, “I hereby order immediate release of all judges,” to a roaring thumping of the desks by the MNAs. And the judges were released, because they were detained under a similar verbal order given by President General Musharraf. Former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Quraishi suffered from similar delusions of grandeur as his interaction with US senators and Hillary Clinton showed. He, too, was all about ‘I, me, myself’ when he was actually representing his country and not personal opinion.
There is sharp contrast between how our elected leaders behave and how their counterparts from other countries do. When the Indian prime minister met Gilani in Egypt and Gilani asked him to revive the stalled peace process, Manmohan Singh politely told him that on that particular trip that was not the mandate given to him by parliament, so he’d have to go back to Delhi to consult the institutions that run the Indian democracy. While Gen Musharraf went to Agra to single-handedly decide outstanding issues with India, Prime Minister Vajpayee had to seek approval from his aides in the government and in the party on a clause by clause basis before he could sign an agreement. It was not given.
Our leaders really could use a lesson two in humility for starters. The day they learn to obey the law and show respect for doing things through the proper channel will be the day democracy will start taking root here. Until that day comes, the people will make little distinction between a dictator’s and an elected leader’s conduct.
The writer is a member of the staff at Dawn Newspaper.