Will the PPP extend the Rangers’ tenure? It’s damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t

Published: December 18, 2015

On the issue of the extension of the Rangers’ tenure, the Sindh government has stumbled from one parliamentary pillar to the next.

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)-led provincial government appears to be sinking deeper into quicksand with every reflex and move that it makes – whatever the direction. Every path appears to have a noose dangling on the horizon, except for the flight to Dubai. Better the oasis in those dunes than local ones.

On the issue of the extension of the Rangers’ tenure, the Sindh government has stumbled from one parliamentary pillar to the next. It was damned if it extended the Rangers’ tenure, damned if it didn’t, and is currently damned that it has curtailed the powers of the paramilitary force. Every move has played into the hands of the military establishment and one wouldn’t be too far off the mark in thinking that perhaps the current resolution resorted by the Sindh government, of limiting the policing powers of the Rangers, is exactly what the military establishment has been waiting for.

When the provincial government played for time, there were protests nationwide against the delay in the extension of the Rangers’ powers. It is clear that the Rangers and the military establishment have the support of the people. The ‘elected representatives’ of Sindh are finding themselves increasingly isolated and on the same side – willingly or unwillingly – as the perpetrators of terror.

The issue is no longer about corruption at the local level, but about how the corrupt enabled and nurtured acts of terror. One lesson that can be drawn from the Karachi operation is that corruption is synonymous with terror. Throwing terror into the mix gives the matter an international dimension. And with foreign heads of state and dignitaries showing the iron general a reverence we have never known before, the net has been cast wide, across seas. The catch will be a big one. It was only yesterday when many, including educated and ‘worldly’ Pakistanis, had accepted corruption as the norm. Well, tides have turned. And Karachi may well be a laboratory, where operations that are in store for the rest of country are being tested out.

If the military establishment is currently more representative of the people’s sentiments than the democratic set-up, then this raises some fundamental questions. Having a ‘democracy’ in name and not in practice does not mean that we are on the path towards one. Quite the opposite, in fact.

We get so immersed in our eloquent choruses on the importance of democratic processes, even if they aren’t really democratic ‘yet’, that we fail to see the truth before our very eyes. Unusual circumstances call for unorthodox measures. The military establishment must take the reins and do the needful, as the civilians won’t. Remedies must be applied in the context of the situation and culture. To take a step closer towards a genuine democracy, we must first recognise that we do not have a democracy. Once we have done that, we might find ourselves able to describe what exactly we have had in Sindh since 2008. One attempt at a definition would be a ‘provincial crime family’ versus the people.

The PPP and their partners-in-crime, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), find themselves in the same boat, even though they have been repeatedly pitted against one another in the comedy of errors that has ensued in the last six months. The PPP’s desperation is evident in the manner in which it has limited the powers of the Sindh Rangers to focus on target killers, extortionists and kidnappers (read MQM) solely. Any step taken by the two to curb investigations into corruption and proxy murders committed by elements within these parties, is interpreted as an obstruction in the war against terror. Politically, this plays out very conveniently for the military establishment. For when PPP and MQM are widely perceived as being on the same side as terrorists, they will find that few foreign oases are willing to take in the corrupt leaders of these parties.

There is a pattern that has begun to emerge in Karachi in the last six months. A move against the Sindh government or the MQM is, naturally, met with a counter move. Usually, the story would end there. The crooks get off scot-free. But these days it isn’t business as usual. The counter is met with yet another counter-move by the authorities — one that brings the opposing party back to square one. The quicksand draws them in.

When an accountability court acquitted Asif Zardari in the SGS and Cotecna references, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) filed a petition in the Islamabad High Court, challenging the grounds on which the acquittal was given, and pointing out that there was indeed substantial evidence against the accused. On December 15, the hearing of the plea was adjourned until further notice, due to the unavailability of the senior prosecutor. The counter-move by the authorities, to the conditional extension of the Rangers’ tenure is yet to be made, though there have been rumblings in the Interior Ministry, which has said that it needs some “more time” to make a policy statement.

The federal government is indulging in its favourite pastime of forming two committees, to assess the matter. We await the response of the centre. The Sindh Governor, meanwhile, is of the view that the Sindh government has not curtailed the powers of the paramilitary and Karachi operation would continue “at all costs”. Reportedly, although the resolution has been passed by the Sindh Assembly, the notification required to turn it into law has not been issued as yet.

What we have seen thus far is merely the tip of the iceberg. Much more is yet to surface. There are murders that have yet to be accounted for, such as those of Benazir Bhutto and Mir Murtaza Bhutto; there is ample evidence in these to call for further probing and an impartial investigation. On the other hand, there is also the Imran Farooq murder case that is being looked into. We are at the start of the road. And the difference between the Pakistan of the present and that of six months ago is that there is now a sense that the quest afoot will reach its inevitable end no matter what. It is only a matter of time.

Ali Bhutto

Ali Bhutto

The writer is a staffer at The Express Tribune.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.