- When plundering becomes a virtue and honesty an unbearable burden
“We are always thinking of eternity as an idea that cannot be understood, something immense. But, why must it be? What if, instead of all this, you suddenly find just a little room there, something like a village bath-house, grimy, and spiders in every corner, and that’s all eternity is. Sometimes, you know, I can’t help feeling that that’s what it is.”
-Fyodor Dostoevsky: “Crime and Punishment”
The streets of Lahore were witness to a strange kind of celebration the other day that may have no parallel in the history of nations.
We saw a group comprising a convict, would-be-convicts and an inglorious trail of alleged criminals, parading a fellow convict to jail in a fake manifestation of defiance. This truly marked a new low for politics and politicians in Pakistan.
The crime committed by Nawaz Sharif, who has been punished and interned for ten years by the apex court of the country and barred from holding any public office, was celebrated openly by a coterie of sycophants who accompanied him to the place of his incarceration. This is one more example of how politics in Pakistan has been reduced to patronising, glorifying, integrating and elevating crime in the society. Nothing could be more disgusting, nothing could be more nauseating.
And those who organised the sordid drama are projecting a crowd of a few hundred people as a congregation of support for the convict, the man who was carried to the jail and where he is likely to stay for another ten years. But, he is hoping that he may yet find a way to sneak out for he is loaded with a commodity that is more valued than integrity, honesty, character, or any other such-like facile qualities.
It is like these people want to introduce a whole new culture in the annals of politics. It is a culture of committing and celebrating crime. It is a culture of glorifying dishonesty. It is a culture of legitimising deceit and larceny
The media joined the celebration with gusto and élan, like it was something to treasure. For them, it may be so because they have been the recipients of political dole-outs from the previous regimes in shape of huge, often unaccounted for, funds-generating advertising campaigns, a practice which has ceased now. This perverse indulgence accumulated outstanding dues to the tune of billions which are payable to the media houses and, for which, there is mounting pressure on the incumbent government.
The gory gambit is symptomatic of an assumption that the Sharifs will again get away from punishment, that they have a political strategy and the tools and instruments to escape the prospect of staying in jail for the duration of the punishment. This wayside enactment was nothing but an effort to remind people that they will break free.
Indeed, they have got away from so much in the past. Their rule has been a long and painful period of suffering for the people, but they did not as much as display the slightest remorse ever at mercilessly plundering the resources of the state. Using their ill-gotten billions, they manoeuvred their escape from every indictment. They got away from planning and perpetrating an attack on the Supreme Court, the daytime mayhem they enacted in Model Town, the Hudaibiya Paper Mills scam which was an open and shut case of laundering illicit billions through operating fake accounts, bribery, forgery, presenting counterfeit letters in court, lying in public and on the floor of Parliament, destroying state institutions, countless commission scams and making a mockery of the democratic traditions and principles. They got away from it all. Their ascent to power and survival there has been like a horrible dream.
I am reminded of Suzy Kassem who said that “when people get away with crimes just because they are wealthy or have the right connections, the scales are tipped against fairness and equality. The weight of corruption then becomes so heavy that it creates a dent that forces the world to become slanted so much so that justice just slips off.”
But then, Agatha Christie said that “evil never goes unpunished, Monsieur. But the punishment is sometimes secret”.
Maybe they realise that 10 years may be too long a period to stay in jail, and they need to plan to get out just like they did the previous time they left the country after signing a deal with the then-incumbent dictator which they later reneged on. As a matter of fact, such has been the consistency of their litanies that they could even deny the existence of that deal. Ultimately, the guarantors had to travel to Pakistan to display a copy for all to see at a specially-arranged interaction with the press.
But, they were not shamed. This cleverly-orchestrated drama on the streets of Lahore could be treated as the curtain-raiser to generating a sympathy wave for the ousted Sharif that he has been wrongly punished. But, the attempt fizzled out at the outset simply because there weren’t enough people willing to buy the narrative of innocence of a man who stands condemned of having demonised every oath that he took, every promise that he made and every office that he held.
His entry in politics, sitting in the lap of the military, unleashed a reign of corruption that has been unprecedented. Worst of all, he is the one who can be rightfully credited for having introduced the culture of buying and selling in Pakistani politics, which to him was nothing more than an extension of his business stratagem. He used the same tactics to survive and prosper in politics– by making illicit money and helping others indulge in the same.
To perpetuate his reign of corruption, he destroyed the state institutions by handing them over to people who were either corrupt, or could be corrupted. Each one was paid his pound of flesh case by case, year by year, reducing the institutions and their heads to wagging their tails at his command.
This was the recipe of destruction that he put together for the country which he now wants to re-enact by way of parading his innocence and launching his progeny in the domain of power to carry forth the unworthy traditions.
It is like these people want to introduce a whole new culture in the annals of politics. It is a culture of committing and celebrating crime. It is a culture of glorifying dishonesty. It is a culture of legitimising deceit and larceny. It is culture of eliminating the line separating right from wrong. It is a culture where honesty becomes an unbearable burden to carry. It is a culture where a coterie of the corrupt can fashion a system for collectively rampaging over the state. It is a culture where the crooked and their cronies manipulate the institutions to advance their personal interests. It is a culture where criminals are touted as a bunch of saviours and those desirous of engaging in meaningful work consigned to the bin.
And what about those battalions of bootleggers who obsequiously parrot the case of their corrupt political masters without a break in exchange for gratifications received and solicited? They are the accomplices of crime in this ceaseless odyssey of loot and plunder.
Like someone once said, “politics and crime – they are the same”. Well, that is virtually the case in this country.