Truth of the matter

Truth of the matter
Two issues have recently outraged the public. The first is the continuing woes of Karachi and the inability of the local, provincial or federal government to ameliorate the suffering of its angry citizens. The second is the allegation that Lt Gen (retd) Asim Saleem Bajwa, who heads CPEC and was formerly in positions of power as Commander Southern Command and DG ISPR, has been less than truthful in disclosures about his assets and wealth, including those of his spouse.

Karachi’s neglect is decades old. Responsibility rests on multiple shoulders. On three military dictators who ruled Pakistan for over 30 years without accountability and did nothing to build a metropolitan infrastructure befitting the economic weight and significance of Karachi. On the MQM which terrorized Karachi and brought it to its knees, then allied with a military dictator to rob it of its rights and resources. On the PPP which has lorded it over Sindh for nearly two decades and done zilch for the city. The people of Karachi, too, haven’t helped their cause. They have by turns voted for religious parties that haven’t come to power (JUI, JUP, JI) or ethnic parties (MQM) that have exacerbated their problems, thereby alienating the PPP and compelling it to focus on the rural ethnic Sindhi voter that always returns it to power (instead of the Urdu speakers and Pakhtuns who shun it).

The “solutions” on offer are all, more or less, problematic even with the best of intentions. As matters stand, the PPP is bitterly estranged from both the PTI and Miltablishment and any federal political intervention in any form, regardless on whose shoulders it rests (Miltablishment or Judiciary) that sidelines the PPP, will ignite ethnic strife. The current favoured solution is more and better “local government”. But the PPP is not going to support more local fiscal and political autonomy for two reasons: the federal government is already in the process of poaching its share of the NFC Award, so it is strapped for funds; and it is looking to consolidate its Sindhi vote for the next elections because, going by the results of the 2018 elections, Karachi is tilting towards the PTI. This is why the PPP’s Local Bodies law is rigged against the aspirations of Karachi. This would imply that Karachi’s dismal fate is sealed until its citizens vote for a party that wins both the federal and Sindh provincial elections, a dim prospect. In the past, when the PPP ruled in Sindh and Islamabad, it resented the fact that the people of Karachi continued to vote for its opponents.

The notion of “better” local government is also problematic. One cannot imagine a better local government system than one proposed and implemented by a military government, whether under General Zia ul Haq or General Pervez Musharraf. Yet it is precisely during such times that bad Miltablishment politics of divide and rule put paid to Karachi’s civic and economic prospects, and there is every likelihood that future “solutions” will be no different without a radical restructuring of Miltablishment policies and priorities.

A constitutional amendment granting Karachi special status befitting its metropolitan position that enables it to have greater fiscal and political autonomy can be contemplated. But for that to work, a national consensus has to be established between the PPP, PTI, PMLN, and Miltablishment. Unfortunately, with the PTI and Miltablishment working to eliminate the PPP and PMLN leaderships, this isn’t about to happen. Any attempt to railroad it through brute power will be self-defeating.

The second issue relating to General (retd) Asim Bajwa is hanging fire for two main reasons. First, there is increasing public resentment against the absence of any accountability of the Miltablishment even as two mainstream parties with an overwhelming majority of the national vote are being hounded to the wall by its puppets. So it is natural to vent against a spokesman of the Miltablishment who has suddenly become vulnerable. Second, General (retd) Bajwa as DG-ISPR didn’t exactly endear himself to the supporters of the PMLN by his relentless #ThankYouRaheelSharif propaganda blitz which eventually translated into a conspiracy with the PTI to try and knock out Nawaz Sharif. General (retd) Bajwa hasn’t helped his cause by appearing to fudge his family’s asset disclosures as SAPM. It should be noted that his civil and not-so-civil benefactors have already targeted an elected and popular prime minister and a respected independent Supreme Court judge for the same reasons. That is why the philosophy of “what is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander” is trending against him.

General (retd) Asim Bajwa’s cultivated army of Twitterati and media persons are now accusing his detractors of being “Indian agents” and “traitors” for targeting the head of a national asset like CPEC. This is ridiculous. No such thought was spared for the prime minister who launched CPEC but was accused of being an Indian agent!

General (retd) Asim Bajwa has finally responded to the allegations against him. The mainstream media which was too scared to run the story earlier will now begin his trial in earnest. Hopefully, there will only be one yardstick to measure politicians, judges and generals.

Najam Aziz Sethi is a Pakistani journalist, businessman who is also the founder of The Friday Times and Vanguard Books. Previously, as an administrator, he served as Chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board, caretaker Federal Minister of Pakistan and Chief Minister of Punjab, Pakistan.