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Old Thursday, September 04, 2008
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Thursday, September 04, 2008

The dead don't lie

As if the original reports of five Baloch women being buried whilst still alive after being shot in the name of honour were not horrific enough; the post-mortem on two of them three bodies are yet to be located reveals yet more horror and exposes the lies of the police. The pathologist who carried out the post-mortem said that the women, aged about 20, had been severely tortured and then beaten to death. There were no marks of bullets anywhere on their bodies. This directly contradicts the statements of the Balochistan police who said that the bodies bore multiple bullet-wounds, including wounds to the head, and that the women must have been dead before they were buried. The Balochistan police have under pressure from the centre arrested at least two men who are said to have confessed to the crime, but the very last thing that they want to come out of all this is anything approaching the truth of what happened.

Not everybody has behaved dishonourably in this 'matter of honour'. The interior minister had the good sense to reject the original report that the Balochistan police sent him, which was a cut-and-paste of extracts from newspapers he rejected the second report as well and awaits a third. The federal law minister, Farooq Naek, caught the mood of the public and said on Wednesday that 'those behind this crime will be given exemplary justice.' The media, despite the deprecating comments of Jan Mohammed Jamali, acting chairman of the Senate, has shone a light where light is rarely seen and where many would rather it was never seen at all. Credit must also go to the common man; as for perhaps the first time there is an honour-killing case that has finally brought out a sense of disgust and revulsion among a broad and deep cross-section of the wider population. It is not only the pundits and civil-society activists who are outraged, it is ordinary people as well; and this might be the case that finally tips the balance towards the rejection of such 'cultural practices' by those who had hitherto either condoned them or simply turned a blind eye.

Let us now see robust support for the rule of law from the centre as well as from the provincial authorities. Let us see the lying and corrupt police officers who are complicit in this awful act brought to book as well as the murderers. Let us see those who committed the crime in a court of law in front of a judge who will not be swayed by culture or bhatta. What we will never see or hear is the written or verbal evidence of the women who were murdered yet they did not die in vain, and the dead cannot lie. Their remains are yielding a truth that exposes the barbarity of their killers, a truth that is a dagger in the heart of the 'culture' that saw them to an early and miserable grave.


Vengeful deeds

Barely ten days have gone by since the PML-N quit the coalition government in the centre. But this period of time seems to have been enough to open up a true chapter of vengeance. NAB, now under the federal law ministry, has wasted no time at all in re-opening three corruption cases, filed against Nawaz Sharif and his family members in July 2000. It is obviously stretching incredulity too far to have anyone believe that there is no element of revenge in this action. Even as the PPP's prime minister, who seems to serve a purely cosmetic purpose, continues to offer up meaningless platitudes, insisting that the PML-N will be invited back to government after the judges are restored, the real, much more vicious power set-up continues its operations behind the scenes.

The re-opening of the cases involving the Hudaibiya Paper Mills, the Ittefaq Foundry and Raiwind assets bring back the worst memories of the 1990s, and the terrible politics of vendetta that marked the era. The first two cases involve loans taken from banks and allegedly abused; the last concerns assets accumulated by the Sharifs that were allegedly in excess to their declared income. In the months after Nawaz Sharif was removed from power in October 1999, details of the alleged malpractices filled every newspaper. The references of course ended up in a dusty file as Nawaz, Shahbaz and their closest kin boarded a plane for Saudi Arabia.

The re-opening at this juncture is quite extraordinary. The government has not even made the pretence of neutrality that would be expected in any normal circumstance. Even its own self-respect seems irrelevant to it. It also seems willing to drive the final nail into the coffin as far as its ties with the PML-N are concerned. The coalition has indeed fallen apart in the worst possible way, as had been predicted. Former president Musharraf, the PML-Q's Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and former minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed can almost be heard chuckling, indeed roaring with mirth, over how swiftly their forecasts have come true.

There is another point to be made here. NAB, as before, has been used simply as a means to extract revenge and victimize politicians. The cases are obviously intended to exert maximum pressure on the Sharifs, as the presidential poll looms and battle lines harden in Punjab. The task of conducting any meaningful process of accountability is clearly beyond our leaders. This has been true before; it is true now with the politics of animosity now taking centre stage in their worst possible form. Hope of sanity on the political front has, it seems, faded further away.


Good brothers

The slogan of Pak-China friendship is one all of us have heard for decades. The way this is put into practice within Pakistan must however have raised many questions in Chinese minds. To add to the Chinese nationals killed in terrorist incidents in the recent past or made victims of other kinds of violence, two engineers from the country, who vanished four days ago, have been seized by the Taliban in the Swat area. The two employees of a mobile phone company, with their Pakistani guard and driver, were abducted in Lower Dir. The Taliban have presented a list of demands they wish the Pakistan government to meet in exchange for their safe release.

The pattern of blackmail we have seen before continues. The Taliban have once more proved they are a criminal outfit, out to inflict the maximum possible damage on their country. Their acts make it less likely that investment, and with it jobs that people so desperately need, will come into Pakistan. Giving in to their demands puts at risk the welfare of others. Not doing so puts the life of the hapless victims now in their hands at risk. The government is caught in an unenviable dilemma. But it must keep in mind this has arisen as a direct consequence of failing to deal previously with the extremists. It must not now repeat the crippling mistakes of the past.
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