Needed: the truth - Ardeshir Cowasjee - September 5, 2010

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IT was William Randolph Hearst, American press baron, who came out with a valid truth: `A politician will do anything to keep his job — even become a patriot.`

We have no dearth of amateur patriots, they are a veritable swarm. One, sitting in far away London Town from where he leads a political party now in coalition, has issued a patriotic call to his fellow patriots in uniform urging them to come to the rescue of a sinking country and act to eradicate the many corrupt fellow patriots, to eliminate the feudal culture which has dragged this country down to where it is, rid it of powerful pressure groups and the so-called elite — in fact, of all those responsible for the appalling state of affairs in which Pakistan now finds itself.

Not an easy task — where does one start? The odd thing is that the general-rouser has inadvertently pleaded for his own and his party`s removal from the national scene.

The caller has offered to lead an uprising similar to that of the 1789 French Revolution, influenced no doubt by his close proximity to Paris. Naturally, this call to arms has drawn fire from all patriots of the professed `democratic` bend, the generals maintaining a discreet silence.

It seems he was prompted to issue his call by the influx of flood-affected Sindhis into the urban fabric of the province, especially Karachi. With rising levels of education, the population increase rate among his community is levelling off, as is its vote-bank. In the last general elections, his party lost two provincial assembly seats of Karachi to a fellow coalition partner — since the Swat debacle of 2008, the number of Pathans in Karachi has been steadily increasing.

Nationalist Sindhi parties (and the PPP), who have witnessed the conflict with some unease, are now entering the fray. Flood-affected (and other) provincials are being encouraged and organised to take over properties (with guns, if necessary) and settle in urban areas to reclaim the cities and capital of Sindh. All of this augurs badly for an already overstressed and beleaguered Karachi.

The extensive damage over the past six weeks to standing crops, farm animals and human habitations in Punjab and Sindh (including a contiguous part of Balochistan) has been triggered by capricious and immoral decisions to breach bunds (dykes) in certain areas. As a result, the tolls in Pakistan surely far exceed the official numbers of 1,600 dead, 2,600 injured, 1.2 million houses and 11,000 schools damaged, and 18 million persons (about 10 per cent of the population) affected. The loss of over 3.6 million hectares of crops and millions of livestock threaten food security and the 20 per cent of the nation`s economy that relies on agriculture.

We have heard much about powerful political patriots and their ilk attempting to save their lands from inundation by breaching bunds on the opposite side. Tori/Ghouspur Bund on the eastern bank of the Indus above Sukkur was sacrificed in place of (allegedly the technically more appropriate) Ali Wahan Bund on the western bank (who else owns agricultural lands on that side besides federal Labour Minister Khursheed Shah?), and the river merrily haemorrhaged through the districts of Kashmore, Jacobabad, Shikarpur, Shahdadkot, Larkana, Dadu — and may still be doing so.

On Sept 1, the Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif set up a tribunal of inquiry to probe into the report that “certain main bunds and canal networks were breached by the I&P [irrigation and power] department as well as by certain local individuals to divert the heavy influx of recent floods allegedly to save the properties of influential persons which resulted in colossal loss to the properties of the inhabitants of the areas.”

Headed by a respected judge of the Lahore High Court, Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, the tribunal includes Mansoob Ali Zaidi, retired secretary of the irrigation & power department, and Abdul Sattar Shakir, dean of civil engineering at the University of Engineering & Technology, Lahore.

The body is charged with seeking out the truth while delving into the causes of the breaches in canal networks, bunds, roads and drains, ascertaining as to whether or not prescribed procedure was followed, establishing malfeasance (if any) on the part of government agencies or others, and fixing responsibility in cases of wrongdoing. When does Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah intend setting up a similar tribunal to examine the Sindh fiasco (as demanded by our ambassador to the UN)?

This is far from the end of the story. In the reconstruction phase, we must expect much more greed, selfishness, corruption and deceit. Armed mafias have already begun to take over land in areas where the water has receded, taking with it markings and boundaries of farms and survey numbers. The most severely affected will be the poor and powerless (who will then migrate to the cities, exacerbating the situations there.)

Rehabilitation of roads, railway tracks, bridges and water/sewerage/electricity facilities will generate opportunities for graft and sleaze. Profiteers, moneylenders and hoarders will come out of the woodwork to prey on those who have lost everything: prices have already begun to rise, and loans will be available at exorbitant interest. n

We in `the land of the pure` have convinced ourselves that the truth is a rare and precious commodity, and that we must be sparing in its use. For 63 years, we have been unable to determine the truth about the murders or assassinations of every prominent figure that has fallen to the gun or the bomb, about the loss of half our territory and about who is actually running this country. Unless we can place a premium on the telling of truth — and the enforcement of the rule of law — our future will become bleaker with every passing day.

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