Controversies aplenty - Rahimullah Yusufzai - Wednesday, March 21, 2012

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With the likes of Mansoor Ijaz and now Younis Habib occupying the centre-stage for days and weeks at a stretch, there can never be a dull moment in Pakistan. There are others to give them company and amuse the people by making disclosures and digging up the past. It is, however, another matter if all this muck-raking would lead to anything tangible and make anyone accountable.

If anything, more legal battles would be fought as a result of the accusations and counter-accusations and lawyers, those already well-known and over-paid, would get to earn more money and fame as counsels for rich clients. This would mean greater preoccupation for the supreme and high courts in cases of political nature and also more controversy due to the polarised state of our politics.

Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz hasn’t faded away from the print and electronic media as the memo scandal involving him and Husain Haqqani has yet to reach its logical conclusion. The memo commission would take time to give its findings and the issue until then won’t go away despite claims by many pro-government people that it was already a dead horse.

On his part, Mansoor Ijaz continues to make revelations, though his credibility is being questioned and his claims are disputed. Husain Haqqani too hasn’t come clean with regard to the memo. His claim to have lost both his BlackBerry cell phones that allegedly contained data of his contacts with Mansoor Ijaz have made him suspect in the eyes of many Pakistanis.

Former banker Younis Habib and his sidekick from the past, Yousuf Advocate, have now entered the fray and are competing with Mansoor Ijaz for media’s attention. The old, wheel-chair bound man with the bandaged chin is a simple and rather witty man. In fact, Younis Habib comes across as a likeable person burdened by his conscience and the sins of the past. He seems willing to unburden himself and atone for the past, though the question to ask is as to why he had to do it after being summoned by the Supreme Court. Many accuse him of having a selective memory for blaming some politicians and protecting others.

The PPP leaders and supporters are enjoying this spectacle as the Mehran Bank scandal had targeted their government in the 1990s and was aimed at benefiting the opposition. As the PML-N leadership is at the receiving end of Younis Habib’s disclosures about payments made to politicians at the behest of the then president Ghulam Ishaq Khan and the army chief General Mirza Aslam Beg, it is dragging the elderly retired banker to the court. Having named so many powerful people as the recipients of Mehran Bank’s largesse at the time, it seems Younis Habib would have to face a number of court cases and spend time defending himself and proving his allegations.

By the way, intrepid journalist Shahid Orakzai, who consumes more time in litigation by filing petition after petition in the courts in cases of public interest than doing his journalism, had coined the word “Mehrban Bank” while describing Mehran Bank. His plea was that this bank was “mehrban” or kind to so many people because it generously doled out funds to people who were already rich.

Before long though, Younis Habib would have to make room for someone new because the media’s attention span is fickle as it is forever in need of new things, or better still, fresh controversies. To be sure, there won’t be any shortage of people with a tainted past. Our history is full of unsavoury characters and some of them at a certain stage may be required to answer charges in or out of court. In particular, past spymasters are much in demand by the media because they are supposed to know a lot more than the rest.

For the last many years now, Pakistanis have been served with a healthy dose of fun-filled media events as characters from the past and the present hurl accusations against others while making us believe that they are paragons of virtue. The availability of free air-time on television and provocative questioning by hosts and panelists has contributed to the popularity of such shows as many viewers enjoy watching someone in the dock. The more the grilling the better the ratings of the TV talk shows. This in turn brings more advertisements and revenue.

It was in 2009 that Brigadier (Retd) Imtiaz Ahmed suddenly appeared from nowhere and began hogging the media limelight. Having served as a senior official in the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and then as the director general of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) from 1990-93, the former spymaster was supposed to know many things and was hence considered quite a catch for the TV channels. He obliged them all while enjoying the limelight. Having been accused in the past by the PPP leaders, foremost being former governor and interior minister Major Gen Naseerullah Babar, for conspiring to destabilise the Benazir Bhutto government in 1989 through the so-called “Operation Midnight Jackals,” it was now Brig Imtiaz’s turn to take his detractors to task and to try and clear his name. In the process, he offended quite a few people including many retired army officers and some politicians. He also claimed that “Jinnahpur” was a fabrication, a claim that was refuted by certain other former ISI officials who insisted that they had recovered the maps of this imaginary future state.

Brig Imtiaz had scores to settle with General Aslam Beg, who had taken action against him in the army, and also General Pervez Musharraf for getting him arrested by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on corruption charges in 2001. It was, therefore, understandable that he would lose no opportunity to get back at them. Another former ISI head Lt Gen Ziauddin Butt went as far as accusing his nemesis, General Musharraf, of protecting Osama bin Laden and putting him up at Abbottabad through a former IB boss Brig Ejaz Shah. These are the kind of allegations that have international implications and could further damage Pakistan’s image and complicate the situation for the country’s intelligence agencies.

However, it appears that no thought is given to such considerations because the purpose is to settle scores or vindicate one’s position. Brig Ejaz Shah was threatening to take Lt Gen Butt to court, but one doesn’t know what came of the threat. Once again the matter was to be decided in court after the story had been played out in the media. Fighting legal battles is still a civilised way of deciding an issue because generals and brigadiers being men of arms could have opted to settle the matter by using force.

It has been suggested that Pakistan should have a truth and reconciliation commission to enable some of our ruling elite from the past to reveal the wrong-doings that were committed by them and others in the hope of preventing recurrence of such misdeeds and resolving leftover conflicts. As we are stuck in the past, Pakistan is unable to plan in a proper way for the future. Much in our history is a murky affair and so many things from our past are taboo subjects. We have had long periods of military rule, frequent violations of the Constitution, civil unrest, armed conflicts and too much corruption.

It is doubtful if even a truth and reconciliation commission in Pakistan’s case could work given our peculiar circumstances and our tendency to circumvent the law. Still something on these lines could be attempted instead of being treated to the occasional bouts of soul-searching following selective revelations made by known characters linked with past scandals.

The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. Email: rahimyusuf

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