Monday, February 15, 2010, Safar 30, 1431 A.H   ISSN 1563-9479
 Group Chairman: Mir Javed Rahman Founded by: Mir Khalil-ur-Rahman Editor-in-Chief: Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman 
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Opinion Archive
The News International Pakistan

 Watch out, you parasites!
By Ayesha Ijaz Khan
The constant comparisons and wishful aspirations of stumbling upon a "Pakistani Obama" in our media analyses seem a bit misplaced. Surely we are at a completely different stage in our history. Yet the global village that the world has become makes it far too tempting to look beyond our borders in search of a workable solution to our myriad of problems. And so we can't help but look to America, especially since a hated President Bush has just been replaced by a new and energetic young President-elect Obama who promises a hopeful new era for Americans.

According to The International Herald Tribune, before an aspirant can qualify for a job in the Obama administration, s/he must fill out a seven-page questionnaire, provide 63 references and reveal everything, literally everything, starting from traffic violations to any gift received by the applicant or his/her spouse exceeding $50. Family lives, scandals, gun ownership, potentially embarrassing emails sent and received, including blogs posted on Facebook or the Internet, even using aliases, are all open to vetting before the job can be given to the best person for the post.

In Pakistan, on the other hand, not only is integrity and reputation irrelevant in determining who gets an important job. Even after Samar Minallah reveals on the best episode of "Capital Talk" yet that Mir Hazar Khan Bajarani is guilty of sang chutti, a criminal tradition involving the trade of underage girls as compensation, Sherry Rehman has the audacity to tell us that the PPP government will not compromise on women's rights! Is she in her right mind? How can she say that and then continue to support ministers who have flagrantly violated the rights of not just women but minor girls!

Kashif Abassi does a whole series on corruption where he pulls out the declaration of assets filed by well-known political figures prior to the election. To nobody's surprise, the declarations are a bunch of lies, grossly understating the respective worth of the politicians sitting before him on the show. But there is no hint of remorse, leave alone fear of accountability. In fact, Sheikh Rashid justifies himself by stating that at least he has revealed more than many others.

The people are frustrated and angry. Some of that frustration is coming out in the ever-increasing incidence of crime and lawlessness. But some is coming out in bolder, more pointed questioning of the rich and powerful by media experts. Though this is a far more constructive way of channelling the anger that ordinary people are beginning to feel towards the rich in Pakistan, the elites must be mindful that in the absence of a credible judiciary and a feeling that the wealthy are also accountable, if the two emerging trends were to mix, Pakistan's elites (including those who are not to blame for the mess that we are in) could find themselves victim to an anarchic and bloody witch hunt, which would be far worse than a revolution. This is not to mention a measured and systematic reform of institutions and taxation to ensure greater transparency, justice and accountability.

But alas! this appeal will in all likelihood also fall on deaf ears, like so many before it. As a caller from Balochistan asked on "Bolta Pakistan": "When will bolta Pakistan become sunta Pakistan?"

In response to a question on the need for Musharraf's accountability, at a recent talk at the London School of Economics entitled "Law in a lawless frontier" (yes, unfortunately it is referring to Pakistan), Aitzaz Ahsan stated, "I agree that there should be accountability, but we in Pakistan have a culture of mitti pao. People say, he is gone, forget about him."

I don't want to fault Mr Ahsan, because he is one man who has gone well beyond the call of duty and done more than his share for the rule of law and justice in Pakistan, but he may just be speaking of an older generation. Pakistan has a very large population of teenagers and twenty-somethings who no longer believe in mitti pao. They are hungry for change and disillusioned by the democracy that has resulted from February's electoral exercise. They are not so willing to forgive, and for those familiar with the Internet, are running a veritable name-and-shame smear campaign. In the not so distant future, they will be a formidable force to reckon with. The Internet changed the way a campaign works in the USA. Though Pakistan may not be there yet, the Internet is changing Pakistan's culture and the way its youth thinks.

One of the great benefits of contributing to a Pakistani newspaper is the emails I receive from parts of Pakistan that I would ordinarily not be in touch with. By virtue of the Internet and in response to my articles, I get letters from such places as FATA, Bahawalpur, Quetta and Sukkur, in addition to Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and Peshawar. Just as I received an email recently from Sargodha informing me about the law students who had refused to accept degrees from Governor Salman Taseer in protest of his affiliations and in solidarity with the Chief Justice of Pakistan, I received, on its heels, a more troubling email.

This one, unlike the protest of the students in Sargodha, was not based on principles. It was instead a series of what many in Pakistan would consider incriminating photographs of not just a media baron politician and key members of his family but also a certain newspaper editor who propagates for the politician. What bothered me about the email most was its focus on photographing women in compromising situations (by Pakistani, albeit not Western, standards). I therefore sent a stern email to the sender of this mass mail, asking him to remove me from his email list forthwith, as I did not want to be the recipient of any emails that targeted young girls in an attempt to character- assassinate.

Although I strongly disapprove of the nature of such emails, dare I say, I understand the frustration? In the absence of credible courts, this emerging new breed of youth, more intolerant of corruption and more irreverent of power than their parents, will use whatever means available to them to vent their frustration. The Internet is at their fingertips and they are using it effectively to malign (even unjustifiably) those who are guilty in the court of public opinion and there is no way to stop it. If the functioning courts regain their credibility, not only would such acts of frustration diminish but such occurrences could legitimately be challenged as cases of slander and wrongful defamation.

It is ultimately in everyone's interest to have an independent judiciary restored pronto and to initiate some semblance of accountability in Pakistan. If that does not happen, we could be headed for a dangerous witch hunt.

The writer is a London-based lawyer turned political commentator. Website: www.ayeshaijazkhan

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