THE WAY IT WAS: Mera bhi toe hai —Mian Ijaz Ul Hassan

Asking for justice amounts to creating an illusion that justice can be done. The present set-up must go and be replaced by rule of law — the constitution and its auxiliary structures and institutions — before justice can be done. There is a homily about the stupidity of asking a bakra (goat) to stand guard over a pile of grain

We got off the Motorway at Thokar Niaz Beg and were proceeding along the canal when I noticed that there were five missed calls on my mobile phone, while I had been exchanging notes about my exhibition with Sameera Raja of the Canvas gallery. I considered it odd that people were queuing up to reach me — one who enjoys neither power nor a lucrative position. No harm would come, I thought, if I made them wait a few more moments for I had some urgent calls to make myself.

Fortunately, I found the numbers busy and combed through the list of missed numbers. Three calls were from my wife and two by my son, all in a matter of seconds. I dialled my spouse’s mobile phone wondering what was the matter. I had talked to her only 10 minutes earlier. She came on the line rather perturbed. By now our car had crossed the Liberty roundabout, “Please don’t come home”, she shouted. “There are a dozen policemen outside who have been asking for you and Tariq (our son).”

Instead of taking the left turn to our house I directed the driver to proceed to the Mini Market. The rest is commonplace — business as usual. Tariq had slipped away to spend the night at one of his friends. I spent it at the house of one of my friends. Thousands of other citizens who couldn’t slip away and were suspected of being sympathetic to Asif Ali Zardari were harassed, beaten up and arrested. Some illegally apprehended workers are still in police custody.

Speaking of our Punjabi valour and hospitality a large number of our brothers and sisters travelling from Sindh — including an 11-month-old infant and a four-year-old girl, along with their mother, aunt, uncle and 75-year-old grandfather — are detained at the Kot Lakhpat jail. They were taken into custody a day before Zardari landed. What was their fault? Apparently that they are Pakistani citizens and therefore must be denied all self-respect. Moreover — as the learned Sikh once stressed — a person should always be counting his blessings. The family should consider itself lucky being together in the safe confines of Kot Lakhpat prison.

Only recently a 17-year-old girl returning from college in Sialkot was picked up and raped for three months. One of the rapists, according to a report, was a police inspector. Daily Times noted in its editorial: “The citizenry is raped by bad policemen in all sorts of ways.” The editor pleaded with the authorities: “Let the girl be given justice and let the citizens see that there is law in the land.”

I beg to disagree, sir. Asking for justice amounts to creating an illusion that justice can be done. The present set-up must go and be replaced by rule of law, the constitution and its auxiliary structures and institutions before justice can be done. There is a homily about the stupidity of asking a bakra (goat) to stand guard over a pile of grain.

The Punjab government, a handout said, had outlawed processions and rallies on the demand of the general public. Always sensitive to public sentiment, it obliged further by stopping trains and buses to make arrests. Even pedestrians and people peacefully snoring in their beds were picked up. In these troubled times freedom is for the well-starched Generals. It is considered unwholesome for the general public. Spare the rod and spoil the people. That was the reason our manly Punjab Police set an example by dragging some women members of the parliament and the provincial assemblies by their hair and beating them red and blue. This seems fine but women running a marathon are unseemly.

Because he is required to act, the chief minister is a man of few words compared to the federal minister for information. Paid possibly according to the number of truths he can trivialise or efface in a single breath, Sheikh Rashid is a man of many words.

Goebbles, the Nazi minister for propaganda, used to say, “speak the lie so often that people start believing in it” — or something to that effect. Fortunately, no one takes Sheikh Rashid seriously — including the Sheikh himself. I feel rather sad that the minister, who has risen from public ranks by dint of personal talent, should be defending elements hostile to the very process that enabled him to forge ahead. There was a time when Syeda Abida Hussain spoke of his goodness despite the manner in which he gave people mouthfuls of his mind. She also hoped in those days to get him betrothed to a lady — now an ambassador somewhere — in the hope that she would add a coat of polish.

The day before Asif Zardari flew into Pakistan, Chaudhry Shujat Hussain, our former prime minister assured Dr Shahid on ARY: “Koi aisi baat nahin... Zardari is neither a Mandela nor a Dracula.” Why, he asked, should there be any government interference? The media, he mumbled, was unduly hyping upon Zardari’s arrival. He also assured him that he (Chaudhry Shujaat) and Mushahid Hussain were determined never to mouth the sarkari sach (official truth) again.

Expressing amazement, Dr Shahid confessed that he was pleased to hear that because he had always believed that there was only sarkari jhoot (official lies) to avoid. Dr Shahid seemed to believe what he was told. Little did he know that he, along with a whole team of journalists and cameramen, was going to be roughed up by the police on landing with Asif Zardari.

It was officially communicated in another interview after Asif Zardari was taken into custody on landing at Lahore, that he had not been arrested, only confined for his own good. Our information minister pleaded: “We are trying our best to make Zardari a leader. If he still can’t make it, what can we do?”

You will agree that Sheikh Rashid has an incredible wit. He was at his best in a televised interview when asked why Shahbaz Sharif was not allowed to disembark at the Lahore airport. He confided with a straight face that only he can pull that Mr Sharif was not detained by Pakistani authorities. He was passing through to another destination. Now is that not funny?

I am aware that Shakespeare in his tragic plays used comic relief to relieve the tension of the audience. A fool or a jester was the convenient device. But the information minister cannot be there for amusement. He is expected to take the citizens into confidence. No one finds his performance convincing or amusing. He presents the image of one steeped in the arrogance of his own verbosity resting on faith in his boss’s muscle.

Justifying the mass arrests of the People’s Party workers, Sheikh Rashid flippantly observed: “This is the political tradition of the subcontinent.” A newspaper reported that President General Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz did not support the crackdown on the people and the senseless attempt to disrupt the arrangements to welcome Zardari.

PML vice president Syed Kabir Wasti said that these efforts at disruption were the actions of a small group that felt threatened by the president’s efforts for national reconciliation. Mr Wasti also called for the release of all political workers. He said the PMLQ should compete with the PPP politically. It would be timely and appropriate for Sheikh Rashid to educate Mr Wasti that this is not a matter of democratic politics but of ‘culture’. This culture has been an integral part of the political tradition upheld by all military rulers in Pakistan and elsewhere.

Asif Ali Zardari’s arrival in Pakistan and his decision to reside in Lahore have the mandate of PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto. His presence should end internal bickering, separate the grain from chaff in the party and help unite all groups intent on restoring democracy. Mr Zardari has emerged from almost a decade of incarceration on charges that Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, the PMLQ president, has always insisted are bogus. There is no bitterness about him — only a vision and a resolve to work towards democratic consensus and national reconciliation.

I was struck recently by a passage recounting the eve of Turkish invasion in the beginning of the 11th century. The subcontinent “was going through a period of political chaos and confusion. The society was suffering from a feeling of discontent for all. Neither religion nor any political institution was able to guide the society. The condition of the poor was simply deplorable. Their incomes were not enough to make both ends. They were being exploited. The land was being granted to military and administrative officers. The officials rendered services to the king in a kind of barter. The bureaucrats had become headstrong, despotic and corrupt.” I fear this needs no elaboration but would you not say that something needs to be done urgently? Ye mulk mera bhi toe hai.

Prof Ijaz Ul Hassan is a painter, author and political activist. He can be reached at