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Kudos all around – by Kamran Shafi

First to Raza Rabbani who has been the target of many barbs from me in the days that the People’s Party was making, and breaking in quick succession, promises to restore the judiciary.

They were aimed at him, first because I knew him well and secondly because he is one of the good people in the People’s Party with qualities of heart and head who could understand my pain at seeing this great party being laid low by the likes of Master Babar Awan, Master Khosa & Co.

I must say that Raza took all of the criticism in the right spirit, never failed to return my calls even when he knew he would hear criticism of yet another promise broken, and generally behaved like the gentleman that he is. To Raza Rabbani then, much kudos for so sagaciously guiding the deliberations of the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms (PCCR) which has done away with the dictatorial sections introduced into our constitution by army dictators, even the dreaded and horrid Section 58-2(b) which was quite disgracefully used by self-serving civilian presidents too.

Kudos too to the members of the committee and their parent political parties for so quietly going about their business of removing those sections of the constitution that so distorted it.

Hopefully the 18th Amendment will empower parliament which embodies the will of the people so that it will begin to really assert its control on all aspects of governance. Hopefully it will send a signal to the other organs of state to stay in line, or else. But there is a caveat here: the ‘other’ organs of state will not stay in line until they see that parliament, across party lines, is intent on enforcing its sovereignty. They will continue to play games with the ‘bloody civilians’ until they see that despite their political-party differences, the politicians are one when it comes to parliament’s sovereignty over all it surveys.

Let me add here that approval by parliament of the appointment of the chiefs of staff of the services is a very good thing. I should like to add that other senior appointments such as chairmen of the public service commission and federal services tribunal, ombudsman, auditor general and chairman of the Federal Board of Revenue should also be approved by parliament.

It should be understood by all politicians that it will take much more than one ‘good’ COAS (on which the jury is still out, mark) to rid the army generals of their latent Bonapartism.

For, just look at the (inspired) comments that have been jamming the airwaves ever since the members of the PCCR signed the document and Raza Rabbani made his speech in the National Assembly. ‘What difference will the 18th Amendment make to the ordinary citizen’; ‘will the price of sugar and petroleum products come down’; ‘will terrorism go away’, and other such twaddle that has been beamed at us nauseatingly.

One should like to ask the producers and the news readers and the anchors who were asking such silly questions what was so wrong in correcting a historic wrong that brought the country to grief so many times?

One should like to say to them that an increase in provincial autonomy could only work for the betterment of the people at large, specially in the smaller provinces. One should like to shout out loud that this autonomy could only bring the people of the smaller provinces, especially Balochistan, a growing and new pride in themselves when they see that their own elected representatives are now looking after their affairs, not some babu sitting in far-off Islamabad.

Also, it will lessen the hold that the security establishment now exercises on the provinces through its ‘agencies’.

Talking of which one is reminded of the latest in a series of the almost yearly flexing of muscles by senior army officers and their kin when it comes to dealing with uppity ‘bloody civilians’, mainly junior policemen who would not dare talk down to these officers and their families/children.

Whether it was two young officers driving on a motorcycle up a one-way street in a Multan bazaar; or an officer given a ticket by the motorway police; or a policeman who checked a staff car for having blackened windows; or in this case a policeman telling the son of the DG Punjab Rangers not to park in a no-parking area — every single time the army reacted in a way which made clear that it would, as it is said in the vernacular ,‘break the legs’ of anyone who dared check one of its own.

In the Multan incident the shopkeeper who gave evidence against the officers had his shop placed ‘Out of Bounds for All Ranks’ by the military police who made it so uncomfortable for him to remain in Pakistan that he fled to Canada.

In the second, a vehicle-load of soldiers attacked the Motorway police barracks on Multan Road and beat up the offending inspector. In the third the police constable was taken to a barracks in the Lahore cantonment and thrashed soundly for several days. In this last, the policeman was kidnapped and taken away to the Rangers headquarters until released in exchange for some Rangers personnel arrested by the Lahore police in retaliation. So there, this is the army that is considered the ‘only institution’ in this luckless country.

In the end, might one ask why the Pakistan National Council of Arts (PNCA) banned the staging of the play Burqavaganza by Ajoka theatre at the National Art Gallery? It is the perfect right of someone to wear a burka, or a hijab, or a niqab. Likewise it is the right of others to criticise the wearing of an item of clothing, including those named above. Why in heaven’s name should the PNCA interfere in this matter? Surely if people did not want to see the play they would not have gone to see it.

In the words of Ajoka: “Burqavaganza is a love story in the times when Pakistan is grappling with issues such as extremism, intolerance and terrorism. It uses the veil as a metaphor in a humorous and light-hearted manner. Burqavaganza is certainly not just about the burka, it takes up many issues regarding women’s oppression in our society — with reference to the propagation of extremist values which are being forcibly implemented by the fundamentalist lobby.

Obviously women are bearing the brunt of this Talibanisation as we have seen in Swat and Fata where girl’s schools were blown up, women were publicly lashed and artists beheaded mercilessly.” Well said, Ajoka; shame on you, PNCA.

kshafi1@yahoo.co.uk

Source: Dawn, 7 Apr 2010