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A culture of impunity

pardon national
by hern42

Article by Gshabir

HARDLY had the military recovered from the humiliation suffered at the hands of the Abbottabad debacle, the navy found itself in the dock for being unable to defend an airbase for over 15 hours from the devastating attack of some half a dozen insurgents. To be upstaged by US Navy SEALs and stealth helicopters in Abbottabad was one thing, perhaps even pardonable, but to be outsmarted by a small group of terrorists who held out for almost a day against the much more superior combat capability and equipment of an elite force was stunning and far more mortifying. Similar attacks have proved that no branch of the military is out of the terrorists’ reach.While the minutiae of the event — and of countless other previous ambushes on strategic targets — continue to unravel, highlighted by the mysterious death of a prominent journalist investigating the possible infiltration of the base by Al Qaeda, it is becoming clear that such incidents cannot be treated in isolation. We need to look for systemic factors that give rise to the recurrence of such disasters that erode the state’s capacity and the public’s morale. The recent (in camera) debate in parliament and the remarkably candid confessional statements of the military and intelligence representatives made therein, have brought home the somberness of the issues facing the nation.Unfortunately, the discourse so far has remained confined to blame games and turf wars and there has been little introspective effort to understand the Pakistani predicament or an attempt to work towards a pragmatic and sustainable solution. It is indeed puzzling that despite the clear and present existentialist threat to the state from strident terrorist elements, its leading institutions and guardians are at best in denial and at worst in deep somnolence showing a cavalier indifference. Business as usual is the pervading norm in all institutions at all levels from the president and prime minister to the SHO, in the hope that the storm will die down, as in the past.The Pakistani state and its institutions have acquired the reputation — if exaggeratedly — of serial negligence, culpability, complicity and incompetence through the inculcation of a ‘culture of impunity’, attributed by the US State Department to its record on human rights, which in American parlance is restricted to women’s and minorities’ rights.The notion has applicability to a much wider range of state responsibilities, including the alleviation of poverty, access to education and provision of other basic entitlements of the population through the mobilisation of domestic resources — and reduction of foreign dependence — in an equitable and efficient manner. The US has now suddenly become aware of the duplicitous behaviour of state elements, while having failed to bat an eyelid so long as such egregious behaviour served its own ends, e.g. during the anti-Soviet Afghan jihad and in the more recent Raymond Davis affair.By supporting anti-democratic military regimes in the past and by becoming an accessory in the progressive withdrawal of the state from its social and economic responsibilities, the US has undermined the Pakistani state’s capability to rise up to the political and economic challenges of a modern emerging nation. This culture of impunity is now so deeply rooted that no institution is subject to an independent accountability mechanism. The entire state structure, and to an extent other allied institutions, including the media and civil society organisations, as well as ordinary citizens, have become infected with greed, corruption and illegality.Those culpable have become too big to fail or be held accountable. Calls for independent inquiry commissions are heeded with reluctance and even when constituted their reports are often consigned to the dustbin of history.Hoping that the present series of security lapses will lead to better investigative and punitive results is unrealistic. As a result, mutual back-scratching and political quid pro quos help to bandage a creaky state structure and prevent it from collapsing, with the US and other allies, including China, providing a helping hand in pursuit of their own national interests.However, if serious efforts are to be made to avoid the impending doom predicted by many, the present status quo will have to be changed in many ways. The public’s impatience about the continued deterioration in the economic situation is likely to reach a climax after the announcement of the budget, which is unlikely to provide any relief to the poor and will bring harsher economic policies.The events in Abbottabad and Karachi last month, like those in Dhaka four decades ago, beckon us to search for a new strategy for a radical adjustment between our civilian and military imperatives, especially in the fields of economics and foreign policy — which are crucially interlinked through our unexamined dependence on the US. They also highlight the need for a serious dialogue with India to normalise our relations on a fast-track basis. Ties had gained momentum just before Abbottabad. We have shied away too long from addressing these fundamental issues and must pull out our heads from the sand..In the wake of its recent twin debacles, the military is increasingly being perceived as a white elephant that grazes well beyond the boundaries it is supposed to protect and is the most obvious candidate for institutional reforms. However, it is obvious that our political class is more likely to be trampled by rather than to rein in the roaming elephant.smnaseem@gmail.com

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