The sacred cows
TO learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticise, said Voltaire. But it was Gen de Gaulle who aptly said that “nothing strengthens authority so much as silence”. Based on my four decades of public service, I decided after my retirement to break the silence about the misuse of authority and corrupt practices of sacred cows like the politicians, military rulers, judiciary and the police.
I started my public service in the early 1970s when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was the prime minister. While I met him personally during the Islamic Summit at Lahore in 1974, I was too junior to know about his governance mindset. Although I heard from my seniors that he was not financially corrupt, he could be a tyrant to his political opponents as I found out with the parting of ways between him and his once-favourite governor Punjab. The latter had defied him by contesting elections against his wishes in Lahore where I was posted as extra assistant commissioner. Live snakes set loose at a huge pre-election public rally in Tajpura led by the former governor trigged a stampede.
However, I was in for a shock when I reached a polling station as a duty magistrate. The local SHO had forced the former governor’s polling agents out and was busy stamping the ballot papers and stuffing ballot boxes along with a team of uniformed policemen in the presence of the sheepish polling staff. I left that scene in sheer disgust and lodged a protest with the deputy commissioner. Subsequently, in every election at the national and local level, I experienced firsthand the misuse of official machinery and manipulation of executive authority by those ruling or calling the shots. Completely fair and free elections have remained elusive.
I started my police service during Gen Zia’s military rule. We met while I was commanding Quetta police in the early 1980s. While on his way to meet an Arab prince on a hunting expedition in Balochistan, he stopped over at Quetta airport and went to the VIP lounge washroom for ablutions. He came out, red with rage. He sacked the airport manager as there was no lota in the lavatory. In 1984, on the eve of holding of a sham referendum for his re-election as president, the chief secretary, IG police, commissioner, DIG, deputy commissioner and I as SSP were summoned. Gen Zia received us with a wide grin and a double handshake in the porch. But inside, we saw another side to him. Using the choicest expletives, he exhorted us to show the world how popular he was as the leader of the Islamic Republic.
Pity the nation that has rulers who indulge in self-deception.
On the day of the referendum, I visited a polling station at noon and relayed a message through wireless that polling was taking place in a peaceful atmosphere and that only 13 votes had been cast at the station by then. I was summoned instantly to the office of the deputy martial law administrator where I was admonished and told that it was not my function to publicly relay the number of votes that were cast during polling. The polling time was extended by two hours and, lo and behold! we found military regiments emerge from the cantonment and start stuffing the ballot boxes. Their commander-in-chief was ‘elected’ with an overwhelming majority.
I was to witness the next sham referendum in 2002 as chief of staff to the IG Punjab when the latest military ruler was reported to have polled more than the number of registered voters in certain parts of the province. Three referendums have so far been held in our country, all by military dictators and all bogus and rigged. Pity the nation that has such rulers who indulge in self-deception.
The 1990s were characterised by a game of political ping-pong between Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. As commander of Lahore police in the early ’90s, I found myself in the eye of storm as two different political parties emerged victorious after the 1993 polls at the centre and in Punjab. Soon a political tug of war was under way and a vote of no confidence was moved in the provincial assembly. I got a call from the chief executive of the coalition government who informed me that the secretary of the provincial assembly had been kidnapped at the behest of the federal government. I was asked to conduct a raid at the prime minister’s Lahore residence and recover the secretary within 24 hours. I assembled all the senior police officers and told them that history would judge our conduct as professionals in this hour of political friction between the two opposing governments and we must act with utmost caution.
We encircled the prime minister’s residence and my orders were to not allow anyone to leave the place without an identity check. Meanwhile, the SP of the area where the FIR of the ‘kidnapping’ was registered, visited the PM house where the chief executive assured him that the missing official was not at his camp office or private residence. We kept vigil and avoided entering the residence. We were then told that the secretary might have been kept at the residence of the then speaker of the assembly. Police was deployed outside the official residence and assurance was obtained from the custodian of the house that the official in question was not confined there.
Meanwhile, the chief minister was furious as to why we had not entered the prime minister’s and speaker’s houses to search for the missing secretary and I was asked to relinquish charge as SSP Lahore. I saluted the chief executive and went straight to my office to sign my charge relinquishment report without waiting for written orders. We the police commanders were satisfied we did not become a party to the dirty political intrigue between Islamabad and Lahore. Unfortunately, our rulers, especially since the 1990s, have mostly misused the authority of the police to settle political scores.
After Nawab Akbar Bugti’s death in 2006, I was chosen as Balochistan’s police chief and tasked to work towards restoring peace in that violence-prone region. Soon I found the military intelligence was calling the shots and the heads of ISI and MI were not on talking terms. The issue of the Baloch missing persons and the judges’ sacking in 2007 became contentious and I could not compromise on principle. Leaving with dignity was preferable to serving with disgrace.
Pakistan can survive the Taliban and the terrorists, but can it survive its leadership class?
The writer is a retired police officer.