Darkness Visible

A dungeon horrible, on all sides round,
As one great furnace flamed; yet from those flames
No light; but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all, but torture without end
Still urges, and a fiery deluge, fed
With ever-burning sulphur unconsumed

John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 1, ll: 60-68.

In Pakistan’s history 22 June 2007 will be remembered for its post-meridian darkness. Not the natural darkness that comes after sundown, nor the man-made one that results from the never-ending outages of electricity that have plagued the masses of Pakistan for months on. It was the darkness of moral bankruptcy that culminated in one man’s inhumanity to another man. It took place on a talk show aired by the pro-government GEO channel in which Imran Khan, Pakistan’s cricket legend and a member of Parliament, was made to sit between Ijaz ul Haq and Babar Ghauri, and become a victim of unprecedented verbal assault. Ijaz ul Haq, who heads Pakistan’s Orwellian Ministry of Religious Affairs, is a son of General Zia’s ul Haq who during his 11 years (1977-1988) of martial law turned Pakistan into the heart of sectarian, linguistic, and ethnic darkness. Babar Ghauri, Pakistan’s Minister for Ports and Shipping, is a senior member of MQM (United National Movement). The MQM is a General Zia creation which has since its creation imposed a reign terror in Karachi (see below), one of world’s largest cities.

The background

On 9 March 2007 General Musharraf suspended Chaudhry Iftikhar, Chief Justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court. The reaction to the suspension of Justice Iftikhar stunned the people of Pakistan: for the first time since General Musharraf grabbed power by arresting Pakistan’s elected prime minister in October 1999, the masses rose against him led by the lawyers. Within days they were joined by the opposition parties of the country. Justice Iftikhar was invited by the bar councils of different cities where he was given unprecedented welcome.

On 12 May Justice Iftikhar arrived in Karachi to address the Karachi chapter of the Supreme Court Bar Council. Hundreds of thousands of lawyers, political workers, and people in general came out to welcome him. To counter them, the MQM took out a rally in support of General Musharraf. Soon the pro-Justice Iftikhar rallies were attacked with automatic weapons. Karachi became a battlefield for hours. The Aaj TV channel, a private channel that the Musharraf government has taken off the air repeatedly, came under a hailstorm of bullets for 7 hours nonstop. Justice Iftikhar had to return to Islamabad. By evening, 34 people had been killed, four of them MQM supporters, the rest from the anti-Musharraf opposition. Although the Aaj channel showed the faces of young men firing from klashnikovs at people, the government took no action. According to Imran Khan and Pakistan’s entire political opposition, it is Altaf Hussain, the Chairman of the MQM, who ordered his minions to carry out the killings.

Altaf Hussain is an absconder with 40 cases of murder filed against him. He has been living in London since 1992. Worse, he was given a British passport soon after escaping to London, which has angered Pakistanis who think that he is being protected by the British Government. It is from London that he directs the MQM. He regularly speaks to congregations of his party members via phone connected to amplifiers.

Commenting on the MQM’s unenviable role in the notorious killings on 12 May, The Economist called it not a political party, but, to quote the exact word, a “mafia”. The National Memorial Institute for Preventing Terrorism (MIPT), an American terrorism-specific research institute funded by the US Homeland Security Department, has put the MQM on its list of Pakistan-based terrorist organizations.

After the Karachi carnage (in winch members of Imran Khan’s Justice Party were killed too), Imran Khan went to London with what he called evidence against Altaf Hussain’s terrorism, and registered a case with Scotland Yard. In London he was publicly backed by Pakistan’s former prime minister Nawaz Sharif (sacked through coup d’état and then exiled for ten years by General Musharraf). Nawaz Sharif claimed MQM’s involvement in high-profile murders during his prime ministership, and provided Khan with relevant information to strengthen his case against Altaf Hussain.

MQM’s counter attack on Khan

The MQM immediately fired back. Protest processions against Imran Khan were taken out in Karachi (the MQM stronghold) chanting Imran-is-a-roué slogans and burning his effigies. Throughout Karachi, “wall-chalking” was done in which extremely vulgar language was used against Khan.

The campaign against Khan culminated on 12 June when the MQM filed a reference against him invoking articles 62 and 63 of Pakistan’s Constitution and the Public Representation Act. According to these articles (that the pigs in Animal Farm must have forgotten to advertise on their announcement wall), anyone who has ever drunk wine, or been involved in extra-marital affair (however far in the past!) can neither “contest elections”, nor “continue as a member of parliament”. The Speaker of Parliament immediately sent the reference to the Election Commission for further action, i.e., Khan’s disqualification.

Darkness visible: the talk show

The talk show began on Salman Rushdie’s knighthood and the comment made by the Speaker of the Punjab Assembly (“I will kill Salman Rushdie or any other blasphemer with my own hands!”). Ghauri and Haq clearly supported the Speaker (“Today every Pakistani has a bleeding heart!” Haq said.). The talk show host claimed, “The people behind the Rushdie knighthood are Jews.” But despite the host’s prodding Khan refused to support the Speaker, and instead tried to focus on the incompetence of Muslim leaders everywhere and the fact that they do not represent the masses.

Suddenly the host veered to the above-mentioned reference against Khan. Khan mentioned 234 criminal cases against Altaf Hussain that include 40 murder and 18 torture cases. He called the MQM Chairman an absconder who had not come to Pakistan to face the cases. At that Ghauri responded to Khan not by protesting his leader’s innocence but by attacking Khan the person: “There is no comparison between you and Altaf Hussain. A governor, dozens of ministers, hundreds of MPs, and thousands of councilors belong to Altaf’s party. Altaf Hussain has millions of loyal supporters in every part of the world.” After that Ghauri accused Khan of having lived in sexual relationship with Sita White without marrying her. He referred to a 30 July 1997 Los Angeles case in which the Superior Court declared that Khan was the father of Tyrian, an out-of-wedlock daughter of Khan and White. After that Ghauri showed photos from a magazine in which Khan was sitting with Tyrian (“the girl” in his word); he also showed Sita White’s photos. Here are some of the gems that Ghauri sprinkled:

“Is it [unmarried sex] legitimate in Islam?”

“Isn’t Tyrian your and Sita White’s daughter?”

“Accept her as your daughter!”

“Imran Khan has not done justice to his own daughter!”

“You tell people now that you are the father of the girl, or we will have you undergo a paternity DNA test!”

Imran, vexed but controlled, blamed him for resorting to “cheap and vulgar tactics in order to defend you leader who is a murderer”.

Ghauri, as if speaking from script, continued semi-shouting: “His anger proves that the girl is his daughter!” and “You have not answered my question about the girl!” As he spoke, Ghauri held the magazine up in front of the camera. And then, “You have done injustice to cricket in the past!”

Pakistan: “the greatest blunder in the history of mankind”

To Khan’s credit, he did not lose patience; a lesser man would have. He responded: “MQM is raising filth both in the assembly and on television channels. Its chief is a terrorist and an absconder and responsible for all the killings in Karachi on May 12. MQM should be ashamed of what it has been doing”. After that he insisted to the host that a portion of Altaf Hussain’s speech (that he delivered in Delhi to an Indian audience) be shown. The portion was played in which the MQM chief said: “The division of the subcontinent was the greatest blunder in the history of mankind. It was not the division of land, but the division of blood. I request the Indian government to pardon those who migrated from India in 1947 and given them asylum back in India.”

After the clip had been shown, Ghauri said that Khan had not answered his question about the paternal identity of “the girl”. At this time Ijaz ul Haq stepped in to buck up Ghauri. “Altaf Hussain is not a traitor. Yes, he did talk about the blunder of Partition, but he did not say that Partition should be reversed”. Then Haq produced a bolt from the blue: he denounced Benazir Bhutto (who had nothing to do with debate) for being the Traitor No. 1 of Pakistan and is a Khan ally. Despite a question on Altaf’s Delhi speech, he refused to condemn him. When Imran said “70 percent of the assembly seats will become vacant if the articles 62 and 63 are applied” and “I want government to oust me from the assembly because then I will show who can continue to function as a parliamentarian”, Haq pounced upon him for “undermining the sanctity of Parliament” and declared that the following day he would move a privilege resolution in Parliament (presumably against Khan). He never did.

Khan’s dilemma

Khan’s tragedy is that his political locale is Pakistan where principles are non-existent, and where a political opponent is not challenged on the political or legal, but on the personal basis. The “best” way to undermine an opponent (and it is not just politics, but every walk of society including the highest institutions of learning) is to character-assassinate them. Spread vulgar rumors about your opponent’s sister, wife, or mother, and you are sure to reap some dividends. Crooks, fraudsters, murderers, mobsters, mafiosos, and assorted criminals regularly and proudly run for political offices and win. Khan referred to “a very serious case of money laundering against Shaukat Aziz” pending in the United States. One can point out that General Musharraf is no stranger to high treason (e.g., violating Pakistan’s constitution by invading India without the knowledge of the government, and overthrowing a government through a coup). Recently, in a TV interview he has threatened to take “extra-constitutional” steps to remain in power. Pakistan’s ruling elite belong to the same kleptomaniac brotherhood (Dr Ayesha Siddiqua’s recently published Military Inc chronicles the details of the kleptomania). They do not attack each other’s personal fallings and private affairs even when they seem to be divided politically. Khan is an outsider.

He talks about real issues (poverty, illiteracy, health), and not the Islam-in-danger, Hindu-Jewish-conspiracy-against-Islam, and only-the-Army-can-save-Pakistan balderdash. He will always find the traditional power brokers against him as long as he deals with real issues. He is in a wrong place with the right ideas. As long as he keeps talking about the real issues, his opponents will campaign for Justice for Tyrian while ignoring dozens of little boys and girls that are found dead every day on streets after being raped. One can only hope Khan and people like him will continue to struggle to change their country’s political culture, and will not end up as “insiders”.

ABBAS ZAIDI’s writings have appeared, inter alia, New Internationalist, The Salisbury Review, New York Press, and Exquisite Corpse. He is Asian Editor of GOWANUS. Currently he is doing a PhD on the sociology of Punjabi. He can be reached at: manoo@brunet.bn