Regulatory bodies…who needs them?

By Ayaz Amir

A dictator, Gen Musharraf, gave us the regulatory bodies – bodies to act as a check, in the public interest, over various ministries. A democrat – for that’s what we must call him – is doing away with them, because they were irksome and restrictive and not allowing the government to do as it wanted with the pricing of oil and liquid gas and with electricity tariffs.

There are many jokes in this country but the Nandipur power project would be at the very top of this list. With great fanfare the prime minister performed its opening ceremony and the very next day, believe it or not, it was shut down because of this technical problem and that. And because it is a white elephant and the cost on it has gone through the roof, revised upwards and upwards, the government in order to make the project break even wanted to sell the electricity it would produce at inflated prices.

Nepra, the regulatory body in charge of power tariffs, wouldn’t allow this robbery. It also was raising objections to the tariffs being proposed for that other potential disaster, the Sahiwal coal power project. So Nepra had to go. And Ogra had to go because it was objecting to the import of expensive liquid gas.

So in one go five regulatory bodies have been put under the wings of the ministries whose functioning, in the public interest, they were meant to regulate. This is Pakistani democracy. The Sindh government is objecting, the KP government has its reservations and the Council of Common Interests where this matter should have been discussed has been bypassed, the prime minister approving this move before setting off on a foreign visit, a Boeing aircraft from PIA commandeered for the prime minister’s comfort.

The interior minister who can’t do his own job properly must hold forth on relations with Afghanistan when he visits the Khyber Agency. And NAB, that joke of an accountability bureau, agrees to a plea bargain with a Balochistan bureaucrat accused of massive corruption, and from whose house a veritable treasure – crores of currency notes hidden in his garage – was discovered. There is nothing extraordinary about these events. This is business as usual in the Islamic Republic.

Throughout his long political career Nawaz Sharif has been known for being impatient with rules, regulations and accepted procedures. He’s always wanted to do things his way in a manner that can only be called ad hoc, whimsical and arbitrary. In his second tenure he was not content with being prime minister. He wanted to become – no joking – Amir-ul-Momineen, a constitutional amendment being moved for this purpose.

Luckily for us, there was strong opposition to this absurdity within the PML-N parliamentary party, Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri notably speaking up against it. But the episode was revealing…that’s what Nawaz Sharif wanted to be, caliph of the Pakistani faithful, beyond criticism, beyond all questioning. And caliphs, as we know, are for life.

He couldn’t get his way and soon ran into the events which culminated in Musharraf’s coup d’etat. But a man doesn’t change his spots or his instinctive desires. The wish to do things in ad-hoc style remains deeply embedded.

Extracting the teeth of the regulatory bodies is very much in this style. The Panama affair and what it reveals about the financial shenanigans of what I suppose we must call the first family again show the absolute contempt harboured for both the laws and the people of this hapless country. Laws and regulations are for others. As the New York billionaire Leona Helmsley put it, “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.” In much the same spirit laws in Pakistan are for the little people, not owners of Mayfair properties. Alhamdolillah.

But the question is: what explains Nawaz Sharif’s abrupt return to his regal style, to his playing Tarzan again? Cynics would say – and there is no shortage of them here – that this flexing of muscle is in a direct way related to the departure of Nawaz Sharif’s arch-nemesis, Gen Raheel Sharif. The general was no Cassius, conspiring against the prime minister. But with his performance and his derring-do style – dabang in Urdu – he overshadowed the civilian side of governance, making the PML-N guys look small. It’s only natural that they didn’t like it.

How they wished for his departure. How fervently they must have prayed for it. That having come to pass and Raheel Sharif safely gone to his house in Lahore, there is a feeling of liberation in the PM’s circle. Rais Zardari was right: army chiefs come and go, that is if reaching out their hand they don’t get it into their heads to come and actually seize power – which a quartet have done – but politicians remain, fixtures beyond the term of an army chief’s tenure.

So it should come as no surprise that Rais Zardari all of a sudden feels free to return to Pakistan. He was in self-imposed exile and running his business affairs and the Sindh government from afar but now he’s set on a triumphant return. And Nawaz Sharif is also sprouting wings….because of that change of command in General Headquarters.

Before the change it is fairly likely even the unceremonious removal of the Sindh Inspector General of Police, A D Khawaja, who against the odds had earned a good name for himself, would not have happened. Mr Zardari would not have felt strong enough to pull it off. It’s different now.

This is the real charter of democracy: this double liberation, both for Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari. It is against the backdrop of these altered circumstances that there comes the kick to the regulatory authorities.

So what great blasphemy has Musharraf uttered when he says that he is grateful to Gen Raheel Sharif for getting him off the hook in his treason trial? He’s only giving voice to what has been known all along: that the army came to Musharraf’s rescue. When from the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology where he had been kept under army protection he was taken to his Chak Shehzad farm the farm was declared a sub-hospital, probably the first time such a thing was happening…a riveting indication of the lengths the army was prepared to go to save its former chief.

We can raise our voices to the heavens and say the army was acting outside its remit. But when politicians behave arbitrarily and have no respect for the law, why do they forget that those who hold the gun, and thus wield the most power, can behave more arbitrarily than anyone else?

What does this tell us? That the real law in Pakistan is arbitrariness, whimsicality and ad hocism. If there is no redress for the Model Town killings, no proceedings against anyone in the Asghar Khan case which is about an entire list of PML-N politicians getting money for election expenses from the ISI, and when nothing happens in the Panama affair, and is not likely to happen, what is there left of that sacred cow called democracy, and what arguments are left to brandish against the dubious actions of the army?

Apart from anything else he did Gen Raheel Sharif created an unwitting balance in the affairs of the republic. With him gone that balance stands destroyed.

Email: bhagwal63@gmail.com

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