by Syed Haider Raza Mehdi
First, full disclosure.
As a young subaltern in 1976 or 1977 I was a beneficiary of two plots from the DHA Karachi. One if I recall correctly was a 200 yard commercial plot and the other a 1000 yards residential plot in phase 8 for which my father paid 4 times less than the market rate (I could barely pay my mess bill and, like most subalterns, in permanent debt. Nothing much seems to have changed since :)
I sold the commercial plot a few years later to supplement my wedding expenses. And the residential plot also sold to help the family through some tough financial straits in the 80's.
But in 1976 or 77 many amongst us sold these "allotment letters" called "rights" to sharp brokers who trawled the streets of Malir. And suddenly Malir saw a slew of bright shiny Hondas and Yamaha motorcycles and many happy young campers in uniform!
It didn't seem wrong or unfair then and perhaps not even now.
Especially for those who rose up to more senior ranks (I left as a captain) the idea of receiving plots of land as you added more stars was perfectly ok, moral, legal and part of the perks and privileges of serving in the Army and of promotion to higher rank.
Which brings us to a bigger moral question!
Can and should a powerful state institution like the Army or any other state institution arrogate to themselves the right to enrich it's members with public land and other special privileges and benefits which are not available to others?
Especially, in the case of the Army, where it's Chiefs took over power for nearly four decades and could and did tinker with laws to benefit the institution.
In a discussion with a former Army mate about the allotment of land to an Army Chief, rather than discussing the issue and merits of the case, he kept harking back to a simple argument that "this is an attempt to bring disrepute to the Army, tarnish it's reputation and the work of an Indian / Jewish Lobby to weaken the only Nuclear Armed Islamic country".
This kind of counter argument has now become a standard ploy in Pakistan in responding to questions or criticism of any action which is controversial and bordering on the illegal or the unethical.
Ask a PMLN supporter about Panama and they respond with "But Imran Khan...."
Question the Saudi belligerence and the answer is "Iran has also...." or vice versa.
For me it was quite a stretch to connecting the allotment of state land to Army Chiefs, under a dubious 1959 Martial Law regulation with quite explicit conditions (which by the way mean nothing in Pakistan) to weakening the "Nuclear Armed Islamic State".
In an earlier article, when I questioned the wisdom of a former Army Chief entering the minefield of sectarian and geo political conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, a former close army buddy and a PMA platoon mate called me an "Iranian agent" and being "anti Pakistan and anti Pakistan Army" etc. Hence now a former close friend :)
The simple act of questioning entrenched interests are challenged quoting "national interest" "patriotism" "India" "Jewish lobby"and when all else fails being labelled "anti Islam", our best fall back position.
My take on this is simple.
Every privilege or benefit to any institution or group, which appears unfair, must be brought into question. Whether it's the Army, the Judiciary, the Politicians the administrative bureaucracy or any other privileged group or institution.
Everyone. Without fear or favor.
So any questions are good signs and omens for Pakistan. Questioning the perceived unfair actions and powers of any institution or "holy cows" are glimmers of hope.
These actions show the beginnings of a tough journey to evolve into a better, moral and more ethical state and society.
We must question more and more the previously unquestionable.
Everybody, whether in or out uniform must be questioned about what is perceived wrong and or unfair.
Panama, irrespective of the outcomes is a milestone in Pakistan's attempt to become a more moral, transparent, accountable and most importantly a fair and equitable society.
A society where unbridled or controlled greed, corruption, loot and plunder, illegal or whether sanctioned by laws, must be questioned and institutions must answer and the imbalance corrected.
Let this piece not be construed an attack on the Army. It isn't.
If anything its a call for institutional self reflection!
But buckle up.
It's going to be a rough and tough ride!