The squabble between Mr. Zardari and the military is almost jaw dropping and his onslaught on the military leadership left everyone stunned, including his own party. With the Rangers going after all manner of mafias operating in Karachi, the noose has slowly been tightening around criminal elements within, or associated with, the PPP. Zardari has roared to the military to lay off or else, saying that if the military continues on its present path, the former President will detail the sins of the military generals (of which there is no dearth) in a bid at mutually assured destruction.

Blows in the form of the raid by Rangers on the Sindh Building Control Authority and the DG Ranger’s claim of a thriving Rs. 2.3 billion crime economy backed by political parties that underpins a sizeable chunk of terrorism in Karachi, coupled with arrests of Uzair Baloch and others close to the president appear to have triggered Mr. Zardari’s assault.

His warnings have widely been construed as a live-and-let-live offer/threat. However, the most stunning aspect of his public proposal is the nakedness of the proposed deal, an NRO of sorts: If you continue to ‘persecute’ us, we too shall expose you. It is said that his live and let live offer arises from his comfortable arrangement with General Kayani where both, whilst otherwise at loggerheads, were happy to look away from each other’s financial misdoings. But the focus thus far has been on what he meant, not on the audacity of meaning.

It appears that Mr. Zardari believes he is talking from a position of strength. But since most of the military’s sins and corruption are known to the public, there is nothing new that he will be bringing to the table in this fight. Moreover, the military is in a position to put many of his associates and family members behind bars. He can only dig up old mud the public has learnt to live with. Yes, the public is in no mood of continued corruption by the army, but that is something Mr. Zardari cannot easily establish.

An additional factor going against Zardari is that there are whispers of ongoing accountability within the military, with several four and three star generals and their families being investigated in corruption cases. One brother at least is said to be under house arrest.

Conversely, civilian institutions like the NAB and the FIA seem unwilling and incapable of tackling the corruption being taken on by the Rangers and the military. Once again, we have before us the spectacle of civilian institutions and actors creating a vacuum for the military to occupy. The only valid point being latched onto by supporters of the PPP in particular, and democratically minded people in general, is that at the end of the day it is not the military’s or the Rangers’ mandate to be conducting this sort of accountability when there are institutions purpose-built for the job.

The conundrum for the unaligned is mind-boggling. Should they stand with ‘democracy’ and support Mr. Zardari’s proposal to be allowed to carry on with the corruption and mafia status quo while the civilians look away from the military’s misdoings? Or should they stand with a clean up which is necessarily going to be done by unaccountable institutions in a non-transparent manner? A terrible choice.

Many, even within the so called ‘anti army’ camp, say they would easily countenance the accountability of the mafias by the military if it indeed demonstrates a clean up of its own act in a transparent manner. Yet, recent history does not suggest that will come to pass. The Imran-TuQ fracas we witnessed last year was partly indebted to the military bulwarking any accountability of its ex-chief. What is striking is the differentiation this junta makes between financial corruption by its officers (going by the rumours of ongoing investigations of retired generals) and transgressions against the constitution. Or perhaps, it is rooted in factionalism and loyalties.

What is of note here is that Mr. Zardari was also banking on calling his huge favour to Mian Nawaz Sharif during the dharna. But he miscalculated abysmally. Perhaps on a point of principle he may have succeeded, but on the issue of Mian sahib coming in to bat for unfettered corruption, he failed. Mian sahib is in no position to do that. It would be fair to say that in the last seven years, both the PPP and the PML-N have banded together on points of principle (barring a few jarring missteps like the Memogate). Alas, the pound of flesh could not be had.

What is incomprehensible is the debate as it is framed: who to side with. In all honesty, neither can the conscience side with Mr. Zardari’s proposition, nor with the military’s trespassing its authority. There seem to be many wrongs trying to right each other.

Why is the PPP not considering a stepping back from the mafia and corruption culture? Why is there no thought being given to a truth and reconciliation process? That all parties, including the military, step back from the brink they have brought this country to and swear off corruption seems to be the only way forward. No party is in a position to hold anyone else accountable given their own record. Only a grand NRO of truth and reconciliation can work. I am surprised that Mr. Zardari did not propose it.