On the 136th birth anniversary of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the most pressing political problem seems to be that of the fate of former Federal Minister Asim Hussain, who is being defended as vigorously as he is being pursued. It is perhaps a bizarre coincidence that the case has brought together the players at the time of Partition, but it is probably appropriate.

The case of Dr Asim Hussain seems to bring into conflict the military and the politicians, with the Rangers representing the military and Dr Asim the politicians. The Rangers have accused Dr Asim of corruption, and of arranging the treatment of those injured in gang wars at his hospital in Karachi. The PPP, to which Dr Asim belongs, claims that this is political victimization, and the Rangers have overstepped their mandate by going against corruption. The Rangers operation depends on an authorization from the Sindh government, which was only recently approved by the Sindh Assembly on condition that any raids on government offices, or any preventive detention of someone suspected of financing terrorism, without the CM’s written permission. That authorization means that Dr Asim would not have been arrested, because even if the permission had been secured, Dr Asim would probably have fled abroad, like the rest of the PPP leadership. The most prominent of them is ex-President Asif Zardari, who is suspected of being on the Rangers’ hit list, and who is not just abroad because he likes it, but because he would be arrested if he returns.

To be fair, the Rangers are not supposed to be doing this because they are tools of the PML-N federal government, but because they are supposed to be doing the will of the Army. The reason is that while the Rangers are under the Interior Ministry, its officers are deputed by the Army, and thus the COAS controls its officers’ futures. Guided by its officers, the Rangers are supposed to be hounding the PPP. The argument is that Dr Asim is merely an excuse. Actually, the target is the man to whom he owed his entry into politics, which led to the Petroleum Ministry: Ex-President Zardari.

It should be noted that the Petroleum Ministry is supposed to be very lucrative, and Dr Asim is suspected of having turned its profitability to the advantage of President Zardari. This view is not complimentary to Ch Nisar Ali, who has assumed the Interior portfolio after holding Petroleum in the previous two Nawaz governments, or to Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, the current Minister. Ex-President Zardari has a reputation of corruption that dates back to his wife’s first tenure as Prime Minister in 1988-1990, as well as a record of being arrested on both the occasions that his wife’s government was dismissed, but he was not convicted in any case. Therefore, according to those who hold that he was innocent, Dr Asim’s arrest and his custody by Rangers was merely the latest link in that chain, and showed that the military was bent on Zardari’s arrest.

On the other hand, according to believers in his guilt, it was another example of the PPP trying to use its political clout to escape prosecution. They argue that if Dr Asim was indeed innocent, he would have nothing to fear from prosecution, so the contortions of the Sindh government indicate that he is indeed guilty. That view assumes that the courts are not fair, and capable of being manipulated.

Holders of his view point to the recent court verdict upholding the Army courts as showing that the judiciary is back to its backing of the military, a support dating back at least to the 1958 upholding of the Ayub Martial Law which was brought to an end by the decision ordering the trial of Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf for treason for imposing Martial Law.

The problem seems to be that the Sindh government’s reluctance to allow the Rangers operation to proceed seems based on the MQM’s desire that it stop. The MQM has not joined the government, but it is an old ally of the PPP, and it was a target before Dr Asim. There is also the additional provocation to it; that it was already on a collision course with the Rangers ever since the raid on the MQM HQ at 90 Azizabad. That led to the ban on MQM supremo Altaf Hussain’s anti-military speech, and the ban on broadcasting him. That led to FIRs being lodged against him and senior MQM leaders, which has led to their arrest. That the MQM emerged victorious in the recent local body polls, which took place after the FIR was lodged, show that the voter did not mind, and the urban voter did not penalize the party which was accused of being behind target killings and extortion. Apart from these two crimes, the Rangers were also mandated to help eliminate sectarian violence and terrorism, including terror financing, something Dr Asim is accused of. That ex-President Zardari is also accused of speeches against the military has made the PPP wary of Dr Asim’s arrest as a precursor to Zardari’s arrest.

Apart from Zardari, the PPP is also accused of putting democracy at risk. That would imply that the military is so determined to ‘fix’ Dr Asim that it would be willing to take over to do so. That might well be giving him too much importance, for there are other reasons why the military might take over, not least the personal ambitions of the possible coup-makers. However, Dr Asim might well be the excuse, and more importantly, since the PPP does not have leaders in the country, Dr Asim might well be the most easily recognized PPP leader of whom an example might be shown to be made. In that sense, he might be the ‘trailer’ of the ‘main film’.

The Quaid did not want a country that would be fought over by political parties and the military. The people did not want military participation, but they also wanted politicians to solve their problems, not protect themselves from the consequences of corruption. The inability of politicians to solve their problems has led to military intervention being made acceptable to a segment of the population. It should be noted that the military has not solved the people’s problems, even though it has had long periods of rule. Though much of the appeal has centred on better governance, military rule has managed to preside over the break-up of the country. The military has not allowed the building of other institutions, and one of the problems revealed in the war on terror is the lack of capacity in the non-military law enforcing agencies, particularly the police. That, rather than Dr Asim, is the main problem faced in Karachi, yet it is the one to which the Sindh government does not wish to address. The Quaid wanted a state subject to the rule of law. However, that would preclude the arbitrariness implicit in the activities of which Dr Asim is accused. The PPP and the MQM would not be able to do what they wanted. This is particularly crucial in Karachi, where arbitrary power is needed to fully exploit the considerable real estate resources of the city. They are enough to overcome any scruples that an individual in the PPP might have. There is a certain appropriateness to the facts that Dr Asim is involved in issues of the Quaid’s profession, the law, in the Quaid’s city, Karachi.