Written By: Amir Zia
For many developing countries, including Pakistan, one of the biggest impediments to modernization and development remains the state’s inability to establish the rule of law and enforce its writ. The selective implementation of laws and a country’s incapacity to hold all persons, organizations, institutions and rulers accountable for any wrongdoing, trigger decay at every level of the state and society. The weakness of the state writ is also manifested in its failure to efficiently impose and collect taxes. Another indicator of the state’s frailty is its powerlessness in taking-on those individuals and groups, who raise weapons against it.
Members of the ruling elite in such developing countries themselves openly flout laws, knowing well that they can easily get away with it. This becomes an oppressively repetitive pattern, leading toward gradual anarchy, chaos, lawlessness and the implosion of institutions. If there are arrests and registration of cases against some members of the ruling elite for any crime, it is seen as an exception rather than an established norm. And this attempted accountability occurs only because of the tussle and infighting within various power factions. All the scandals about mega-corruption, massive tax-evasion, loan defaults, kickbacks and commissions and abuse of power do create uproar, but they fizzle out with the passage of time. Hardly any member of the powerful elite ever gets convicted of the so-called “white collar crimes.” Time, money, weak prosecution and a flawed judicial system enable all such accused to eventually walk free. Many such tainted figures – by hook or by crook – manage to get themselves elected and can be seen holding highest public offices.
Similarly, the state often finds it difficult to punish those responsible for violent crimes, sabotage and acts of terrorism and organized violence. The reason; key stakeholders and their allies patronize and protect such elements.
This is the sad story of many countries – from Latin America to Africa and Asia. Many developing countries in these three continents are democratic as far as holding of the elections are concerned, but they fail to establish the rule of law. Pakistan’s recent history is full of such examples, underlining the fact that being democratic is no guarantee for the establishment of the rule of law. The Pakistani experience shows that in most cases members of the ruling elite don’t only violate laws, but bend them for their narrow interests. Laws governing property rights, trade, business and taxation – they all are subject to abuse and change. No wonder transforming black into white and the illegal into ‘kosher’ remains a never-ending process in our country.
The values and practices of the ruling elite – which in Pakistan comprise mainly of tribal chiefs, feudal lords, industrialists-cum-businesspeople-cum-large-landowners – have a trickledown effect on the minority shareholders in the power structure such as the urban middle or lower-middle class parties and clerics of the mainstream religious organizations. These secondary stakeholders in the power-structure, survive in the political arena by following footsteps of the well-entrenched elite, which perpetuates rule by weaving in corruption and crime into the country’s political fabric. This strong nexus has so far proved successful in stifling and thwarting all attempts aimed at introducing political, governance and economic reforms and establishing the rule of law in the country.
As a result almost every civilian institution now stands dysfunctional and weak. The police force has become a tool in the hands of political masters and not seen as a credible and efficient institution dedicated to fighting crime and upholding the law. The judiciary – by-and-large – offers little relief to ordinary Pakistanis and fails to provide cheap and quick justice mainly due to the lack of resources, structural flaws and political and administrative interference. Our men on the street and even middle and upper-middle classes hardly have faith in the key institutions. The successive parliaments and elected governments have yet to come up with a vision aimed at reforming the system simply because any such move hurts their own interest. This myopic approach, in which the ruling elite fails to lead and do the needful, resulted into the decline and weakening of almost every public sector institution, transforming them into money guzzling, loss-making and anti-people ventures that remain a burden on the national exchequer. In recent years, the growing political interference, poor governance, corruption and tolerance for corruption has only accelerated this process.
Political scientists overwhelmingly agree that the “absence of a strong rule of law” is one of the principal factors which prevent developing or poor countries from achieving higher rates of economic growth. In comparison, all those states which prospered and developed, including the capitalist economies, established the rule of law and writ of the state first before they managed to embark on the path of development. This makes the rule of law and the ability of the state to assert its writ a prerequisite for its unity, well-being and economic development and prosperity. But when the ruling elite and the smaller stakeholders emerge as the biggest violators of the law and lose interest in establishing the writ of the state, lawlessness becomes order of the day. This encourages even individuals and bands of criminals to do the same.
On a smaller scale, the apparently law-abiding, educated urbanite sees no harm in jumping the red-light while driving or offering bribe to a policeman. In a benign, but at a bigger scale, the system accommodates land-grabbers and encroachers as well as various mafias, which provide illegal services to the people – from transport to drinking water. This is being done by twisting, changing and blunting laws to make room for the law breakers. According to few economic experts, one such recurring practice in Pakistan is the announcement of tax amnesty schemes to allow tax evaders whiten their black money. This happens after every few years to benefit those who refuse to pay taxes, underlining one key weakness of the state. And as the things stand, the country is set to see more such amnesty schemes as there is hardly any push to introduce sustainable reforms. “Criminalization of politics and politicization of crime” is another thorny issue, which Pakistan’s ruling elite has failed to address. It’s now all over the media that some key political parties and their leaders are directly involved in patronizing criminals. Karachi is just one example of this mess in which institutions contributed by using one proxy against the other.
Since the start of Karachi Operation in 2013, the state institutions have gone for an even-handed approach against criminals and terrorists. The ongoing paramilitary Rangers-led operation has brought down the number of killings and incidents of terrorism as well as kidnappings for ransom and extortion cases. But our leadership has failed to use this space for any reforms in the police or judiciary as well as to launch any substantial socio-economic development work. In fact, many so called leaders resisted the operation and its direction under one pretext or the other, which is a bad omen for the country.
However, the biggest internal challenge for Pakistan emits from the religiously-motivated terrorism and extremism. On this front, Pakistan Armed Forces contained and neutralized the threat since the start of Operation Zarb-e-Azb in mid-2014. The operation destroyed the command-and-control infrastructure of militants and wiped out their safe havens at great human cost, drastically cutting down the number of terror attacks in the country. But the civilian leaders have yet to back up this grand effort by taking the measures promised in the 20 point National Action Plan (NAP). Barring the setting up of the military courts and lifting of the moratorium on the death penalty, all the other points of NAP have either been partially implemented or are yet to be implemented. The top leadership has also admitted recently that the execution of reforms promised in NAP has been slow. While the challenge of establishing the state writ and rule of law is huge, our ruling elite and decision-makers must be clear that they have to adopt a holistic approach if they are serious in transforming Pakistan. For instance, fighting corruption, stopping the illegal flow of money, severing ties between politics, crime and terrorism and greater accountability are the first baby steps towards establishing the rule of law. These efforts should not remain confined to one or two provinces or just the troubled spots, but expanded to the entire country.
These steps are directly linked to the ruling elite’s ability, especially those in the government, to introduce reforms aimed at strengthening institutions – especially the police and the judiciary. These efforts must be backed by the socio-economic development and ensuring good governance. All these efforts are needed to sustain the gains of both these operations – Karachi and Zarb-e-Azb – and any new one which might be on the cards. It is high time for the ruling elite to grab the initiative and indulge in some serious self-criticism and self-accountability for the sake of Pakistan. Given the severity of the internal and external threats, these are not the normal times for the country. The leaders must show the vision and prove that they have the ability to represent not just one group, one ethnicity, one city, one region, but the entire Pakistan.