Hypocrisy of Pakistan's ruling elite
The BBC Urdu service's Masud Alam says a contempt for the law has always permeated throughout Pakistan's ruling class. BBC, August 7, 2007
Senior government functionaries in Pakistan are fond of complaining, in private, that the nation they are serving is averse to following the dictates of law.
That if something does not work in this country it is because the common man does not follow the system.
Lack of education, lack of discipline and lack of respect for the law are just some of the misdemeanours on the part of a populace that hampers the pace of progress.
A section of Pakistanis - the so-called educated and those living abroad - also subscribe to this preposterous notion.
But in truth, things could not be more different.
'A few drops'
It is the incompetence of the bureaucracy, the ignorance of lawmakers, the greed of the military for power and riches - combined with a glaring contempt for the law on the part of all three groups - that has created and then compounded the social anarchy that everyone is now forced to live in.
[Nawaz Sharif] was eager to please the Americans at any cost - in this case the cost was trashing the judicial system of his own country
There is no law in this country that cannot be or has not been broken by the very people who made them, and those whose job it is to implement them.
Take the law banning alcohol, for instance. It was introduced by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the first elected prime minister and the modern, liberal and democratic face of Pakistan in the 70s.
Bhutto is also the man who publicly admitted that he did not mind downing a few drops after a hard day's work.
Another prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, took the oath of office that emphasises the protection of life and property of every citizen.
He then proceeded to allow a team of American security men to raid a hotel in a Pakistani city, kidnap a Pakistani national, drive him to Islamabad, put him in a plane and fly off to the US.
The suspect, Aimal Kasi, was wanted by the Americans on charges of killing two CIA officials. The US wanted to bring him to justice at any cost. And the Pakistani PM was eager to please the Americans at any cost - in this case the cost was trashing the judicial system of his own country.
The same prime minister sent a team of party officials, including sitting parliamentarians, to storm the Supreme Court building and break into the court room where a petition against the PM was being heard.
The so-called National Accountability Bureau has in the past few years apprehended several high ranking politicians on charges of corruption, but if they agreed to join the military government - and almost all of them did - they were not only conveniently forgotten, some were made federal ministers.
Passing the baton
Three times in the history of this young country, the army chief has led a coup against a civilian government. The constitution was on each occasion trampled under military boots, even though it defines such actions as acts of "high treason".
Each military dictator seeks to pass on the baton to another, much like handing family treasures to the next generation.
The message that reaches the masses is: there is no law of the land and we have no rights, except what we can grab for ourselves.
The rulers, their coterie and functionaries, are the law. They will apply the writ when they see fit and they will overlook when it is wise to do so.
The people of this country have learnt to live in a system heavily skewed against them. They look for short cuts, they bribe their way, they use friends' and family's influence, they lie through their teeth, they plead and they threaten because there is no straightforward way to get things done.
To label these people "law breakers" is then adding insult to injury if the labeller is from the ruling class. Because in this country, laws are not made "for the people", more often than not they are made to be used "against" them.
It's the ruling class that routinely breaks the law and considers it a privilege
It is therefore only natural for people to break these laws whenever they can get away with it.
Conversely, if you provide an environment where the regulations aim to provide comfort and protection to the users, and the laws they produce are clearly communicated and fairly and firmly applied, the people of Pakistan will be as law abiding as any other people in the world.
This is the background that explains the relief and joy of the common man at the reinstatement of Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry as the chief justice of Pakistan.
For the first time the law has not sided with the law makers. For the first time, a powerful government headed by a serving general has failed to subvert the judiciary. And for the first time, people have come out on the street, in their hundreds of thousands, in support of the rule of law.
These masses were not motivated by some charismatic political leader. It was the unity of lawyers all over the country, and their objective of upholding the law, that got the attention of the people.
The Supreme Court's landmark decision, striking down the presidential charge sheet against the chief justice, is indeed a watershed in the history of Pakistan.
It has proved conclusively that the people of this country want justice. They believe in the need for laws, and they are capable of respecting them.
It is the ruling class that routinely breaks the law and considers it a privilege. These are the people who, for a change, are now fearful of the application of law under an independent judiciary.
The people of Pakistan do not expect an overnight sea change in their circumstances at the hands of a born-again judiciary. It is the prospect of law finally catching up with the real law breakers, that they find so irresistibly sweet.