Jungle Law: Dawn Editorial

Jungle Law,
Dawn Editorial, April 28, 2009

The brutal crimes committed by the Taliban constitute a warning: this is the sort of behaviour that lies at the extremist yet logical end of the jungle-law mindset taking root in the country. Increasingly, Pakistan is a place where the powerful can get away with any transgression, while the weak become exponentially vulnerable.
A case in point is last week’s incident in Muzaffargarh. A district education officer visited a government high school in connection with an inquiry against a secondary schoolteacher. The enraged teacher reportedly thrashed the DEO and then locked her up, while the assailant’s accomplices fired in the air. The police eventually arrested the DEO’s attacker but delayed registering a case against him. Reportedly, the teacher in question is close to an MPA from the PML-Q’s unification bloc. The area police told this paper that they were awaiting ‘instructions’ from the provincial assembly legislator.

Such subversion of justice is all too common in our society, where the rule of law remains an abstract concept. The citizenry is taught by example to sidestep the conventions of legality and citizens’ rights when there is a chance of getting away with it – which depends mainly on access to wealth, privilege and power. Ordinary citizens learn from the example set by their rulers, which virtually across the board belong to the feudal or economic elite.

There are plenty of instances where the feudal elite, among them well-known politicians, have victimised peasants and other powerless constituents. Instances of buying votes, bribing constituents and opposition party members, and blatantly favouring loyalists are too many to enumerate. Military rulers have no better record. Power has often been wrested through moves later ‘legalised’ through a retroactive tinkering with the laws. The constitution of the country has been subverted, and legal governments arbitrarily removed.

The judiciary and the police are meant to prevent such flouting of the law, but these institutions have shown a regrettable lack of commitment. A pliant justice system has often been created through either a non-transparent process of appointing judges, or through alleged ‘deals’. Constitutional illegalities have been given retroactive cover.

The transgressions of the police, meanwhile, are known to all. From ceding to the demands of influentials and manipulating evidence to extracting confessions through brutal means, the Pakistan police have gathered a reputation of being no friend of the powerless. Such practices teach the citizenry that the law is invoked only by the weak, and to little avail.

To prevent a jungle-like situation in the country’s future, it is imperative that the law be applied and enforced across the board. In the restoration of the chief justice, an important point was scored for the rule of law. This must be driven home further. It must be made clear that no one is above the country’s laws, which are paramount.

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