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Cause and effect


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THE other day, little Suleiman entered the room and announced: “It’s very dangerous! It’s very dangerous!” Since my grandson is only two, I was amused and asked his mother what that was about.

Chuckling, Sheila said he was repeating what she told him when he was about to get too close to the stove, or stick his fingers into a power outlet. And this is how children are brought up: parents warn them against dangers, and teach them about the consequences of their actions.

When they grow older, they learn rules at school, and the concept of reward and punishment guides their actions. Society imposes its own regulations. When we were growing up in Karachi in the 1950s, cops would stop us and make us get off our bikes if we were riding them after dark without lights. Now, of course, few are even aware of this legal requirement.

Over the years, I have watched the growing disconnect between cause and effect. In my 50 years of adulthood, I have seen people getting off for all kinds of crimes and misdemeanours ranging from theft to murder. And as the state’s authority has receded, criminals of all kinds have been emboldened.

A few days ago, a friend was held up at gunpoint on the outskirts of Karachi, and relieved of his cellphone, wallet and watch. A common enough occurrence in a crime-ridden city, and hardly worth reporting. But what was revealing was his subsequent experience at the local police station: the officer on duty told the victim that he could take him to where the criminals came from, but if he arrested them, they would be released in a couple of hours.

It is this virtual immunity from punishment that has made Pakistan such a dangerous country. When nobody has to pay a price for criminal behaviour, there’s nothing to stop them from robbing and killing at will. Even if criminals are occasionally arrested, they are usually let off by an incompetent judiciary, especially if they are accused of terrorism.

Without the kind of deterrence normal states deploy, groups like the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and the Taliban are free to slaughter at will, safe in the knowledge that even if they are caught, they will soon be released. Why should young men like the ones who held up my friend work for a living when they know that crime pays and that the political party they belong to will have them released?

Today’s violence in Karachi is being fuelled in large measure by the immunity provided to criminals from different ethnic groups by the political parties that formed the ruling coalition. In return, these gangs pass on some of the proceeds of their crimes to their political masters. The police are helpless because they know that even if they arrest these thugs, they will soon be released.

Meanwhile, the people of Karachi suffer frequent ‘protest days’ when the city is forcibly shut down. But there are economic consequences of these ‘peaceful and democratic’ closures. Ever since the mid-1980s when the MQM acquired a stranglehold on the port city, industries have been moving out.

Later, as some parties acquired firepower to counter the MQM muscle, the situation got worse and today, many industries have moved to Punjab or the Gulf from the country’s biggest city. With these businesses have gone thousands of jobs. So when young people can’t find work, they should demand relief from the cynical politicians who control the city’s destiny.

With laws being observed only in the breach, politicians, bureaucrats, generals and judges have all cashed in, knowing that there will be no sanctions, either legal or social. Businessmen avoid taxes as a matter of routine, generally in connivance with tax-collectors. Legislators and ministers don’t pay their utility bills.

When Shahrukh Jatoi allegedly shot Shahzeb Khan dead a few months ago, he must have felt secure in the knowledge that his powerful daddy would protect him. His bad luck was that the murder caused such a hue and cry in the media that the chief justice called for immediate action. The fact that young Jatoi was able to flee allegedly with the help of airport staff speaks volumes for the culture of entitlement that has taken root in Pakistan.

This disconnect between cause and effect has also infected our security establishment. When they created and used jihadi groups to further their agenda in Afghanistan and Kashmir, our generals were acting against internationally accepted norms. In the former theatre, they were aided and abetted by the CIA in the 1980s. Clearly, they assumed that using Islamic militants was a no-risk, win-win tactic. Decades later, these terrorists are ravaging the country with little resistance from the state.

In the tribal areas, we continued the colonial policy of using the lawless territory as a buffer zone. But by not integrating it fully within the state, we allowed criminal activity to flourish. Now we are surprised that it is home to several nests of terrorists. Clearly, we did not understand the long-term effects of uncontrolled tribal autonomy, and are now paying the price.

New York was once known as the crime capital of the United States. This image was transformed when Mayor Rudy Giuliani hired Bill Bratton as police commissioner to implement a policy of zero tolerance. There was a crackdown on petty crimes like graffiti, public drinking and urinating, and travelling free on the subway system. Soon, the overall crime rate declined, and has stayed relatively low.

What this “broken windows” theory, developed by George Kelling, shows is that once the authorities begin to make even petty criminals pay for their acts, society becomes safer. If — as happens in Pakistan — lawbreakers know they are safe no matter what they do, peaceful citizens will be at risk.

In New York, it took one determined mayor who had the political will to clean up his city. In Pakistan, sadly, all the power brokers are too busy lining their pockets and protecting their interests to bother about the rest of the country.

When the state is unable to arrest, prosecute and sentence known leaders of terrorist outfits, this sends a clear signal to the rank and file that they are free to kill and rob. It also sends a signal to the police to lay off. Until the link between criminal action and retribution is restored, we will continue wringing our hands over the daily slaughter taking place around us.

The writer is the author of Fatal Faultlines: Pakistan, Islam and the West.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (19) Closed

BRR Mar 09, 2013 03:38am
The guts and vision that Rudy Guiliani had cannot be easily encountered in pakistan. The clarity and purpose which with he worked for 5 years to clean up New York city was not magic - but a lot of hard work and dedication. Most cities can try this, but they will not - it is not personally profitable to work so hard for a community, when it is easier to loot for one's benefits.
Arif Mar 09, 2013 06:20am
Pakistan is doomed, everyone is in a rush to suck whatever from the motherland. I squarely blame the people who elect MQM, PPP and PML (N)
Malveros Mar 09, 2013 07:32am
Absolutely. A no-nonsense approach is required for cleaning the mess.
Shubs Mar 10, 2013 06:10pm
Well, his response to everything is to mock western civilization, sing paeans to the glorious past of Islam, and dig up some dirt about India. Entertaining, nevertheless.
waseem ahmed qureshi Mar 09, 2013 10:46am
but we are islamic nation...tats most important isnt it
Parvez Mar 09, 2013 11:56am could not have been more clear. In my opinion we place a lot of the blame for what is wrong on the politicians and then on the army but not enough on the judiciary. The judiciary had and has a very responsible role to play in the affairs of the State but has failed miserably in their duty and the people are paying for this.
khanm Mar 09, 2013 01:35pm
Judges are the weakest link in our system of justice, and they are also the most protected.
Lahore_Mass_Transit Mar 09, 2013 01:47pm
Irfan Sahib's articles ,especially this one,should be translated and published in an Urdu Newspaper too. This should be read by as many citizens of this beleaguered country as possible. This voice of reason must prevail to get our country out of this mess. Why this message is not geting across? Why we have become so numb? Why such inaction? Pehaps we are a better people now and will show this new maturity in coming Elections?
Agha Ata (USA) Mar 09, 2013 01:54pm
The whole process starts from our POLICE. Only if they gather correct information to be presented as proof of the crime, courts and judges would do better. But, what happens, police either cannot do so, or wouldn't do so, or is not able to do do so.
BNS Mar 09, 2013 01:57pm
I am a regular reader of your columns and am in process of reading your book now a days. Though I agree to most of your views in this and other columns, I beg to differ with a minor point mentioned in your above column i.e. "they are usually let off by an incompetent judiciary, especially if they are accused of terrorism". Judiciary may be incompetent, I have no doubts, however for convicting, the courts need proof and in the absencce of any proof the courts "should" let the person go. I think thats how the judicial system works and should work. If the courts start convicting individuals based on the fact that law enforcing agencies are saying so I think this country may be in a bigger mess. If you are sitting as a judge at courts and/or have been paying close attention as to how the cases are presented by the police at the courts I suspect, inspite of the fact that you will regret what is happening, you would do excatly the same as the courts do. Actually it is the incomopetancy, and in some cases vested interesrts, of poilce more than the couurt that gets theses culprits get away.
G.A. Mar 09, 2013 03:02pm
Every Pakistani is responsible. Even the one who deliberately runs a red traffic light or bribes a cop to avoid paying a full fine. Also the ones who stay quiet when their relative or a friends dad, for example, has built a mansion for himself using public funds.
G.A. Mar 09, 2013 03:07pm
I would like to ask the policy makers and generals that if jihadi groups from all over the world were meant to protect Pakistan from external threats then why did we bother spending so much on tanks and fighter planes and a huge, expensive standing army?
Rashid Sultan Mar 09, 2013 04:31pm
Cry on Irfan Hussain. It isn't just different ethnic groups protecting their own group's criminal acts. Karachi is not the only city suffering extremism, unlawful acts and violence. Other cities and Lahore are no exceptions. Utterly disturbing news today that a mob from the country's largest religious group torched the houses of 150 families on account of one 26 year old Christian man who is supposed to have allegedly blasphemed. Aren't Muhammad and Allah big and old enough to take care of themselves? Do they really need a mob of his followers to attack the entire neighbourhood of Christians on account of one 26 year old of that minority community. What sort of religious practice and adherence is taught in Pakistan of 21st century? Is mob law and lynching a sign of a progressive society? It was Gandhi, the greatest man who walked this earth in the 20th century, who had said: Civilisation and a civilised society is measured and judged by the way it welcomes and treats its minorities. Evidence suggests that we always were and are increasingly uncivilsed and intolerant evidenced by the fact that at independence 23 to 25% of the newly created Pakistan's population were religious minorities. Now the figure is less than 2% and yet we feel threatened by them! While in the West where you seem to spend most of your time amongst non Muslims, diversity is celebrated and in Pakistan .......? You and your family obviously don't like Pakistan enough to live in it but you write about it because......? Do something. Walk the talk!
Cyrus Howell Mar 09, 2013 06:19pm
Are their any other choices?
Avtar Mar 09, 2013 07:17pm
Good perspective. In Pakistan, it is difficult to convict the attackers on Sri Lankan cricket team with CCTV footage. What kind of evidence do the justice system need! Ordinary citizens are own their own. Cricket is a great entertainment for almost all citizens. No other country's team wants to come to Pakistan (Revenue, cricket pride, entertainment of masses does not really matter.) Islamists are happy because an Unislamic sport is no longer played on the world scale in Pakistan.
Vijay Mar 09, 2013 07:42pm
I am waiting to hear from abbastoronto, his fovourite rant about Pakistan passing through this tough time, only to come up as a shining star in the near future! Abbas - your post please.
krishgovind Mar 09, 2013 08:38pm
New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani could implement a policy of zero tolerance against crime in the city precisely because Americans are by and large a highly civic conscientious and merit precedes every other consideration. But South Asians occupy the other extreme end of the spectrum where the affinity to the clan, religion and caste carry precedence and the devil take the merit and ability. Give the merits its due all the problems will vanish like mist on sun rise.. Unfortunately our nations are an great example of John Stuart Mills observation that
Ram Krishan Sharma Mar 09, 2013 09:44pm
God Save Pakistan . Today's Dawn says that in Lahore Muslim mobs after Friday prayers , have killed 100 Christians and burned their houses including three churches. Long live Islamic republic of Pakistan.
Siddhartha Shastri Mar 10, 2013 01:16am
The dictum "All for one, One for all" got a sudden and mighty boost on September 11, 2001 amidst New Yorkers (and indeed across the USA). Any apetite for petty thinking and acts vanished in the gush of patriotic emotions. It will take a long time before people take to mean ways.