Rule of law

Published March 9, 2014

IN developing societies, the rule of law is often slaughtered at the altar of discretion and personal whims. However, governance, peace, investment and development are interlinked with the extent of the rule of law in a society.

Where the rule of law exists the government and its functionaries are accountable. Due care is exercised to ensure that no single organ of the state becomes omnipotent.

Mere legislation alone is not enough. Public consent strengthens the rule of law. Laws not synchronised with social and cultural values result in low acceptance. Awareness regarding the law not only empowers but also improves enforcement.

In the developing world, the public tends to narrowly interpret the rule of law. In Pakistan, evidence abounds of how the law is bent or broken, with society suffering as a consequence. Misappropriation of public money, sale of spurious medicines, issuance of fake degrees, non-payment of taxes and loans are but a few examples of lawlessness in Pakistan.

In a democratic society the rule of law reflects the quality of governance. Weak enforcement of the law provides space to criminals and terrorists to further their aims. For example in Karachi, the country’s biggest city, the Supreme Court has taken notice of the existence of ‘no-go areas’. The presence of gangs in the Lyari area is another challenge for the Karachi police. Such groups patronise extortion, as well as the proliferation of weapons and drugs.

Though we are an energy-starved country, the theft of electricity and gas is considered normal practice. For example, illegal gas connections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Karak district have touched alarming levels. The district is said to be a defaulter of Rs210m.

Our tax laws provide exemptions to certain sectors, such as agriculture. According to a media report only 0.81 million people filed tax returns during 2011-12, despite the fact that some 3.39 million people possessed National Tax Numbers. “Only 0.6pc of the population pays taxes in Pakistan, as against 4.7pc in India, 58pc in France and 80pc in Canada,” the report observes.

The easy availability of weapons and explosives is another grave issue badly affecting peace in the country. According to an estimate 20 million illegal weapons pose a serious threat to national security. However, deweaponisation based on zero tolerance can earn dividends.

Balochistan is a province where establishing the rule of law is a major challenge. The country’s largest province, as far as area is concerned, is divided into ‘A’ and ‘B’ policing areas. To strengthen the writ of the government in 2003 a programme of converting ‘B’ areas into ‘A’ areas at the cost of Rs5.515bn was started. But owing to certain reasons the colonial-cum-tribal set-up was restored in 2009.

When institutions fail to protect human rights and dispense justice, the vacuum is filled by non-state actors. The low conviction rate encourages criminals. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, during 2012 in cases of terrorism, the conviction rate was only 4pc. Overall in Pakistan the conviction rate varies from 5pc to 10pc, whereas in the US it is 95pc. According to India’s National Crime Records Bureau data, in that country during 2012 the conviction rate was 38.5pc.

The rule of law requires balance between rights and responsibilities, where no one is above the law — including the government. The Constitution guarantees fundamental rights and everyone is supposed to have access to justice, including the accused.

In our context judicial activism and a free media have enhanced the understanding of human rights. From September 2012 to September 2013, 45,040 complaints were filed with the Human Rights Cell of the SC.

Yet delayed justice erodes the public’s confidence in the system. For example in 2012 there were 107,088 cases pending in 437 courts of Sindh alone. Reluctance of the witnesses to testify speaks to the defects in the system.

The rule of law requires a human-friendly correctional system, having the capacity to correct human behaviour. But Pakistan’s overcrowded jails only end up creating more hardened criminals.

For improvement in the rule of law, the ‘enforcement wings’ of authorities such as the Federal Board of Revenue, civic administrations, Pemra, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority and the Drug Regulatory Authority etc. need better administration.

The media in Pakistan, especially the electronic media, has the potential to educate the masses regarding their role in the establishment of the rule of law. Instead, at times, some outlets end up glorifying non-state actors.

Improved rule of law in Pakistan requires an improved criminal justice system, especially in Fata, Balochistan, Karachi and certain parts of KP. Therefore capacity-building and revamping of the whole criminal justice system is essential. Reforming one component will not work; synchronised reforms are the need of the hour.

The writer is a deputy inspector general of police.

alibabakhel@hotmail.com

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