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Lawlessness and the Fundamental Decline of Pakistan

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The Taliban takeover of Swat last year was explained by many commentators as a result of state failure in the provision of justice. Indeed, the agreement reached between the militants and the government was called the Nizam-e-Adl (System of Justice) Regulation.

The unfortunate fact is, however, that the same vacuum of justice exists in every corner of Pakistan today. This is not to imply that state authority and control can be challenged everywhere: the Pakistani government is large and powerful. However, its reach is limited in rural areas, and its importance subservient to individual power relations. Everywhere from the streets of the capital city, to the most remote village in Baluchistan, legal rules mean far less than a call to a powerful police officer, politician, or, trumping it all, the regional Army Corp Commander, and has been so throughout my lifetime. In the ultimate irony then, lawlessness and the state coexist across Pakistan.

This cedes moral and political ground to local thugs who reshape themselves as guardians of people's rights and values. In Baluchistan, Bramdagh Bugti openly encourages terrorism including targeted killings of Punjabis, on the grounds that the Baloch have long been treated unfairly. The Baloch uprising, gestated by a kleptomaniacal central government system and a history of taking from the poor and giving to the rich, is fast being adopted by the mainstream Baloch due to the lack of efforts by the center to develop our poorest province. Our historical failure to provide justice to these areas is evident from the labels given to the reconciliation packages adopted. Swat had its Nizam-e-Adl. Balochistan is being offered an Aghaz-e-Huqooq-i-Baluchistan (literally, the Genesis of Rights of Balochistan).

These regional packages are merely plugging holes in a sieve. Phone-snatchings and robberies in major cities isn't news anymore, but are in fact expected. Even murdering an individual who does not enjoy connections with the powerful is trivial, and has been so for some time. Individual organizations, often connected to some militant interpretation of Islam, dictate terms to the government in Karachi, or openly challenge the government's writ in Islamabad.

The infuriating thing is, politicians, the army high command, and self-proclaimed 'defense analysts' alike remain transfixed by foreign explanations. In the case of politicians and bureaucrats, this can be understood as an attempt to shift attention away from their own past failures. What puzzles me to no end is why the public buys into this charade of an explanation while ignoring the evidence of state failure and corruption that we are slapped with in our daily lives. How hard is it to connect the dots?

Countries have rivalries and hostilities, and it may well be (in fact, it is in my estimation likely) that others are contributing to our problems. However, their importance cannot be overestimated. Pakistan's future will be determined by the Pakistani public and the Pakistani state. We cannot let our perceptual gestalt, our overarching explanation, be allotting blame to others.

To my mind, there are a handful of necessary preconditions to halting our slide. They may be fantastic and impractical, but without addressing them, we cannot hope to recover:

Reconstituting the provinces, and delineating their rights with respect to the center: Our provinces as they exist today are ridiculously large by international standards, and divided along ethnic lines. Dividing them into, say, 12-15 provinces would help us parse our problems and focus on them better. It might also reduce provincial tensions bolstered by ethnic differences. A limited federation would organize and fund activities that represent or serve all provinces, like international affairs, the army, and the maintenance of a fund to fund pro-poor activities in economically backward regions.

The provision of justice, past, present and future: This is so simple to write about, and so challenging in reality, but it must be done. Peace follows justice. The failure to resolve decades-old cases does not remove the damage they do to the fabric of society, and as best as possible, they must be addressed, perhaps by setting up special courts to clear the backlog. The whole judicial system, in fact, would need redress.

Land reforms: Too few people own too much land in Pakistan. There is nothing wrong with wealth itself, but an agency that investigates large land holdings for legal propriety, and the privatization of excessive public land holding, not by sale to the highest bidder, but to the most needy, is needed to have hope for future stability. Moreover, the state cannot relinquish its theoretical monopoly of violence to the local landlord.

Peace with India: With an army less than a sixth of our alleged 'rival's', and an overextended economy, we simply cannot afford aggression towards India. Maintaining a viable defense force, and strictly a defensive force is the only way forward. We should be hoping to compete, not in how many guns we can point at them, but how educated and well-fed our people are compared to our neighbors.

Politician Accountability: This means following up on the work NAB started early during the Musharraf era (which he claimed in his book was too politically difficult for him to continue), punishing those found guilty, etc. It is also unacceptable for politicians to keep their wealth, residences, and children abroad. If our leaders don't signal confidence in Pakistan, and if they have a comfortable exit option, how can we expect them to be fully committed to the country?

This is surely a tiny fraction of what needs to happen. Feel free to add your thoughts in the Comments section below.


Ali Hasanain studied mathematics and economics at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. He is currently completing his PhD in experimental economics at George Mason University.

Author of this article: Ali Hasanain
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