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Lawless Pakistan?

Two tragedies this week vividly illustrate the recurring disconnect between rule of law and rights of common citizens, as Pakistan’s leaders repeatedly promise to lead the country through its next democratic transition later this year. In sharp contrast to their promises of setting the pace for a better future, a fast-paced economic downturn has further complicated Pakistan’s chances of recovery to return to its performance of previous decades.

On Monday, Pakistan’s flags flew at half mast across the country after Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif declared a day of mourning to remember the victims of the sunken ship off the coast of Greece, the majority of them of Pakistani origin.

Family members of those victims anxiously awaited news of their loved ones, as others mourned the loss of at least twelve passengers who were killed on Saturday in a bus crash as it raced through the M-2 motorway from Islamabad to Lahore. Early circumstantial evidence suggested a combination of high speed and a particularly tricky stretch – the Kallar Kahar salt range segment – where the crash occurred, to have contributed to the crash.

Together, the two tragedies – the shipwreck and the bus accident – underlined Pakistan’s failure over time to enforce rule of law. On its own, Monday’s day of mourning passed by without meaning, notably for the family members of the victims including many who sold off their savings of a lifetime and became pauperized, only to send at least one of their younger family members abroad for a prospectively more promising future.

For now, the police and other law-enforcement authorities are pursuing the culprits at the centre of the twin tragedies. But as Pakistan’s ruling authorities through TV images show off some of the early arrests, the root cause of the multiple challenges unleashed over time that have led to blatant lawlessness and such tragedies, are tragically set to remain well in place.

Broadly, such tragedies have occurred repeatedly over time as Pakistan has failed to reform its economy to cater to the needs of its fast bulging population, especially from low to middle income families. The shrinking economic opportunities have only prompted young and increasingly desperate Pakistanis to search for jobs abroad.

Following this mad rush, unscrupulous individuals posing as ‘employment agents’ or just ‘agents’ have jumped in the fray. Armed with fairytale accounts of jobs with attractive emoluments just waiting in foreign lands, young and unemployed Pakistanis have easily been lured.

In the process, successive governments have failed to create a tight enough regulatory structure to allow consumers – the ordinary public, to verify the authenticity of such agents without handing over their hard earned money first. And just like the continuing failure in other similar areas over time, its hard to recall exactly when was the last time that such unscrupulous agents were arrested and punished, with their fate standing out as a shining example to deter others seeking to follow the same line of work.

Meanwhile, the motorway over time has clearly lost its gloss from the second half of the 1990s when it was formally opened. Unlike its initial period when patrolling and enforcement were visibly much tighter, the widely famous motorway police appears to have become lax over time on both counts. In just one of the many examples, vehicles bearing registration numbers ‘APF’-symbolizing ‘Applied For’ are now seen conveniently entering Pakistan’s supposedly best run highway in sharp contrast to the days when they were barred.

The bus that lost control on the motorway and caused Saturday’s casualties, reportedly had a failure of its brakes. Any investigation must now centrally ask if the vehicle was fit to enter the motorway in the first place. Anecdotal evidence suggests the presence of visibly ‘unfit’ vehicles with much wear and tear that now ply the motorway on a daily basis. And any public inquiry into Saturday’s accident must also investigate the extent of patrolling by the motorway police, as it appears to have become visibly scaled down from its yesteryears.

Yet, these investigations will be of little consequence in improving safeguards that may have prevented either one or both of the two tragedies. Reversing the lagging rule of law in many areas will only begin to make a key difference if it comes in tandem with a visible economic recovery.

Pakistan’s younger population of today can not be tempted to trade a life abroad following a dubious travel, for one at home, unless they are assured of fresh and promising opportunities within Pakistan. Likewise, safeguards to ensure a higher quality of maintenance surrounding public transport can just not guarantee a lift in road safety, unless Pakistan’s overall law and order improves across the board.

As Pakistan’s mainstream political parties prepare their manifestos for the upcoming election campaigns later this year, they must include action on issues of public safety among their top priorities. Failure to do so will just highlight a long-held disconnect between Pakistan’s ruling class and the public, a disconnect that refuses to go away.

Email: farhanbokhari@gmail.com

Farhan Bokhari, "Lawless Pakistan?," The News. 2023-06-21.
Keywords: Social sciences , Rule of Law , Motorway Police , Lawlessness , Unemployed , PM Shehbaz Sharif , Pakistan , APF