Anusha’s death is more critical by Harris khalique


Like all other newspapers, the Tuesday edition of this paper was full of news, views, comments and analysis of the two speeches made almost in tandem with each other by the most senior and the most powerful public servants of the republic
– the chief justice and the army chief. One is the custodian of the law and the other is the custodian of security. I pick up two relatively smaller news items from the front page of this paper’s Tuesday’s edition where the five questions posed by the chief justice and two questions posed by the army chief are ably extracted and presented to the readers.

The questions seem overarching and general. Those asked by the chief justice are not new in essence and draw from a bigger spread of time than the ones asked by the army chief, which are more current and apparently directed as a response to some recent developments in the courtrooms and the subsequent talk shows aired on private television channels. But coming from the CJ and the COAS make all of these questions significant, whether they are new or old, and warrant answers from powers that be, including the institutions led by these two individuals who have posed these questions.

However, in all earnestness, I wish to attempt a response to these seven questions as a common citizen of the republic. Perhaps my response in a tabulated or a bulleted form may have served the purpose better. But with age I am getting averse to my schooling in mechanical engineering and the immediate apprenticeship in systems engineering afterwards. Consequently, I have stopped enjoying putting structures on organic processes. Being methodical is brilliant but the structures may help understand organic processes of politics and history to a very limited extent. So much falls outside and is left outside. Goodness, I am digressing from answering the questions at the very outset.

The first question the chief justice has asked is, “Do we reward merit and hard work?” No sir, we don’t. In a position of authority, political, judicial or executive, either we proactively support or conveniently overlook the undeserved postings, transfers or out-of-turn promotions of our sons, daughters, nephews and nieces, in public sector institutions. Some even try to influence the business entrepreneurs or companies to induct individuals who qualify as our family or friends. Or, if not induct, get them business.

The second question the CJ asked is, “Are the twin principles of rule of law and supremacy of constitution being strictly enforced?” Well, sir, there has been some progress made by the parliament of the republic, including the president when it comes to cleaning up the constitution in a post-martial law period before enforcing it, devolving rights to the federating units, transferring the president’s power to the two houses of parliament and trying to create a balance between the key institutions of the state including yours.

However, I must say that some institutions are stepping into the jurisdiction of others and still struggling to understand their limits in a parliamentary democracy. As far as rule of law is concerned, sir, it is not enforced at all, let alone be strictly enforced. Not only that, we are at a war, more within and less outside, there is no political will demonstrated by any quarter to establish the rule of law.

The third, fourth and fifth questions are about the overall system under which we live. “Do the citizens of this country trust the system and think it provides them fair opportunity to realise their dreams in a transparent manner?”; “Does the present system have the capacity to discourage the corrupt and rent seekers?”; and, “Do we have a system where civil and property rights are protected and contracts are fully enforced?”

Sir, I get a little confused here. Are you only talking about the political system of elections, parliament, constitution writing and law making, or, it includes how the lower judiciary functions across the length and breadth of the country? Because when poor or powerless people are exploited by a usurper of their rights and they find no solace from the police either, do you think they actually get justice from the lower courts and are facilitated by otherwise ‘conscientious’ lawyers found in districts and metropolitan centres?

Since the oversight of the judicial system is the responsibility of the highest judiciary, it is pertinent to ask that over the past few years what changes have been brought about in the actual system of dispensation of justice from both the lower and higher courts, and how has a common person benefitted from these changes? Where should people go, which legal recourse should they take and expect justice to get their civil and property rights and enforcement of their contracts? Corrupt and rent seekers can be discouraged if people see Ali Musa Gilani, Moonis Elahi, Hamza Sharif and Arsalan Iftikhar going through the same process of justice as a common person would, acquitted if not guilty and sentenced if found guilty. Not only should justice be done, it should be done in time and seen when done.

As far as the current political system in Pakistan is concerned, it does need a massive reform but that reform has to come from the system itself. Human civilisation has not found itself a perfect system of governance yet. The thing that has worked for most until now is democracy. The democratic system is frustrating, particularly in Pakistan where the economic paradigm needs a shift. But there is no alternative system that creates a sense of ownership and a desire for participation among most people. Eventually, only a participatory system is capable of bringing about sustainable changes in the economy, polity and society of a country.

Let me now come to the two questions asked by the COAS. “Are we promoting the rule of law and the Constitution?” and “Are we strengthening or weakening the institutions?” Sir, as a citizen, I see that we are going through a transition in our state as far as institutional structures and arrangements are concerned. New and independent power centres have emerged in our country as well, like in other countries. The world is seeing changes in the way humans now live and evolve which none of our previous generations had witnessed.

The increased information flows and superior technology catalyse the creation of a modern consciousness. This consciousness demands that citizens and their rights take the centre stage and institutions of the state work to serve them rather than some abstract ideology. In our country, different institutions of the state are trying to work out a balance between their respective constitutional and legal jurisdictions and mandates. Sir, institutions will never grow weak if they adopt robust accountability mechanisms internally and be transparent about those.

Readers, I write an op-ed column and at times feel compelled to comment on something current. But in the heart of my hearts, I haven’t found the two speeches as critical for our society as a small news item in an inside page on Tuesday. On October 29, the mother of Anusha, 15, threw acid on her for allegedly looking at boys. The girl told her parents that she did not do it on purpose and will never do it again. “By then I had thrown the acid. It was her fate to die this way,” the mother said. We are getting more and more twisted and warped. Whatever macro structures and strong institutions we create, if the underbelly is rotting the supra structure will fall.

The writer is a poet and author based in Islamabad. Email: harris.


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