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Rule of Law

Rule of Law | Mohammad Ali Babakhel

RECENTLY, the World Justice Project (WJP) assessed the rule of law in 102 coun­tries. According to its global index, Pakistan ranked 98, India came in at 59, China 71 and Afghanistan 101, while the United States stood at 19. Without rule of law, sustained development remains an elusive goal; gover­nance, peace, investment and development are all linked with the rule of law.

To compile the index, more than 100,000 households and experts overall were surveyed, around 980 household and experts per country. The rankings were determined on the basis of nine factors, including constraints on government powers, absence of corruption, open government, fundamental rights, order and security, regulatory enforcement, civil justice and criminal justice.

The results are not surprising although they can be questioned on grounds of both methodology and scope. For example, in Pakistan the survey included Karachi, Lahore and Faisalabad, while leaving Balochistan, KP and Islamabad out of the equation. Moreover, it only looks at rule of law in urban areas and fails to reflect the situation in rural Pakistan.

Rule of law is a legal dictum. It regulates social life and human interaction to ensure that the ‘elite’ and ordinary citizens are subject to the same law. However, in developing societies rule of law is often sacrificed at the altar of discretion and personal whims.

Extremism is a by-product of weak rule of law.

We primarily visualise rule of law in the context of police and courts whereas we must understand the concept in a more holistic manner. Rule of law requires political owner­ship, voluntary participation of communities, equal application of law and zero tolerance for crime. Corruption, discrimination, extre­mism, poverty and deprivation are the by-products of weak rule of law.

In the absence of effective rule of law in Fata, we witnessed the emergence of non-state actors who tried to exploit the situation. In order to co-opt the residents of the area they dispensed ‘justice’ and exercised their own interpretation of the rule of law.

Without accountability, rule of law is reduced to a mockery. In Pakistan, the majority is neither aware of their legal obligations nor their rights. In such a state of ignorance, how can one expect rule of law? Our major laws are based on colonial aspirations and requirements. International compulsions during last three decades have given impetus to the introduction of special laws related to women, children and the environment, but how can these ideals be achieved in the absence of efficient law enforcement services?

The media, so boisterous otherwise, hardly educates the audience regarding rule of law and legislation. Ideally, laws must equally be applied and well-publicised; they must have few ambiguities and justice must be dispensed within the shortest possible time.

Order and security are other determinants that strengthen the writ of the state. This cannot be achieved without a proactive, service-oriented and autonomous regulatory and enforcement apparatus. According to the WJP index, Pakistan has been rated 101 out of 102 countries in the category of order and security.

The fact is that whenever our ruling elite attempts to address the issue of order and security, instead of innovative solutions it resorts to the ineffectual, obsolete strategy of boosting numerical strength. Hence, law-enforcement agencies become employment sources instead of public services. In the new financial year, the KP police will receive Rs32.74 billion out of which Rs28.56bn will go towards salaries, leaving only Rs4.18bn for operational costs.

At the same time, the public should realise that the imp­r­­o­­v­ement of sec­u­rity is not the sole respo­nsibility of the gove­r­nment but equally of commun­ities.

Where constr­aints on govern­ment power and state of fundamental rights are concerned, Pakistan is ranked 67 and 92 respectively. The survey also evaluated the dispensation of justice: for civil justice Pakistan was ranked 91 and for criminal justice 94. Ideally, a justice system must be accessible, affordable, free of corruption and inordinate delay. In a recent judgement, the apex court directed civil courts to deliver verdicts within 30 days of a trial’s conclusion, district courts within 45 days and high courts within 90 days. This step should improve public confidence in the judicial system.

The WJP report recognised the significance of alternate dispute resolution and customary and informal systems of justice. ADR not only reduces the burden on courts, it also infuses a sense of responsibility in communities to resolve petty disputes themselves. Our criminal justice system is primarily reactive in nature; hence it comes into action once the crime is committed.

Improved rule of law requires better criminal justice in Fata, Balochistan, Karachi and certain parts of KP. Reforming one component of the criminal justice system may not work; therefore synchronised reform is necessary.

The writer is a police officer.

Rule of Law | Mohammad Ali Babakhel

Published in Dawn, July 23rd, 2015

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