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Last Updated: Friday, 10 August 2007, 11:35 GMT 12:35 UK
Hypocrisy of Pakistan's ruling elite
The BBC Urdu service's Masud Alam says a contempt for the law has always permeated throughout Pakistan's ruling class.


Senior government functionaries in Pakistan are fond of complaining, in private, that the nation they are serving is averse to following the dictates of law.

Pakistani parliament
The laws are broken by those who made them

That if something does not work in this country it is because the common man does not follow the system.

Lack of education, lack of discipline and lack of respect for the law are just some of the misdemeanours on the part of a populace that hampers the pace of progress.

A section of Pakistanis - the so-called educated and those living abroad - also subscribe to this preposterous notion.

But in truth, things could not be more different.

'A few drops'

It is the incompetence of the bureaucracy, the ignorance of lawmakers, the greed of the military for power and riches - combined with a glaring contempt for the law on the part of all three groups - that has created and then compounded the social anarchy that everyone is now forced to live in.

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif
[Nawaz Sharif] was eager to please the Americans at any cost - in this case the cost was trashing the judicial system of his own country

There is no law in this country that cannot be or has not been broken by the very people who made them, and those whose job it is to implement them.

Take the law banning alcohol, for instance. It was introduced by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the first elected prime minister and the modern, liberal and democratic face of Pakistan in the 70s.

Bhutto is also the man who publicly admitted that he did not mind downing a few drops after a hard day's work.

Another prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, took the oath of office that emphasises the protection of life and property of every citizen.

He then proceeded to allow a team of American security men to raid a hotel in a Pakistani city, kidnap a Pakistani national, drive him to Islamabad, put him in a plane and fly off to the US.

Auto-rickshaw in Pakistan
Law-abiding Pakistanis see the law catching up with its breakers

The suspect, Aimal Kasi, was wanted by the Americans on charges of killing two CIA officials. The US wanted to bring him to justice at any cost. And the Pakistani PM was eager to please the Americans at any cost - in this case the cost was trashing the judicial system of his own country.

The same prime minister sent a team of party officials, including sitting parliamentarians, to storm the Supreme Court building and break into the court room where a petition against the PM was being heard.

The so-called National Accountability Bureau has in the past few years apprehended several high ranking politicians on charges of corruption, but if they agreed to join the military government - and almost all of them did - they were not only conveniently forgotten, some were made federal ministers.

Passing the baton

Three times in the history of this young country, the army chief has led a coup against a civilian government. The constitution was on each occasion trampled under military boots, even though it defines such actions as acts of "high treason".

Each military dictator seeks to pass on the baton to another, much like handing family treasures to the next generation.

President Musharraf
President Musharraf yielded on the chief justice issue

The message that reaches the masses is: there is no law of the land and we have no rights, except what we can grab for ourselves.

The rulers, their coterie and functionaries, are the law. They will apply the writ when they see fit and they will overlook when it is wise to do so.

The people of this country have learnt to live in a system heavily skewed against them. They look for short cuts, they bribe their way, they use friends' and family's influence, they lie through their teeth, they plead and they threaten because there is no straightforward way to get things done.

To label these people "law breakers" is then adding insult to injury if the labeller is from the ruling class. Because in this country, laws are not made "for the people", more often than not they are made to be used "against" them.

It's the ruling class that routinely breaks the law and considers it a privilege

It is therefore only natural for people to break these laws whenever they can get away with it.

Conversely, if you provide an environment where the regulations aim to provide comfort and protection to the users, and the laws they produce are clearly communicated and fairly and firmly applied, the people of Pakistan will be as law abiding as any other people in the world.

This is the background that explains the relief and joy of the common man at the reinstatement of Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry as the chief justice of Pakistan.

Protesting lawyers in Pakistan
People power forced the reinstatement of Mr Chaudhry

For the first time the law has not sided with the law makers. For the first time, a powerful government headed by a serving general has failed to subvert the judiciary. And for the first time, people have come out on the street, in their hundreds of thousands, in support of the rule of law.

These masses were not motivated by some charismatic political leader. It was the unity of lawyers all over the country, and their objective of upholding the law, that got the attention of the people.

The Supreme Court's landmark decision, striking down the presidential charge sheet against the chief justice, is indeed a watershed in the history of Pakistan.

It has proved conclusively that the people of this country want justice. They believe in the need for laws, and they are capable of respecting them.

It is the ruling class that routinely breaks the law and considers it a privilege. These are the people who, for a change, are now fearful of the application of law under an independent judiciary.

The people of Pakistan do not expect an overnight sea change in their circumstances at the hands of a born-again judiciary. It is the prospect of law finally catching up with the real law breakers, that they find so irresistibly sweet.

If you would like to comment on this column please use the form below.


Journalists are really good at summarising issues which confront the third world in a couple (maybe three) paragraphs. Yet offer no solutions. So if we oust Musharraf, we get Benazir or Nawaz Sharif. And we are back to square one. The country went bankrupt in the 90s. Let's look at the positives of this government. The media is free in Pakistan. Journalists have never had it so good here. The amazing growth in Telecoms. The vastly improved banking sector. One can actually wait in line and get a National ID card and a passport. There has been growth in the airline business, travel agencies are doing well. Tax collection has improved. We are making a quarter of a million cars per year (from 20 odd thousand in 1999). We produce 750,000 motorbikes annually now. We sell one million m television sets annually. The entire consumer goods industry is doing well. Let's work on the positives and hope the country continues to progress!
Asim Ali, Islamabad, Pakistan

The writer has presented the argument well but the picture he paints is incomplete and rather simplistic. The fundamental issue in Pakistan (and India) is that the class system is well and alive. The feudal lords have been able to suppress the masses for centuries and the common man has come to accept that the feudal lords (elites of today) are masters and thus are above the law, or are the law. If free and fair elections were held today the masses will elect one of the feudal lords as prime minister today, most likely Benazir Bhutto. The corrupt elites have caused the masses to be corrupted. Those who want to rise above the class system turn to the clergy, thus the Talebanisation.
Yaqub Ehsan, Islamabad and Palo Alto, US

What happened to the law in New York during the recent electricity breakdown? People everywhere in the world have a tendency (in general) to act dishonestly when they are in desperate circumstances. A lack of education and grinding poverty can make a decent person speedily become a lawless man. We should think who is responsible for the uneven distribution of the economic and social resources.
Asghar, Karachi, Pakistan

Mr Masud's article is blunt and factual; but it does not apply only to Pakistan but virtually all over the world. I would say "Might was Right, Might is Right and Might will be Right" is a basic dictum of all human society. However, the type of might can vary at different times and in different societies.
Akhtar Chowdhry, Tehran, Iran

I absolutely agree with the author, but at the end of the day if you want me to take a side, I'll opt for President Musharraf assuming the only people that could come into power through a democratic government will be Benazir or Nawaz Sharif. They have plundered our nations wealth for two decades. I'd like to see some new political faces.
Asif Nawaz, Peshawar, Pakistan

My humble advice to the Pakistani government is please do not kill or arrest your people just to please the enemies of your country. And to the Pakistani people, who are really uneducated, poor but traditionally hospitable, please do not support al-Qaeda and other groups who falsely portray Islam.
Oktay Cetin, Turkey

Brilliant article. It needs to be said, religion cannot be the only base of any country. Pakistan is only one of two countries in the world which were formed on the basis of religion. The other one is Israel. Israel can't survive without American patronage and Pakistan is struggling in the same way. It needs to stop external interference and build a secular society. The world's most powerful, prosperous and stable countries are secular countries.
Sumit, London, UK

The whole article is strongly focussed. From the start to the end the reader keeps on agreeing with the writer. Our country faces the same problems today as it did 20 years ago - history is repeating itself again and again, and the only way out of this mess is through a strong, firm and democratically elected government.
Qaiser Zakka, Lahore, Pakistan

Masud has hit the nerve of Pakistan's woes, an honest analysis of the situation in the country. We always blame the illiteracy for the problems we are facing, but in a nutshell our educated and well-off class is the most corrupt in the world. Nearly 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and have no chance to commit corruption. But a minute fraction of our population - the bureaucracy, armed forces, industrialists etc - do have the chance, and have no scruples in helping themselves to the country's wealth and resources. It has become a cancerous growths within the fabric of society, and is eating away Pakistan slowly.
Manzoor, Peshawar Pakistan

I am of the opinion that the president should retire and leave the country in the hands of the chairman of the senate who should form a caretaker government and hold free and free elections before handing over power to an elected government. That is the only way forward.
Nasim Ahmed, Karachi Pakistan

To start with, the writer has very rightly conveyed the complete picture of our society and its behaviour towards law and order and I want to congratulate him. Yes, we are beginning to see the ruling elite (political as well as military) being subjected to the very laws they originally created to subjugate the common people. For the very first time, I am seeing an independent judiciary and a decision being made against the rulers. I hope, the judiciary moves against the army and makes a decision to oust it from the power. I really pray to God.
Salman Zahid, Lahore, Pakistan

It is important to recognise both that Pakistan is edging towards political melt-down and cataclysmic disaster, and that President Musharraf represents the first ray, albeit a faint and often feeble ray, of hope for this benighted and tormented country, the first real ray of hope, perhaps, since the death of its founder. But he faces a task of unimaginable enormity; in this country of 160 million people there is an extraordinary dearth of people with the necessary leadership skills and integrity to take it forward. Such is the long-term effect of dysfunction on such a huge scale. There are very few people who have the capability to provide him with effective support in taking things in hand; he has no choice but to rely on sometimes-resented returnees for some key positions and often-resented foreign aid for keeping things afloat. It is a fascinating and hair-raisingly dangerous situation.
Paul Andrews, Cambridge United Kingdom

If history is to be believed Pakistan and its filthy minded elite was created by the British before leaving the subcontinent. It is the moral duty of the west especially the UK to clean up this mess called Pakistan.
Dr Riaz M Khan, Islamabad Pakistan

The situation in Pakistan is not much different than most other countries in the third world, particularly in South Asia including India, Bangladesh and Nepal. In all these countries "It is the ruling class that routinely breaks the law and considers it a privilege". Despite high economic growth, the Indian ruling class is no different from its Pakistani counterpart. "The people of this country have learnt to live in a system heavily skewed against them. They look for short cuts, they bribe their way, they use friends' and family's influence, they lie through their teeth, they plead and they threaten because there is no straightforward way to get things done." That is equally true for India. Sons and daughters of powerful people buy degrees from many prestigious universities in Europe or US but hardly get any true "education". They behave and act in a typical feudal way.
Jay, Mumbai, India

Some food for thought to the secularists in our midst. They would like to pin the blame for Pakistani woes on Islam - however the reality is that their (secularist) greed, corruption and lack of principles are the reasons Pakistan has not been able to get any sense of stability in 60 years of independence.
Asif Zaidi, Lombard, USA

The article is the true and paints the real picture of Pakistani society. Corruption is in the blood of people. Those who do not like corruption leave the country and prefer to live as a third world citizen in other countries. Those who do not have the power to leave the county inevitably become part of the corruption if they are to survive. The biggest problem is that there is no such leader who can be trusted. Corruption is now so firmly embedded in our culture that it exists in almost every house and every life. It cannot be changed because the majority of people seem to be happy to live with it.
Faisal, Pakistan

This article is so true. I will quote an example of how the corrupt system in Pakistan forces upright people into a corner. One of the top students of my batch at university in Karachi decided to take the written test for his driver's license and was failed thrice, till he eventually had to bribe the administering officer (like everyone else) to obtain his permit. I know the guy personally and I can testify he studied for that exam because he did not want to bribe his way through. However, even he had no option left after he found the proper channels were closed.
Fawad Masood Raza, Minnesota, USA

Pakistan's problems lie in its foundation and specifically the importance of a country's first leader. The longevity and discipline of the initial leader is critical to the future of the country. Mohammad Jinnah, Pakistan's governor general, and Liaquat Ali Khan, the first Prime Minister, died before making much of an impact. Succeeding leaders held brief terms and were unable to hold the divided country together. The military eventually took over the country setting a precedent for future military leaders to intervene in democracy. The Indian democracy on the other hand survived because of Nehru's leadership and impact on the country. Even though he pursued bad economic policies, his greatest success was holding together the largest and the most diverse democracy in the world.
Zishan, Daytona Beach, USA

I totally agree to each and every word of this article. The system of power, money and feudalism has been running my country since its creation. The reinstatement of the chief justice is just a step of a hard and tiring journey to correct things in our society. The key success factors are education and an awareness among common people of Pakistan of what sort of behaviour to expect form their leaders. People need to know and understand their rights, duties and responsibilities, and this cannot be achieved without a good education.
Munam, Lahore

I would like to talk specifics. Mir Aimal Kasi was wanted for taking an AK47 to an entry gate for CIA headquarters in Langley Virginia, and then killing people in cold blood as they sat in their cars. His actions subjected him to US justice. And it amazes me that extraditing him is viewed as "trashing the judicial system" of Pakistan. Is that is so, then Perhaps that is what needs to happen. The laws of the country are fascist. By law, Non Muslims are not allowed in military posts, cannot be president, governor or dean. To discriminate based on belief, and not the actions of an individual is fascism, and to institutionalise it is criminal. If the legal basis of society is based on criminal notions, what hope is left? Society is left dysfunctional, and brute force and illegal forces are left to rule a failed society. Let us accept it for what it is. And then perhaps there is some hope. If we do not, then we deserve what we get. More news of Pakistani terrorism everyday.
Anand Mohan, San Jose, California USA

I have lived 30 years in Pakistan, and strongly oppose the treatment of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in this article. A neighbour in the poor area where I live in Lahore wrote a letter to Mr Sharif when he was prime minister to say that his son had a serious kidney failure problem. Mr Sharif not only visited the house but also provided for all his medical needs. The child was even called to the prime minister's house in Islamabad. Mr Masud please try and be a little fairer before you damn people with your unbalanced criticisms.
Saman Khan, Canada

Excellent article which bluntly states the truth that no one cares to admit or discuss about. I found it very informative.
Yousaf Shah, Islamabad, Pakistan

Masud Alam conveniently lays all the blame on the so-called "ruling" class. He forgets that the maxim "people get the government they deserve" applies equally to Pakistanis too. Pakistanis need to realise that their socio-cultural fabric is not Islamic, their tribalistic 'honour' systems violate basic human rights and the freedom of choice of the individual. They also need to understand that Islamising themselves is not going to help.
Nirmalya Chatterjee, Storrs, USA

I suppose the same could be said for the situation in my country. Even minor traffic laws like simply obeying road signs and traffic lights are flouted by many of my countrymen because of the examples set by people in authority. In many cases might is right and people only pay lip service to the law. More people would be motivated to obey the law if they saw sincere enforcement of it rather than having an "it's an offence only if you get caught" attitude.
Paolo Araque, Manila, Philippines

Masud Alam is so brutally honest in his articles that I have to salute him for bringing the facts of life in Pakistan and also in Middle East (how the Arabs treat their fellow Muslims). Masud please, please keep writing articles like this, so the people can one day get rid of all the money-grabbing opportunist politicians of Pakistan. Thanks
Shoaib Qadri, Toronto, Canada

Very good read...This same "hypocrisy" is what causes our own Country's (the US) credibility issues...We invade Iraq to "bring Democracy to the Middle East" as we support as our closest ally "Musharraf" who came to power in 1999 by overthrowing the democratically elected government! We invade secular Iraq (well now that Saddam is gone, no longer secular) under the banner of "fighting radical Islam" while sending billions of dollars worth of aid and weapons to Saudi Arabia, home of 15 of the 9/11 hijackers and home to the Wahhabi sect, the life blood of al-Qaeda!
Mark D, Kansas City, US

A clarification for Mark D. Bin Laden is not Wahhabi, neither are the Taleban.
Abdul Barr, Vienna, Austria




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