Where is the law?

Without any belief in the impartiality of law and order, the public takes the law into its own hands.

Editorial September 16, 2010

A report in this newspaper of a man who illegally imprisoned a family of ten in his home because of their alleged inability to pay back a loan is a reminder of the lack of accountability and law and order that plagues Pakistan. The family in this case was lucky, they managed to inform the authorities about their detention, and were freed from captivity. Other victims, most notably those in the country’s rural areas, continue to languish in private jails operated by landlords. Any worker who opposes these landlords can be imprisoned in their private facilities without any hope of recovery.

This practice highlights just how helpless the poor and disenfranchised are at the hands of the wealthy and the influential in Pakistan. The common man’s perceptions about the approachability and efficiency of the police can be judged by various surveys and reports, including one most recently by Transparency International Pakistan, which all say that law-enforcement agencies, and particularly the police, are seen by most Pakistanis as corrupt institutions and which perhaps is why most of us tend to shy away from them when we need to report a crime.

Without any belief in the impartiality of law and order, the public takes the law into its own hands. Illegal imprisonment and private jails are an outcome of this phenomenon. Despite the chief justice’s recent comments on the ability of the judiciary to maintain a check on state organs, the common man’s relationship with corrupt law enforcement agencies has not changed, and will be unlikely to change unless a system of accountability is imposed in smaller cities and districts that depend on local influential people to mete out justice. Until that time, impartial action will continue to be taken by those in power, like the individual who chose to imprison the family of ten in Hyderabad.

Published in The Express Tribune September 17th, 2010.


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