Sunday June 16, 2024

Tipping point

By Naeem Sadiq
December 21, 2019

One must admit at the outset, that some of the most outstanding, upright and accomplished people in Pakistan belong to the legal profession.

It may however be insane to say the same for the larger community, which has steadily promoted itself from goons to gangsters and from ruffians to rogues. The merciless attacks by terrorists would pale in comparison to the lawyers’ performance at the Punjab Institute of Cardiology, Lahore.

Has Pakistan been reduced to such a barren state of governance that it is now possible for any group with a few guns and a few hundred people to launch attacks on any organisation, kill people, pull out oxygen masks from gasping patients, tear down operation theatres and set ablaze police vehicles?

Has the state accepted its surrender to such lawlessness? Will Pakistan continue its downward journey of mis-governance, indecision and blackmail or will December 11 be a tipping point in our history? Three simple but critical responses will determine an answer to this question.

What is so strikingly common between the lawyers’ raid on the hospital and the 104 cases of polio detected in Pakistan this year? Every physician knows that polio cannot be eliminated by drops alone, unless its root causes — clean drinking water and sanitation that breaks the fecal-oral link are addressed. Yet, these basic factors are ignored in our polio elimination programme. Sadly, we manage to apply the same policy of evading reason and root causes to all our problems — may they be lawyers’ hooliganism, railway accidents, police incompetence, child abuse, private militias or the proliferation of weapons.

There are three essential prerequisites to tip the balance in favour of Pakistan becoming a modern progressive state. The first is to make the country governable. For this to happen, the exercise of coercive power must lie exclusively in the domain of the state and not with criminal gangs. If the state wishes to put an end to future violence by lawyers, it ought to round up each and every lawyer involved in the attack on the PIC and ensure that they are punished duly.

This was not a case of a scuffle between two individuals. It was an organised group that attacked and devastated a national institution. The Geneva Convention and Rule 35 of the International Humanitarian Law clearly prohibit attacks against zones established to shelter the wounded, the sick and civilians, even in situations of military hostilities,

The bureaucracy and the police force in Pakistan are some of the biggest hurdles to progress and governance in Pakistan. How come a small child in distress, in most Western countries, can summon the police by dialling 911? On the other hand, in Pakistan hundreds of critically sick patients whose life support systems are being forcibly shut down and whose electrocardiogram monitors are being smashed by stones cannot be protected by the police — even when it had sufficient notice to do so.

That the police and the bureaucracy need radical reforms is an understatement. Our police need to be extricated from the clutches of the politicians. It may be best to systematically reform the existing police force into a new highly technological, well-trained and people-oriented professional force on the pattern of the Motorway Police of Pakistan.

The state has failed to understand the link between guns, private armies, lawlessness and criminal attacks by rogue groups. Instead of applying rigid gun controls, it has actively promoted (through special notifications) the issuance of prohibited bore gun licences. The number of privately owned guns in Pakistan has increased from 18 million in 2007 to 44 million in 2018, while the number of private armies is estimated to me more than 500.

For Pakistan to tip the balance and become a peaceful and governable state, it has no option but to completely withdraw all civilian weapons and disband all private armies.

The writer is a management systems consultant and a freelance writer on social issues.