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The Police

“The problems affecting the police and the official judicial system in Pakistan are so many and so great that it is hard adequately to describe them, but one single word that explains many of the others is yet again ‘kinship’. In the words of a police officer in central Punjab:

‘Families and clans here stick together, so if you really want to arrest one person here and prosecute him successfully, you may need to arrest ten, or threaten to arrest them – the original suspect plus three for perjury, three for bribing the police and judges, and three for intimidating witnesses. And if the family has any influence, the only result will be to get yourself transferred to another district. So I’m afraid that it is often much easier just not to arrest anyone.

Take the FIR [First Information Report] system. If two individuals or families clash, and someone is killed, the dead man’s family will lodge an FIR with one police station saying that he was wantonly murdered, and the other family will lodge an FIR with another police station saying that they were attacked and acted in self-defence – and they may be telling the truth. The police and the courts have to judge between them on the basis of evidence, every bit of which is probably false in one direction or another. So either the case goes on for ever, or it is resolved in favour of which side has more power and influence.

If it’s an especially bad case and you are sure of what happened, you may be able to bargain with the family or with local politicians to give you the man you want. But then of course you will have to give them something in return, or let one of their members off in some other case. This is typical give and take – what we call here lena dena.

The problem for the police and the courts begins with lying. Astonishingly – at least, it astonished me – it is not permitted in Pakistani courts to swear on the Koran (that is, the Book itself, not in the words of the Koran) when giving evidence. I asked Sayyid Mansur Ahmed, vice-president of the Karachi Bar Association, why ever not. ‘It’s very simple,’ he replied with a cheerful smile. ‘Most people would swear and then lie anyway. That would bring religion into disrepute – and you are not supposed to do that in Pakistan.

The Judiciary

“At a lower level, individual lawyers and groups of lawyers express their views in more direct ways. During the Lawyers’ Movement, lawyers beat up opponents and fought with police. After the restoration of the Chief Justice, some took their victory as a licence to continue this violence in individual cases. During my stay in Lahore in August 2009, a group of lawyers beat up a police officer who had testified against their client in front of the court. When this was shown on television, the next day they beat up the camera team responsible. From various parts of the country came reports of judges using Contempt of Court judgments to muzzle the press and intimidate opponents, to help friends and relatives. As a Lahori friend remarked cynically,

“Well, what do you expect? The army wears uniforms and beats up people, and so do the police, so of course the lawyers wear their black jackets and beat up people. It is what you do if you have power in this country.”

“Formally speaking, the introduction of Shariah law in Pakistan is quite unnecessary, because a series of laws beginning with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the 1970s have declared that all Pakistani laws must be in conformity with the Shariah. In practice, however, this is irrelevant. Legally, it has only added to the confusion and contradiction that marks Pakistan’s legal scene. Much more importantly, however, it misses the point that the campaign for the Shariah is not so much about the content of the law as about popular access to the law, the speed of the law, and who gets to enforce the law.”

‘Justice’ chapter from ePub, Pakistan: A Hard Country, Anatol Lieven, 2011.