Law & Order: Sixty-three and struggling

Published in Dawn Newspaper September 26, 2010

I recently attended a conference in Buenos Aires and I couldn`t help but be taken by the city`s grandeur, beauty and its `first world` feel as I commuted daily to the conference venue.
Argentina`s struggle with democracy, international pressures and the fear of being overshadowed by neighbouring Brazil, a similarity to Pakistan vis-à-vis India struck me as familiar.

During the conference, my nationality like everyone else`s was a common first question, while my business suits would prompt questions about the niqab. “I`m from Pakistan and that`s a personal choice. The niqab never enjoyed legal prescription in Pakistan as it does in some other countries.”

My urban adventures ensued but with one aim in mind; to understand how they got here and conversely could we? This whimsical feeling quickly wore off one day when I asked the hotel reception to call a taxi. When it arrived, the driver was drunk, spoke only Spanish and also chose to interpret my entire conversation with him mid-journey as a refusal to pay.

However, upon arriving at the conference venue, I inquired about the fare and found that he had doubled the bill for no apparent reason. I didn`t fight it because I don`t haggle as a policy. But later when I returned to the hotel I passed on this terrible experience to the front desk and requested that I may be called a more professional cab driver next time.

The next morning as I rushed to the last day of the conference I had an envelope in my name, which I opened expecting a message from the embassy. Instead it was plain cash reimbursement from the cab company. “But,” I protested, “this is much more than what I paid.” I was told it is what the company sent when a complaint was lodged. As I put that money in my purse, I was quite moved.

Argentina is haunted with the same terrors as the ones we live with. Their history is replete with the same problems that Pakistan faces today. Argentina is a quoted case study on how IMF destroys economies through its `one size fits all` policies. They too have suffered on the hopes of Peronism as we have in our dynastic politics; they too house many slums that grow faster than their ability to sustain the people; they too have an overzealous and intruding military. But Argentina has managed, in their 200 year history, to establish the supremacy of law.

In a recent ill-advised viewing of the Sialkot video of the lashing of the two boys, I got the chance to appreciate the scale of the human rights outcry. So excessive was the man with the unrelenting stick, that he seemed almost mechanical, almost inhuman. His unsympathetic swings seemed without purpose other than to inflict pain.

The violence of the act was so pronounced that one wouldn`t even know until the dust settled whether the purpose of the act has been served. Mob mentality is characterised as liberating and guilt-less with the anonymity that any one individual within the mob enjoys. However, the fact that among such a large group of people not a single person flinched tells the story of a society that has seen far too much rage and whose appetite for violence is not vetted.

While the developed world enjoys a much higher standard of living and community life, we are faced with a famished idea that provision will come from the skies. We fail in our cricket matches because we don`t believe in the science of precision and preparation, we fail to predict floods because we haven`t invested in the concept of possibilities, we haven`t invested in adequate water management because these don`t buy votes. No country that today enjoys success got it without sacrifice of its leadership.

In Boston, Massachusetts, 1770, John Adams witnessed the brutal torture of a British merchant at the time when the state of Massachusetts amongst others in the union was in the middle of brewing and negotiating an independent nation. The mob on the port of Boston, stripped the British merchant, mounted him on a cross, poured melted tar on him and paraded him in the streets while people threw feathers. Many watched where John Adams protested furiously. So ingrained was his sense of loyalty to the law that he once even defended British guards against the politically motivated independence rebels.

Mohammad Ali Jinnah was raised from the mantle of traditional English law that John Adams followed. Jinnah always sided with the law cautioning against conservatism, leading by example in his speeches, he spoke about the rule or law of justice, impartiality and fair play above all else.

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