"Laws too gentle are seldom obeyed; too severe, seldom executed."
It seems that a majority of people, unfortunately, have no respect for law. They don't consider breaking the law to be a big deal. This attitude has not just retarded economic growth, but the situation has come to a point where the law enforcement agencies, such as the police, have become more or less irrelevant.
In Balochistan, for example, the police has been confined to small pockets, while large areas are under the supervision of military or paramilitary forces. Since the army is not trained in civilian law enforcement, the situation has deteriorated to a point where either a grand military operation is required to clean up the mess in the province, or a major political dialogue is initiated with the Baloch to normalise the situation.
Likewise, the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where the troops are engaged in the fight against extremism, the police has been confined to a few urban areas. The province has been a victim of terrorism since Pakistan decided to help the US drive the Soviet forces out of Afghanistan. The fact, however, is that Al-Qaeda insurgents, along with several foreign trained mercenaries, are waging a relentless war against this country and the situation may worsen once the Americans leave the war-torn country.
Anyway, there is a decline in the law and order situation in Sindh as well, especially the city of Karachi is gradually slipping out of government control. Media reports about target killing, kidnapping for ransom and extortion mafias operating freely in the city are depicting a situation that no state can tolerate for a long period of time.
Also, the situation in Punjab - though a little better than other provinces - is deteriorating and there has been a phenomenal increase in crime rate without any solution in sight. Many rural areas are dominated by criminals and in some cases, they seem to be in partnership with the police. While in the urban areas, like Faisalabad, Lahore and Gujranwala, crime has spiralled out of control indicating that the police officers have either no desire or power to overcome lawlessness.
The question, therefore, is: How will the government ensure that people not only respect the law, but also the law enforcement agencies come out of their present sluggish attitude to prevent crime and raise the quality of life?
Leaving aside the situation in Balochistan and some areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, it is incumbent on the federal government to put in place certain measures so that it becomes possible to enforce the writ of state. Disobedience of laws cannot be considered as an option and, therefore, the law enforcement agencies must ensure that the perpetrators of violence are properly dealt with. This does not mean any severity in enforcing the law of land; it is just that the civilians are aware of their responsibility towards the state and the enforcement agencies, too, discharge their duties sincerely.
Nevertheless, the burden for ensuring peace in Karachi rests squarely on the shoulders of the coalition partners - PPP, MQM and ANP. Until and unless these parties show some political maturity and determination, it will not be possible to bring the city back to normal life. According to estimates, billions of dollars have already been lost due to the restlessness and the spiralling criminal activity in the Pakistan’s financial hub. Indeed, it has retarded the country’s economic growth because both local and foreign investors are equally unwilling to invest there till the law and order situation improves.
The situation in Punjab, to some extent, is different between the rural and urban areas. There are several areas that have virtually become no-go zones after 7pm and the police is unable to enforce the law. There has been a sharp increase in highway robberies, murder and kidnapping for ransom. While in certain cases political patronage has also been detected in Punjab, as is rampant in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
It is a fact that the situation in the country will further deteriorate in case the government, both federal and provincial, do not come up with an appropriate plan to stop criminal activities immediately.
One basic element that may be responsible for the present state of affairs is lack of training and commitment on part of the law enforcement agencies. However, other reasons are lack of resources and political interference in its affairs. According to an estimate, approximately 20 to 25 percent more security personnel are required in Sindh, while 15 to 20 percent in Punjab. Therefore, it is time that the federal and the provincial governments work jointly to chalk out a plan so that the security agencies do not merely operate freely, but possess latest arms that assists them to fight crime with commitment. Otherwise, there will be no improvement in the law and order situation in the near future.
Needless to say, the politicians must understand that it is in the Pakistan’s interest, if the police is not used as an instrument for advancing their objectives.
One hopes that the government realises the state of anarchy and lawlessness prevailing across Pakistan, and will make efforts to improve the situation. Otherwise, there is a chance that the country may slide further into chaos, which will be in no one's interest.
n The writer has been associated with various newspapers as editor and columnist. At present, he hosts a political programme on Pakistan Television.