March 23, 2005
“In Pakistan, justice is only for those who can afford it.” The Supreme Court lawyer leaned across his vast, empty desk and began counting off, finger by finger, starting with his bejeweled pinky. “First you have to file a report to the police. Maybe they take it, maybe they don’t.” A couple of hundred rupees may do the trick, that is of course if someone else – the someone responsible for the crime perhaps – doesn’t pay the cops even more not to register the case. “Second,” the lawyer continued, “the police have to do an investigation. And they might need some incentive to do a thorough investigation.” He raised his eyebrow suggestively. “Third, the court secretary needs a little tea money to push the papers through and place the case on the docket.” At that point, if you are lucky, and the opposition isn’t better funded, you may have a chance. But then again maybe not. And it depends on how long you are willing to wait for your day in court. Simple land disputes in Pakistan have been known to last for generations. “Thirty years,” says the lawyer, “If we close the docket today, and take no new cases, at the current rate it will take us at least thirty years to get every case through the system.” A couple thousand rupees may push court papers to the top of the pile, but is it worth it? What if the judge is corrupt? What if the opposition buys him off? And what if the opposition’s lawyer files a retaliatory appeal? The case could bounce through the system for years, never reaching a resolution, eating up time and lawyers’ fees and tea money.
Saying that Pakistan has a messed up justice system is like saying India has bad water. It’s so glaringly obvious, and so pervasive, that it doesn’t even merit mention any more. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks interviewing lawyers and judges and human rights activists and experts from an alphabet soup’s worth of acronyms – ICG, ADB, HRCP, ALRC (that would be International Crisis Group, Asian Development Bank, Human Rights Commission Pakistan, Asian Legal Rights Center). I have yet to find a single person who will defend the justice system, though they all point fingers in different directions: Musharraf’s military reign, the feudal system (for those who left feudalism back in their 10th grade European history class, it’s still alive and kicking in Pakistan, and feudal lords are happy to be called such), police corruption, the education system, the US (it always goes back to the US, mostly because we gleefully support a military dictatorship, no matter the deleterious effects on what’s left of Pakistan’s shredded democratic system). The only person I haven’t talked to is the Law Minister. I’m hoping he will stand up for Pakistani justice. Not because it deserves it, but because I am so curious as to how he will do it. But before I talk to the Law Minister, I am heading to Pakistan’s deep, dark interior to learn about another system of justice – that of the tribes that dominate most of rural Pakistan. Care to walk across a bed of hot coals anyone?
Posted by Aryn Baker at March 23, 2005 11:41 PM