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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Learning rule of law from the jungle

They say in the military that the Jungle was neutral. It will work for you if you understood it, or against you if you didn’t. The place is not for the fainthearted, and therefore the rules have to be harsh and ruthlessly implemented

Yes, the jungle is not lawless. And, as any wildlife watcher would know that unlike human diktats, the jungle code is strictly observed. Programmed by nature it has endured over the ages. Countless species cohabitate by following a few basic principles of life – kill only when hungry, and eat only to live. It also keeps the food chain moving.

Scavengers feast over the leftovers and the hunter lets his teeth be picked by the birds. They all live on the same territory, but jealously guard their personal space. Long before the humans learnt the art of social isolation to fight viruses, animals have been hibernating to recover from diseases, or to let their wounds be auto-healed.

Animal led by lions, humans by lambs 

And, amazing how the lion was accepted as the king! He is neither the strongest nor the fastest; nor even the wisest. But one look at him and one knows that these are the sober and dignified looks, and indeed the rare roar, that make a leader. Humans on the other hand elect, select, or submit to the most pathetical of figures – in thoughts or in looks. But deep-down we still know that a lion leading lambs was a better option than the other way around.

They say in the military that the Jungle was neutral. It will work for you if you understood it, or against you if you didn’t. The place is not for the fainthearted, and therefore the rules have to be harsh and ruthlessly implemented. Reminds me of our own tribal areas. Jamal Said Mian was a serving lieutenant general, a federal minister in a military regime, and a tribal chief – as powerful as they come. When his tribe threatened to hold him to account for abdicating his duties, he apologized and paid the penalty.

Read more: Pakistan’s biggest issue is rule of law not corruption

A tough neighbourhood survived hundreds of years against all odds by simply adhering to its traditions. No wonder that the lesser mortals are uncomfortable with such unforgiving edicts, and go gunning for them in the jungles, or in the tribal areas.

During the recent racial riots in the US, a Republican member of Pakistani origin, was trying to be more loyal than Trump. He conceded, without much remorse, that Floyd’s killing was tragic, but still insisted that the writ of the state had to be restored. Reminded me of this mantra recited ad-nauseam when our border regions were on fire a decade back. Didn’t find this writ elsewhere in the country, but it was a good cover to trap our only law-abiding community into the lawless mainstream.

Not that we didn’t try to create a lawful order.


Pakistan’s judiciary with an unholy mission 

The Lawyers Movement kicked-off in 2007 was essentially for the primacy of law. Churchill, “are the courts functioning”; and Ali, the fourth of the Righteous Caliphs, “a system based on injustice could not survive”, were so often quoted that one started to suspect that we were on a holy mission. When it was accomplished, the restored Chief Justice, Iftikhar Chaudhray, not only went all guns blazing against the judiciary, but also violated some basic tenets of the Constitution. His unholy mission was furthered by another heady judge, Saqib Nisar, who even had some iconic figures of the struggle grovelling before him in the Supreme Court.

Read more: Pakistan: “Rule of Law” without “Just Society”?

However, since for every Pharaoh, there is a Moses; these custodians of justice too meet their nemesis – in the defenders of our frontiers. Nasim Hassan Shah, who headed a bench that reinstated an elected government dismissed by the President, conceded that the judges capitulate to the Military.

It’s not only the political power that flows from the barrel of a gun; but also the judicial. Believe it or not; there was a veiled struggle for supremacy of law under Zia as well. On that occasion though, it was the Second Caliph who would be cited. “Oh Omer; how could a tall man like you get his robe made from one sheet that was your share?” His son had to explain that the extra cloth came from his piece.

Admittedly, no one in that era picked-up the courage to talk about Omer’s writ over the army. In the middle of a campaign, he demoted Khalid-bin-Walid, the most successful military commander of the time, merely to convey that the Caliphate’s victories did not depend upon a single figure. But then Zia led a military regime. Even under the present democratic order, hardly a soul dared to protest that the military’s command can be changed precisely to give the same message.

Where all else fails, judiciary rescues the state

Judiciary in its present state, though unable to dispense justice, was still useful. Besides enriching its cadres, it can hang a few and keep others hanging as long as convenient. And its shoulders can be used to fire decisions that are politically troublesome. When the federal government was at sixes and sevens on the lockdown business, the Supreme Court came to its rescue by relieving it of the onerous responsibility.

Read more: Powerful above the rule of law: making the case for all the Uzmas

Nothing unprecedented – organizations like the OIC serve the same purpose. When Muslim countries cannot agree on complex matters (recognition of Israel or defining terrorism, to quote but two), they refer such matters to this body and that’s the last one would ever hear of them. In due course, we will certainly find some really good use of our judicial system. A regime that falls from favour can be legitimately tried to have violated all its pledges to the people. In fact, it might not even need a trial.

Chomsky once said that all American presidents could be hanged for war crimes without legal formalities – because the evidence against them was so overwhelming. It could also be done ex-post-facto – Alice in Wonderland.

Lessons from the jungle

Assuming however that we were still interested in the rule of law! But before getting back to the jungle, let me again refer to the racial riots. One of the placards carried by the protestors read: “We are not Arabs”; implying that unlike the Bedouins, the blacks could hit back. True perhaps, but in all fairness, there was once a desert swallow that made the Arab Spring – a lone Tunisian self-immolator. Frankly, I still prefer the defiance option. It’s more effective than the suicide bomber of Tunis or the hara-kiri pilots of the Second World War.

Read more: Pervaiz Ashraf Acquitted: PTI Bending Over its Rule of “No Corrupt Spared”

Jungle is a fascinating place to learn—not only about the rule of law, but also about the choices that the humans have: emulate zebras that can be hunted down one at a time or the species that rally to defend its turf. Howard Zinn, the foremost contemporary historian who died a few years back, believed that even in the US nothing changed till people protested and agitated. Let not the blacks get away with the idea that the browns were an inferior race.

Other options, with their religious and tribal sanctions, might be more doable; jirgas and sharia courts: no hassle with lengthy documentation; no getting lost in the web of legal jumbo-mumbo; no lawyers who could spin any text or precedence to their advantage; and indeed, in the hope that all involved, including the judges and the witnesses, would be more cognisant of the life hereafter.

Gen. (r) Asad Durrani is author of “Pakistan Adrift (2018)” and “Honour Among Spies (2020)” and a prominent defence columnist. He served as Director-General Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), DG Military Intelligence and as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Germany. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space (GVS News) – Editor.