By Ayaz Amir
July 07, 2015
The sun can change its course, the stars their alignment…Pakistan can enjoy the blessings of fake democracy or military redemption, but some things in this country are fixed, immutable, impervious to the wind and the seasons.
You will always need to pay a Patwari to get a land deed. You can be Malik Riaz but you will still need to keep a Patwari on your permanent payroll. Legend has it that even the sons of the Nawab of Kalabagh could not enter the Governor’s House, Lahore, at will, but the Patwari of Kalabagh could.
In no civil or criminal court in this country is it possible to have a copy of a judge’s orders without baksheesh to the judge’s reader. You can quote the law and the constitution but offer baksheesh you must.
If you are an ‘influential’ – a social category peculiar to Pakistan – you can have a case registered in a police station without paying a bribe. For other mortals an appropriate fee to the SHO, the station in charge, or the Moharrir, his clerk, is a must. The beauty of it is that without this payment even filing a genuine complaint becomes a problem; with it you can count on even a spurious complaint being royally entertained.
No police investigation in Pakistan can move forward without providing transport, at your cost, to the investigating officer. Other expenses have also to be paid to keep the IO in good humour. Otherwise, even if you have the law and the facts on your side it will be to no avail. Again the beauty of it is that with the IO on your side, truth and fiction become irrelevant. Corners will be cut on your behalf. I have even known of IOs taking dictation from lawyers about how to write an investigation, how to fill the case file.
Whether under the 1973 constitution or military rule, the standard, unchanging method of police investigation is the use of the chittar, the leather contraption applied to one’s rear parts, bastinado (beating on the feet), hanging upside down and various forms of water-boarding: the hapless victim’s legs spread-eagled on a chair, his head pulled back and water poured down his nose. The CIA discovered water-boarding rather late in the day. Had they applied to the Punjab Police they would have learned of its benefits much earlier.
Back in the 1990s the colourful Jam Sadiq Ali, then chief minister of Sindh, once came to our house for dinner, with a retinue in tow as was usual with him. He was supposed to come at 8; he arrived two hours later by which time the small company we had invited was already in an advanced state of cheerfulness.
No sooner was he seated when a spirited young lady, very smart, pointing a finger at him, took him up on reports then current that lady political prisoners were roughed up in Sindh police stations, some of them even having chilli powder applied to their nether parts. Alive with rage and the 4 or 5 she had already downed, she said, “Jam Sahib, you should be ashamed of yourself, using chillies on women.” Not missing a beat and completely deadpan, the Jam replied, “My dear lady, nowadays we use Tabasco Sauce.”
You can hold as many seminars on corruption as you like but in all field departments – road construction, buildings, irrigation, electricity et al – sub divisional officers and executive engineers (SDOs and XENs) will get their cuts, now considered almost legitimate. You can bring in democracy ten times over, establish the severest martial law, but out of every 100 rupees allocated for development, from 40 to 50 percent will be paid to the highest order in the Islamic Republic – higher than the constitution and the Supreme Court, and more powerful than General Headquarters – the Order of the Baksheesh.
It is easier to smoke pot or heroin in relative openness in the Islamic Republic than to imbibe a shot of whisky, or moonshine or number two liquor…this last now freely available in all towns large and small across the country. Caught smoking heroin all you are likely to elicit is a knowing or tolerant smile. Try drinking in public and you risk inciting a riot.
In our society it is perfectly okay to hold a boy’s or a man’s hand in public. Hugging someone of the same sex in a tight embrace will excite no more than a surreptitious glance. Try any sort of a public display with a female and there will be hell to pay.
Our Pakhtun friends and brothers have a particularly fine sense of honour. Bring up the subject of boys and there will be guffaws and laughter. But anything touching female honour, however loosely or narrowly this is defined, brings out the Kalashnikovs.
The west has had a problem with gay sexuality. An Oscar Wilde would never go to prison here. Imagine Alan Turing, a mathematical genius, considered widely to be the father of the modern computer, being prosecuted for gay behaviour and then being chemically castrated, which is the punishment he chose for himself.
Attitudes in our parts, indeed across the Islamic world, regarding this tendency have been much more laidback and tolerant. Babur could write about his passion for the camp boy, Baburi, in a passage in his memoirs almost lyrical in its quality. Would any king or emperor in Christendom allow himself the same liberty?
Among Pakistan’s list of permanent enemies India comes second. Pride of place belongs to trees, and to forest cover of any sort. The typical Pakistani official, civil or military, can’t see a tree standing without wanting to cut it down.
Democratic Pakistan and cantonment Pakistan have alike proven themselves sworn enemies of open spaces. Every elected chief minister of Punjab is consumed by the desire to further widen the Canal Road in Lahore and reduce its tree cover on both sides. The road is now a shadow of its former self, its glory gone forever. But they still want to cut down the trees that remain.
No one is immune from this tree-cutting passion. The expansion of the Peshawar Road in Rawalpindi is a tribute to military aesthetics. This used to be a beautiful, stately tree-lined avenue, all the way from Katchery Chowk to the Kohinoor Mills. Now there are four lanes on both sides clogged with traffic, proving once again that more and wider roads are no answer to expanding traffic. You have to cut down on the number of vehicles. Try telling this to anyone here. Anyway, Peshawar Road now is an unmitigated horror…and a peep into the future, for this is what we are making of all our cities.
Islam is the nominal, outward passion of the Islamic Republic. The real passion is real estate, the uncontrollable itch to turn every last bit of farmland around our major cities, now even smaller ones, into housing colonies. The army has its infantry and armour and artillery schools. It has its staff college and even that white elephant called the National Defence University. But in the vast inventory of its resources nothing is closer to its heart than defence housing authorities.
The British set aside vast tracts of land for cantonments. They constructed broad avenues and planted trees on their side. Little could they have imagined that in times to come, at the sacred altar of independence, those valuable stretches of land would be turned into endless housing colonies. The two passions are linked: every tree we want to cut down, on every open space we want to build mansions.
Is there a basic structure of the constitution? There is certainly a basic structure of Pakistani society and it is not provided by any constitution. It is not provided by the trichotomy of powers or any similar notion. It is defined by our culture and the ingrained habits springing from that culture. Changing Pakistan, if at all that is a desired outcome, involves not constitution-writing which does not even scratch the surface of things. It means starting from the beginning, the first letters of the alphabet.