THE WAY IT WAS: To keep or not to keep promises —Mian Ijaz Ul Hassan

The state that traditionally represented the citizen or at least a privileged section of the citizenry now represents none but itself. Instead of protecting the rights, providing for needs and addressing the concerns of the citizens, it is engaged in protecting, promoting and preserving itself. This may seem harsh but it is true

I learnt from Daily Times (June 20) that, keeping a promise made six months earlier, Malik has stepped down as PBC chairman. So there is after all a man amongst us who keeps promises. Malik’s full name is Pervez Inayat Malik. He resigned as the Punjab Bar Council executive committee chairman to fulfil his promise to Mr Masood Chishti, his rival candidate in the elections held on February 5. It seems both had agreed to hold the office for six months each. Well-done Mr Malik! What a shame, however, that he was unable to find an excuse to hang on to his position. No doubt had he stayed the legal community and the country would have gained from his able leadership. Mr Malik cannot deny that there are certain things that have to be suffered in the larger interest of the country. Those of us steeped in the martial tradition feel ashamed at Malik Sahib’s capitulation without giving battle.

Zia ul Haq promised elections in 90 days but held on for 10 years. Musharaf should at least be appreciated for making no promises. Why make a promise if you don’t intend to take off the uniform? Why dress in borrowed robes if it entails losing your pants. Kar lo jo karna aih. Ever since Ayub Khan was inducted to the cabinet as defence minister in the early fifties I find people becoming increasingly devious and indifferent to keeping promises. Today, those who should be setting a good example don’t make false promises but simply lie.

The state and law have been strange bedfellows for near sixty years — an odd couple at best. Actually the state has had happier marriage with some of the judges. The advocates can keep the law if they please. Ismet Chughtai, the famous Urdu novelist, once wittily observed, “Thank God there is corruption in our country otherwise nothing would get done!” I had always believed that corruption in our country was a result of us being corrupt. Everything could be put right if our iman was stronger, which is of course partially true. It was explained to me later by someone as able as Mr Pervez Inayat Malik that corruption was not the outcome of individual practice but primarily the result of a weak state structure. If a citizen cannot have a legitimate kaam done without as they say greasing an official palm it reflects upon the weakness of the state that cannot have its writ enforced. At the time of The Raj there was little evidence of corruption because the Gora state structure was in place. There was a clear chain of command where duties and individual responsibilities were clearly spelt out and fixed. Everyone was accountable for his acts. The state was not concerned whether a person was individually virtuous or pious but how he performed his duties. No one was above the law and no one could step out of line.

We now have a state which functions differently. Instead of subscribing to the written word of law it relies on the unwritten word of command. This is an innovative way of circumventing the pain of rule of law. A person can have access to whatever he needs only when he is connected to the state. Even a candle will not light if it is not connected. The state is the source of power and not law and justice as Asma or Aitzaz believe. I have seen people standing in a queue waiting for their turn that never comes unless they get connected. I remember once going to Dr Mehmood Malik for medical advice. Finding my chemistry in improper balance he advised me to check into Mayo Hospital. Later the same evening I drove to Mayo Hospital, walked to the registrar’s office, situated at the entrance leading to the Gora Ward, and presented him with Dr Malik’s note. The man in the white coat carefully studied Dr Malik’s note and then entered my name in the register. I was told that all rooms were reserved and that I should return and enquire after a few days. I thought of asking a school friend who headed the Urology Department at Mayo but then foolishly dismissed the thought. I was in no hurry so why ask for a favour. My turn would come in due course of time. I enquired after a week, a fortnight, and a month and later just for the heck of it, after several months, but my turn never came. The moral of the story is that queues are for idiots, just as zebra crossings decorate our carpeted roads to snare pedestrians to their death.

If you want to avoid vehicles colliding into your posterior you must always look in the rear view mirror before stopping at a red light. Incidentally as far as I know the rear view mirror is not for combing hair. Stopping at an amber light can, however, cause great damage to the vehicle and your health. For some drivers defying the traffic signals can be part of political activism. I remember my friend Irfan Husain, a law-abiding cynic who seasonally likes to season his meat with chocolate sauce, stopped at a red light much to the chagrin of the vehicle following him. The limousine behind honked and honked in annoyance. Irfan was infuriated but kept his cool. Honks were followed by long hoots. Irfan clenched his teeth but did not budge. At the change of the signal when Irfan moved ahead the red car at his rear raced forward and jammed the breaks next to him. “What is the matter with you, stopping in the middle of the road?” the infuriated driver shouted stretching his head out. “Can’t you see? The light was red,” Irfan pleaded, raising his voice. “You are obviously a government chamcha” was the remark hurled at a perplexed Irfan before the car sped away screeching. For most of our citizens the government and the state are one and the same thing. This is because more than half the time governments have been directly presided over by the army. On most other occasions, they have been managed by it.

On an another occasion, a friend commuting by bus from the Old to the New University Campus saw a young student tearing the seat cover to extract a piece of foam rubber, when he restrained the lad from damaging the seat the student replied, “What is to you? It belongs to government.” The lesson to be drawn from these rather commonplace examples is that in a citizen’s mind state and government conjure up apathy, arrogance, corruption, violence, injustice, rule of goons, plots and privileges, extravagance, abuse, patronage, propaganda and lies. The list goes on. To paraphrase it in two sentences: The state is rich and authoritarian. The citizens are wretched and poor. The state that traditionally represented the citizen or at least a privileged section of the citizenry now represents none but itself. Instead of protecting the rights, providing for needs and addressing the concerns of the citizens, it is engaged in protecting, promoting and preserving itself. This may seem harsh but it is true.

At the same time I am of the view that citizens should not violate but enforce law. They must not wreck traffic signals but obey them. They should refrain from tearing seats of transport vehicles because they are for our their own comfort and use. One should not cut one’s nose to spite the face. What purpose is served when angry individuals burn buses and private cars or smash shop windows? If this is political activism it hurts us more than any one else. It helps make enemies of individuals who could be friends. Citizens embittered by personal frustrations should not waste their anger on divisive issues but direct it towards people’s common causes.

Prof Ijaz-ul-Hassan is a painter, author and a political activist