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A Pakistani citizen can be arrested and indefinitely detained by the security services at any time. The rule of law does not seem to count. Perhaps thousands of Pakistanis have disappeared, but no one knows for sure. Where they are taken, what is being done to them, when they will be released, why they have been arrested – the ISI does not have to answer these questions. The Washington Post has the story:

The disappearances are growing, according to international and Pakistani human rights organizations, which estimate that thousands of people have been kidnapped and detained incommunicado in secret prisons in the past decade. Some have been killed, they say. Exact numbers are unknown, in part because many people are afraid to report the abductions, according to Human Rights Watch.

Some of the detained are likely guilty, but this not much consolation. Pakistan’s military and security organizations have unlimited power to act as judge, jury, and executioner in cases involving alleged terrorism or ties to militants. Suspects are held incommunicado, for as long as is needed. Those released are too scared to talk.

As usual, a lot of people want to blame the United States for this, and it is certainly true that Washington’s demands on the Pakistani government to “do something” about extremism help keep the arrest level high.

But really this is part of the more comprehensive story of Pakistani state failure.  Pakistan does not have a transparent civil justice system which could handle these cases effectively and transparently while protecting the rights of the accused.  Military and intelligence institutions run Pakistan in part because over and over again civilians have been too corrupt, too short sighted and too divided to develop an effective civilian state.

And Washington’s demands on the Pakistanis to “do something” about extremism don’t emerge from a vacuum.  They reflect Washington’s certain knowledge that the Pakistani government uses terrorists as instruments of state policy and maintains tight links with some very dangerous groups.

Pakistan’s civilian government, lawyers, and rights groups are powerless against the military establishment:

The open secret of disappearances illustrates the grip the military establishment retains over Pakistani society, including its dysfunctional justice system and feeble civilian government, which has repeatedly vowed to stop the problem. A government commission has traced several dozen missing people and publicly said Pakistani intelligence agencies are involved, but it has held no one accountable. President Asif Ali Zardari recently approved regulations that lawyers say gave the military expanded latitude to detain and try suspected militants.

This kind of abuse makes one angry and sad, but this is not the worst failure of the Pakistani state.  The worst failure is the continuing and ongoing failure of the Pakistani state (and let’s not let civil society off the hook as far too many affluent and educated Pakistanis do nothing to help their less fortunate compatriots) to educate its children and create the basic conditions for the development of a healthy society and economy.  The shame of Pakistan isn’t the occasional or even the systemic violation of civil rights, but the comprehensive failure to develop a minimally decent state after more than sixty years of independence.

Americans love to believe that there is some neat and clean solution to problems like this.  There probably isn’t in this case.  The failures of the Pakistani state are so deeply rooted in history and culture that it is hard to see short or medium term solutions.  Promoting grassroots economic development and building a strong system of primary and middle school education would help the next generation of Pakistanis build a better country, but that isn’t going to solve much today or next year.

It is going to be a tougher and tougher sell to explain to the American public opinion why Pakistan should get any foreign aid when the country’s record of transparency is so poor and its commitment to its own development is so spotty.

In the past, Pakistan’s foreign friends have been serially disappointed.  Its civilian politicians have failed to build a transparent democratic society.  Its military rulers have failed to lay the groundwork of economic development that could give democracy and modernity a strong base.  Its democrats and its authoritarians have all failed.

What we see today is the worst of all worlds: an anti-modern military and an undemocratic political class.  There are some extraordinary people in Pakistan who have a great love for their country and a great vision for how Pakistan can contribute to the construction of a more just, more prosperous and more peaceful world.  Many of these people are extremely courageous and stand up for their beliefs in the face of violence and oppression.

One would hope that the US, or perhaps the EU, could help, but it is getting harder and harder to see how.

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  • Kenny

    Admit it: Those people are incapable of civilized behavior.

    Nuclear technology should be removed from their hands. And don’t say that can’t be done.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    This is the moribund Islamic Culture, every nation where Islamic Culture is dominate suffers from the same problems as Pakistan. Even where we have placed elements of American Culture in Iraq, the corruption is still a major problem.

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