Just to demonstrate once again that it is still alive, feudalism has claimed the life of a traffic police sergeant controlling traffic at Shaheed Fayaz Sunbal Chowk (or GPO Chowk), Quetta. On June 20, Haji Atta Ullah was performing his duty when he was overrun by a jeep driven by Abdul Majeed Achakzai, an agriculturalist, who is affiliated with the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, is Member of Provincial Assembly of Balochistan, and Chairman of Public Accounts Committee. The sergeant died on the spot.

After running over the sergeant mercilessly, Achakzai did not stop his jeep. He banged his vehicle subsequently into another vehicle which interrupted the dash. The intoxication of power is a major cause of such heinous crimes. Last year, in a similar incident and at the same chowk, a jeep sporting the flag of the same political party overran a protesting female teacher. In this way, there is present a precedent of running people over in Quetta.

The matter could have been lost in obscurity, if a security camera had not snapped a picture of the offender driving the jeep. Unfortunately, the police did not handcuff the offender while presenting him before a judicial magistrate. This was how the police remained complacent. The next example of complacence came from the local administration when, on behalf of Achackzai, the deputy commissioner Ziarat Mohammad Rafeeq Tareen inveigled the family of the deceased into putting signatures on a plain sheet of paper apparently as a receipt for “Eidi” (money given to someone as a gift on the day of Eid), which later on turned out to be a written reparation agreement. This is how all efforts are underway to let the offender get off scot-free.

The wickedness of the local administration became a boon for the offender while the naivety became the bane of the bereaved family. By inference, one can well imagine the plight of a common citizen when he tries to get justice against any influential person. Nevertheless, this incident will have at least five implications on the police in particular and on society in general.

First, the morale of the police force will take a nosedive. In a city like Quetta, not only are the police encumbered with the responsibility for curbing crime, but they are also burdened with the task of fighting sporadic insurgency. If the police – especially the low-rank officers grappling with the harsh realities of the field – are dispirited, both counter-crime and counter-terrorism operations may be adversely affected. Unfortunately, the incident has aired the message that the police may fight against criminals and insurgents but they cannot fight against the influential who consider the life of a police officer insignificant. A demoralised force can fight neither against crime nor against insurgency. The attendant tragedy is that when the police find their high-ups obsequious to the influential, their minds are haunted by a sense of vulnerability. The fear which crosses their minds is that their sacrifices in the line of duty may be inconsequential for the state.

Second, the space for the police to function smoothly as an organisation will shrink. The police will find itself handicapped at the hands of the feudals who enjoy monopoly in the rural areas and are extending their domination into the urban areas. The way a section of the local police kept the offender free of shackles is a testament to the fact that the police in Quetta are compliant with the offender. The same trend was replicated by the administration of Ziarat. If the offender goes scot-free, the idea will be reified that the feudal are above the law. Consequently, an organisational problem is bound to emerge when a section of the police and local administration will not listen to the dictates of the state and it will try to ingratiate itself with the influential.

Third, feudalism will spawn unduly. Feudalism is an archaic and fetid mindset, which believes that blood lineage, caste or station in life, makes some individuals superior to others. Feudalism also believes that economic and social disparities are inherent and immutable and that it is their duty to protect the boundaries of feudalism . In any such incident, if a feudal lord such as Achakzai remains immune from a legal action against him, all efforts to make people believe in vertical mobility – based on seeking education and learning skills – in society will fail. The educated and skilled will believe that the upper echelon of society is already packed and perhaps impenetrable for them. The efforts at the societal level to encourage people to improve their lot and diminish the yawning gap of prosperity will not yield desired results. Balochistan has historically seen the worst manifestation of tribalism, which has mortgaged the prosperity of its inhabitants to tribal lords. Moreover, a feudal mindset does not grow in isolation. It necessarily needs reinforcements and guarantees. The same will be available if Achakzai is not subject to law, before the incident is replicated in any other part of the country.

Fourth, criminals will feel emboldened. The incident emits the message that the legislatures are more potent than the state machinery. The message may act as a lodestone for criminals of all hues to seek shelter. This sort of phenomenon has been witnessed in Karachi where gangsters were supported to do insidious deals and boisterous acts. There is no dearth of insurgents in Balochistan looking for patronage to hide under after perpetrating crimes. Similarly, when the criminals see that the police are operationally weak, the writ of the state is puerile and the offenders can go unpunished, they may also cash in on the situation. Deriving confidence from the episode that a person can be murdered in broad daylight, law can be flouted and the consequent situation can be maneuvered to commit crime with impunity, which is inimical to the legitimacy of the state. Consequently, crime especially organised crime is bound to surge, besides infusing a general discontent in society.

Lastly, the state will be jeered at. When the local administration is brokering a deal for the offender and that too by befooling the family and when the local police, which got hold of the offender, are treating the offender as if he were a guest, the sincerity of the state in the eyes of common people is derided. In a way, it is a disgrace for those who are languishing in police lock ups for petty crimes. It is high time to realise that effective governance did not mean appeasing a few influential feudal or tribal lords at the expense of compromising the state authority.

In short, in order to ensure the legitimacy of the state, the law has to be enforced without any discrimination. Instead of being consumed by political expediency, anyone violating the law has to be taken to task to let the people realise that all are equal in the eyes of the law. Let the people know that the socio-economic layers of society are immaterial before the law. Further, people’s trust in the civil service can be restored if all are treated equally without any favour or any fear of retribution.