Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has once again expressed regret that the notorious thana culture has not changed, even though the police have had their salaries raised. One reaction would be that perhaps the raise was not enough; that the standards to which policemen and their families had gotten used to could not be met by the recent pay raise. Another reaction would be that perhaps the thana culture was too entrenched to be removed merely by throwing money at the problem. What perhaps has not been realised is that the thana culture is what has led to Interior Minister Rehman Malik being pardoned by President Asif Ali Zardari. An important part of the thana culture is the untouchability of the SHO, who protects all the police officers under his command; an untouchability based on the fact that he owes his posting not to the departmental criteria of training, rank, seniority and ability, but to extra-departmental ones, like loyalty to a local politician. This is another thing that Mian Shahbaz has acknowledged by a claim to have ended, but if politicians are not allowed their personal preferences, then senior police officers are, which is equally harmful. That, as a matter of fact, is the route to political interference, as politicians try to get for themselves what they see as bureaucrats enjoying. Advocating a return to bureaucratic selection is in fact a surrender, because it involves a reversion to a method which led politicians to try to claim that ground. Though revenue department matters, involving land ownership are also high on the list; law and order is at the top of the list of citizens concerns not so much because the government is failing to perform, as because it is seen as performing such an important function poorly. This protection of the life and property of the citizen is supposed to be the basic reason for the very existence of the state, with its consequent power of taxation, something which the citizens heartily dislike. However, if law and order was maintained, the Kings Highway made fit to travel on, and taxes were kept low, the kingdom would prosper. This meant, at least in the subcontinent, not interfering in the local attempts to maintain the peace. The British inherited the old Mughal framework, and followed the old rules. By those standards, they were successful, and it was in the attempt to modernise that the independence movement was launched. Both India and Pakistan were the result of this, based on the new principle of nationalism, introduced to the subcontinent for the first time. Somewhere along the line, the concept of privilege came into existence. Around the time of the Independence Movement, the notion arose that if the levers of power were moved from the hated British to natives, things would be better. The elected representative had come into his own. There arose a nexus between the justice system and elected representatives, who claimed this was necessary to prevent the justice system imposing severe hardships upon the individuals. This might have implied that the justice system was burdensome, but it gave elected legislators something to do apart from lawmaking, at which they were not particularly expert anyhow. From freeing innocent constituents arose the possibility of freeing protected criminals. It was only a short step from there to the notion that the legislator was free to do anything, and to use the justice system as a tool for re-election, which was the only means he had of ensuring his freedom from the justice system. This reinforced the use of the police, and developed the idea, especially among legislators, of using the police to persecute their rivals, especially political. It is not the place to calculate the psychological effect of this upon Rehman Malik when he joined a federal force in the shape of the Protectorate of Immigrants, but by the time he transferred to the FIA, he must have been fully aware of the immunity which politicians claimed for themselves. When politicians found that they needed answer to no crime, because they could claim that false cases has been registered against them, and they further found the electorate willing to believe this, the doors were opened to financial corruption on a large scale. There has been a reaction against corruption in particular which has shown itself in the movement for the restoration of the judges and for the rule of law. The NRO, which winked an eye at corruption, was a very political action, and its striking down was inevitable unless the Supreme Court could be persuaded, which it could not, to condone corruption. While Rehman Maliks conviction was supposed to help end corruption, he became something of a test case, because of his closeness to the President. President Asif Ali Zardari was supposed to have his cases sent back to the Swiss courts where they were being tried until withdrawn, but it was being ensured that the federal government did not pursue them as ordered by the Supreme Court. That might explain why his case has heightened interest, because the upholding of his conviction would mean that the Presidents cases might see some movement. However, the means used to save him has been that of the presidential pardon, a holdover power from the British Raj, when the Viceroy or the Governor was allowed the monarchical power of pardon. However, that power has been ruled, by a Shariat Appellate Bench as un-Islamic, and ever since that ruling, the President has never exercised his power under the Constitution, beyond asking relatives of murder victims to relent and not insist on execution. The usual practice is for appeals to the President to be made only by prisoners facing execution. Thus, there has been a double unusual-ness in Maliks case. First, the nature of the punishment was not execution, but something lesser. Second, it was made in violation of the Sharia. It is similar to the pardon made by President Gerald Ford of President Richard Nixon back in 1974 of his offences in the Watergate scandal. Nixon escaped prosecution, though none of the others involved in the scandal did. However, Rehman Maliks pardon not only saves the President making it, but opens the door for a reversal of the Supreme Courts NRO verdict, with PPP and MQM leaders forced to seek presidential favour (and pardon) if convictions attain finality. The Supreme Court might not take this latest attempt by the government to sidestep its NRO decision, an attempt motivated by the Presidents desire to escape justice, very kindly, and though the power of pardon is contained in the Constitution, it might invoke the 'Basic Structures doctrine to prevent this. However, that might mean prolonging the confrontation the President seems bent on. The alternative? The Supreme Court accepting that its NRO verdict will not be acted on. Email: maniazi@nation.com.pk