Perhaps the egos of Pakistan’s elite are nowhere as clearly on display as when they are stopped for traffic violations. Then, the monster is well and truly unleashed. Amidst one report of an MPA’s guards beating up a traffic warden in Faisalabad, this kind of shameful behavior must be given its due share of condemnation. It reflects at the most fundamental level, a true weakness of Pakistani society and state. The idea that one is above the law by order of social standing is inherent to the citizenry. In the interactions between a traffic warden and a man behind the wheel of a luxury car, one can see a conversation between the law and the powerful at its most elementary level. With utter indignation, the law-keeper is pushed aside, beaten, abused, threatened for having the gall, the nerve, to stop a powerful man going about his business.

There has been a commendable increase in the confidence of traffic wardens and the implementation of the laws of the road in recent years. It is heartening to see people being stopped and booked for using mobile phones while driving, for speeding or parking where not permitted. And still, if it’s a government car, the rules don’t seem to apply. A social apparatus that functions by kinship, by proclaiming to traffic wardens who one’s father is, who one’s grandfather was, who one’s husband will be, attempts only to intimidate the law and the persons who represent it at checkpoints and on the roads. There is no excuse for it. We must empower traffic police even more, pay them better salaries so they are less liable to be bribed, and inculcate in people the real fear that laws, at every level, are supposed to inspire. It remains to be seen what the fate of the MPA’s guards will be, but one thing is for sure: it is not enough to issue a sheepish statement. You can’t get away with beating up an officer of the law, and a precedent must finally be set that establishes this firmly.