For a state with ‘Pak’ (Pure) in its name, the hypocrisy oozes out of every crevice when the representatives that bar public smoking, publically undertake the acts themselves; be it Sheikh Rasheed flaunting his Cubans, or Qaim Ali Shah caving into his nicotine cravings on the Sindh Assembly floor.

Ironically, it was Musharraf, yet another connoisseur of cigars, who had spearheaded the campaign against public smoking with shrewdly titled, ‘Prohibition of Smoking and Protection of Non-Smokers health ordinance 2002’ –primary ordinance which serves to incriminate public smoking.

All this was happening in the background of times when, globally, the idea of non-traditional security came into vogue, with the governments becoming responsible for provision of food, water, health and environment, as well as safety of individual’s choices and freedoms, besides the traditional notion of security from exogenous threats. This, complemented with the Professor Arthur Cecil Pigou’s welfare economics, became the basis for extension of the state’s role, in the world, both east and west, into the novel domains.

As the rest of the world, with Baltic States in the lead, was moving towards a welfare state system, Pakistan was making its own progression, albeit in a different direction.

The converse legal developments of the country, instead of making it a protector of the individual’s basic necessities, are increasingly moving towards making State the guardian of morality. What ought to have been left for the society to self-regulate, has become the state’s purview, with the police force incrementally designated to ensure adherence of morals.

This state guaranteed morality, attributable to the Zia-ism of society and increasing radicalisation of the country, includes the initiative to extend the orbit of the anti-smoking laws to the ban on Shisha bars and cafes.

Gaining cue from the west, the dictator had taken it upon himself to bar smoking in the public places but, as always the federal legislators, therein after, got it wrong. The fact that one is able to find licenced Shisha lounges on the Edgware road, in the very centre of London, is a testimony that the public smoking ban in the west was meant to deter passive smoking, and not smoking altogether.

However, while the west wanted to protect the health of non-smokers by preventing passive smoking, Pakistani legislators used the public smoking ban as a guise to prevent ‘a state determined morally reprehensible act’ of college goers smoking in groups inside Shisha bars, thereby, in their own conception at least, precluding the public mingling of genders.

Using the shoulders of the Supreme Court judgement, which interpreted the laws for its immense convenience, the government, instead of covering the lacunas, descended hard on these cafes, raising concerns about the freedom of choice, and giving its verdict comprehensively in favour of the non-smokers, to the utter dejection of the smoking classes.

Although, the ‘Prohibition of smoking ordinance (2002)’ allows for designated places for smoking, vide section 5 which reads, ‘…The Federal Government may…issue guidelines for permitting designated smoking areas in premises or places where adequate arrangements are made to protect the health of non-smokers’, the federal government never underwent the pains to exempt the Shisha lounges which, being a hub of the smokers, were never to be frequented by the non-smokers in the first place – this laziness existed, only, because morality!

The principles being ignored, we arrived at a hodgepodge of laws which serve a wholly different purpose from what was originally envisaged.

The crippled laws presently assert that it is ‘OKAY’ to smoke in the refuge of one’s house, and that one may be able to acquire the tobacco products at junctions around their houses, but there shall be no designated places where the smokers may gather.

This set up a fine foundation for manipulation and transgression of these laws. In a state where wealth and impunity walk in tandem, how were we to ensure adherence?

We weren’t.

The prescribed punishment may suffice to deter the Shisha lounges to operate, but this could only have been achieved when the case reaches the courts. Given the track record of Police patronised alcohol sale and consumption, had the legislators not realised that they were, yet again, stepping into an enforcement nightmare?

The Shisha lounges were only pushed underground, giving the venal elements within the police yet another avenue to continue with their plunder. Oversights which serve only the purpose of filling a few coffers without ever achieving much public benefit allude to state collusion.

Multiple Hookah bars, thus, in the capital city of Islamabad at least, continue to operate their business unrestrainedly, despite having been raided dozens of times. For a nominal charge, the police never register the report after a raid; the place reopens the very next day, and it is business as usual.

The redundancy and the needlessness of the whole legal exercise baffles mind.