Monday, August 25, 2008

Free range

The thing I love about Pakistan is that you have complete freedom. Freedom to do as you please, how you please, when you please. There are no government restrictions, the only thing you have to worry about is if you get caught an angry mob might come for you. No kidding. Let’s say you get into a car accident. The normal course of action is to exchange numbers and send the other guy the mechanics bill. No can do. With a crippled legal system such niceties are a luxury. It’s more likely that a group of bystanders will gather around to watch as you duke it out with the other driver.

If you manage to establish who’s at fault it’s an uphill climb to get any money out of the guy. A lot of badgering and threats have to be made before any headway can be made. And this is only in the case of a fender bender. Should you happen to maim or even kill someone. Those passive bystanders turn into an unruly mob who needs sweet revenge.

This is an extreme example of how lawlessness is affecting Pakistan. More subtle happenings have changed the country’s landscape. Could you imagine a 10 foot high advertisement plastered across your wall? This guy can:

Now this is private property, somebody’s home to put a finer point on it. But that didn’t stop the good folks at Nelson Paints to send over a guy and mess up their wall (done under the cover of darkness, no doubt). Now the homeowners could track down the people who did this. But what good will it do? They won’t offer any compensation the best that they can do is promise not to advertise on his wall again. They will have to spend their hard earned money to white wash the wall and hope they get a break from free-wheeling painters.

Now this all sounds pretty awful. But I am just getting started. Pakistan has laws against the piracy of intellectual property. Inventors and artist can in theory register their newfangled products and get them copyrighted. However all of this is on paper. There’s no way to enforce this. The courts can’t do it because they’re impotent, the police aren’t interested until you grease them just right (even then they just mosey around for just a bit). The result of which is wanton piracy. Not just movies and software but internationally recognized trademarks are also fair game:

(the top banner reads: “Try our quality products at least once” while the bottom portion reads: “McDonalds French Fries, delicious finger chips”)

What does this mean for Pakistanis? It sends them the message that they shouldn’t invent or create anything original because even if they do they won’t be able to survive solely on their creation. Let’s take the software industry. They NEVER make software for the local market. Their creations are made for exporting to other countries, where they’re guaranteed an ounce of IP protection. Which is a sad state of affairs.

That’s why the nation went nuts when Musharraf announced his resignation. I was listening to his speech live. At first I thought it would be business as usual (him keeping an iron hold on his seat while the world collapsed around him) however in the last few moments he shocked the world by announcing his resignation. I know that his words hit me like a ton of bricks. Nine years of botched leadership was coming to an end. Now we could focus on getting the Supreme Court in order and rehabilitate the courts.

However the euphoria was only to last for a few days. A wide chasm formed inside of the coalition set up to defeat Musharraf. The PPP led by Bhutto’s “grieving” husband Zardari insisted on making him president. This did not go well with PML-N led by Nawaz Sharif some say he preferred to be president. So now there’s a veritable cat fight between these two. In the meantime ousted chief justice Iftikhar Chaudry, the only guy who had the guts to stand up to Musharaff, sits on the sidelines with his lawyer buddies wondering when he’ll be reinstated and get back to pulling Pakistan out of its current crisis.

Meanwhile terrorist bombings are plaguing every corner of the country. Militants or covert operations? Only time will tell. The army manages to drop bombs on innocent villagers and always miss the bad guys (by just this much). While US forces are camped out on the Afghani border ready to “help out”. It’s all pretty crazy and I don’t know where it’s going, but I think there’s a rock song in here somewhere.
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