Ensuring the rule of law is important for any country in the modern world. The creation and implementation of equitable laws provides the foundation of justice and the provision of adequate opportunities in turn enabling accountability and protection of human rights. Providing rule of law and justice to all were major promises made by the present government in Pakistan when it was trying to win the last elections. It should thus be a matter of concern for PTI that Pakistan has been placed amongst the lowest ranked countries in terms of adherence to the rule of law.
Pakistan was ranked 30th out of 139 nations according to the latest Rule of Law Index formulated by the World Justice Project. This index aims to measure how the rule of law is experienced and perceived in countries around the world based on the behaviour of government, corruption, respect for fundamental rights, provision of security, regulatory enforcement and provision of justice.
The Rule of Law Index for 2021 found two-thirds of surveyed countries to have experienced a decline in the overall rule of law performance for the fourth consecutive year. Pakistan’s ranking was however particularly dismal. Even in South Asia, Pakistan’s position is second to last, as only Afghanistan was rated below Pakistan. Nepal, Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh were all found to have performed better than Pakistan.
If it is any consolation, Pakistan did not fare much better on the Index last year either, when it was ranked 120th among a total 128 countries, regressing from its prior year’s ranking of 117 among 126 countries. Even before the current government took over, Pakistan had an abysmal global ranking of 105 out of 113 countries during the 2017-18 period.
The Rule of Law Index is however not as authoritative or robust a measure as it claims to be. Its methodological approach uses five sets of questionnaires based on the Index’s conceptual framework, which are used to interview an average of 300 local experts per country and to conduct household surveys, known as the General Perception Polls (GPP). However, the GPP is not carried out in each country every year that a new index is released. In Pakistan, Gallup Pakistan was engaged to conduct face-to-face interviews with 1,000 respondents in 2019, data from which was used for the current year’s index ranking. It is surprising that the sample size of these public surveys is not significantly altered despite the varying size of different countries. In the case of India, for instance, which has a much larger population than Pakistan, only 1,059 interviews were conducted for the General Perception Poll, and that too back in 2018. Such methodological concerns do make it difficult to place blind faith in the veracity of the rule of law index.
However, dismissing this widely disseminated and cited index as a conspiracy theory is not an effective strategy either. If the Rule of Law Index was purely inspired by conspiratorial intentions, the US would not have been ranked 27th on it.
Countries which have their reputation tarnished by being ranked lowly on indices such as rule of law can challenge these findings, but they need to base their criticism on solid arguments. Scholars, do after all, point to the need to distinguish between justice and rule of law. Many western countries would see their rankings significantly slip if concerns of their marginalised racial and ethnic minorities were given more consideration, rather than the mere implementation of laws. Even Hong Kong being ranked 19th on the 2021 index because it follows the letter of the law which is problematic considering the increasing disconnect between the law and the will of the people in this special autonomous region. Yet, we see little discussion of methodological weaknesses or legitimate conceptual issues when countries like our own decry their lowly rankings on reductionist indices, due to which we evoke little international sympathy.