Shahzeb Khan case: A spectacle of Pakistan’s failed justice system

It is an exciting time to be a young Pakistani. Yes, it really is. Sure the unemployment, insecurity and political uncertainty have crippled our academic and professional progress but there are also rays of light, thin as they may be but bright still.

One such incident is the Shahzeb Khan murder case and the public outrage that it has created. What the Khan family, their friends and the protesters have been able to achieve is truly commendable. But when one delves deeper into the case, it is a perfect example of all that is wrong with this country’s justice system. It lays bare the problems that have long been the bane of our society’s existence. If only we were to think a little and avoid a knee-jerk reaction, this case points to the issues that we really should be agitating against to ensure that killers of young men like Shahzeb Khan are not let off anywhere in this country.

It is evident from the facts of the case that this is a plain and simple murder case – one that can, and does, occur in many parts of the world. But what has happened here wouldn’t happen in a country with a justice system that people actually trust and that does not bow down to political pressure.

Following protests in several cities, the Supreme Court directly intervened and took suo motu notice of the incident. Although this notice can be perceived as a victory for those who lost their son and friend in cold-blooded murder, what it really is is an embarrassing spectacle of the failure of this country’s justice system. In the shape of this suo motu, the Supreme Court has cut across layers of judicial procedure and overstepped the mandate of smaller courts that are actually responsible for dealing with cases like these.

If due process of law was to be followed, Shahrukh Jatoi, who is accused of having shot dead Shahzeb Khan following a boyish scuffle, would have been taken into police custody for questioning. Had Shahrukh pleaded innocence during the interrogation, he would have been produced before a judicial magistrate, who would hear the case the prosecution would make against Shahrukh. The media, which jumped in to play prosecutor, would really have only been reporting while prosecution lawyers would present both the families and other witnesses to prove Shahrukh’s guilt in a district and sessions court. The judge would then decide whether or not the evidence in the case showed that Shahrukh is guilty. If pronounced innocent, Shahrukh would be free to go but if ruled guilty, he would have the right to appeal in the high court and subsequently the Supreme Court.

One of the most outrageous and thoroughly shocking bits of the murder story is the “process” through which an FIR was registered for Shahzeb’s murder. Because Shahrukh’s father Sikander Jatoi hobnobs with politicians with influence, it took more than an hour for the police to register the report even though Shahzeb’s father is a senior police officer himself. Furthermore, the FIR was recorded only once another prominent politician, a relative of Shahzeb’s, got involved. Now imagine you or me or any one of us who has no political connections, in a similar situation. Where would we go once the police turn us away? How would we lodge a police complaint if one of our loved ones was to be shot dead as unjustly as Shahzeb was? Would the Supreme Court had taken any interest in our case if there were no political overtones to it?

I hope and pray with all my heart that Shahzeb Khan’s murderers are brought to justice and made into an example. But constant suo motu cases and media trials are not a permanent solution to a decimating problem: a weak justice system that can easily play into the hands of those with political support and money while failing to provide for those in real need.

Yes, we live in a jungle where survival of the fittest is the norm that has broken the back of this society. The problem is small but complicated and so is the solution, but our id is so big that we fail to look outside of ourselves and consider anything other than our own benefit. It is time we stop putting bandages on our scars and try to treat the disease that is causing those scars to reappear every now and then. It is time we question why Shahzeb, why that man we read about in the newspaper, why that boy in that village, why anyone of us?

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One thought on “Shahzeb Khan case: A spectacle of Pakistan’s failed justice system

  1. Pingback: To maintain the “long arm of the law”, reform it! « The Gulaab Jamun Blog

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