To maintain the “long arm of the law”, reform it!

It is extremely tiresome, this national culture of using a position of influence as license to point to other people’s failures while ignoring your own.

The honourable Supreme Court of Pakistan has raised a very valid question, one that is on the mind of every resident of the City of LFights – Karachi: “With 22,000 fugitives roaming the streets of Karachi, are the people to stay home all the time [in order to be secure]?

This is a most important question from the citizens’ point of view, and as a hapless resident of Karachi I thank their lordships for asking this from men usually inaccessible to ordinary residents like me.

Karachi may be the cheapest city to live in but it extracts its price in many other ways. For instance, even though Karachi is believed to be the financial hub of Pakistan you cannot plan a business, a project or even just go to your day-job here without factoring in the “normal” occurrence of shops suddenly closing down in the thick of the work-day for any number of reasons. If you still manage to start up a business in this city, you cannot ignore a certain amount you will have to give away to the bhatta mafia as and when they please. If you use public transport to get to work, you cannot get on a bus or rickshaw without fearing for your life (and that’s not just because of the skill of the drivers). You cannot walk to work, or anywhere, without fearing for menacing-looking men on a motorbike who would think nothing of shooting you down for not having an expensive enough mobile phone. You cannot drive your own car without keeping an eye at your sideview mirror and panicking every time a motorbike comes too close lest the riders want to kidnap you for ransom. If you manage to spend an accident-free day, then you prefer not to try your luck and step out after 10 pm.

But, without absolving any of the elected representatives and police officials of the blame, I also ask the honorable judges to enlighten us on their community’s track record at meting out justice to trained killers and terrorists. Even if we ignore the rest of Pakistan, two very recent cases from Karachi can testify to how weak and pathetic our justice system has become.

First is the case of Ajmal Pahari, a target-killer from Karachi who had made an on-camera admission of having killed at least 111 people. He was arrested after the 2011 summer of violence in Karachi, ironically following a Supreme Court suo motu, and was acquitted in 12 cases earlier this year. It was with relief that the media reported that he had been re-arrested in 4 more murder cases just a few days after his release from jail. It is baffling how a self-confessed killer, who had shown no remorse whatsoever at his heinous crimes, could be released. And that too in 12 cases, no less, and for “want of evidence” NO LESS!

The second is the case of Shahzeb Khan’s murder. Because his friends and family did not trust the justice system to deliver until the Supreme Court itself intervenes, a simple murder case that should have been handled by an anti-terrorism court has ended up in the highest court of the country after yet another suo motu. (My blog on how this case is an example of the failure of Pakistan’s justice system)

As members of the highest court in the country, these judges are some of the brightest minds in Pakistan’s judicial system today. How is it, then, that they cannot see the obvious failure of their own system? How can they not see that underneath them, the judicial structure of this country is, to put it mildly, crumbling? Even after having practiced it for years, how can they not identify the loopholes in the process that allow killers like Pahari to be acquitted? Can they not see how perilous it is that people’s only recourse to the law is “the chief justice should take suo motu of this!” even if the issue does not merit the Supreme Court’s intervention?

If their lordships truly want the rule of the law, they need to seriously consider the weaknesses within their own system, which is malleable for people with influence and malicious for people without influence. The suo motu notices make for strong political statements, but do little for the “long arm of the law”. These theatrics have to end to make way for a dialogue on judicial reform. This politics, which has already sucked up the rest of our institutions, needs to end.



One thought on “To maintain the “long arm of the law”, reform it!

  1. You have to be really naive blaming judges for this whole mess; maintaining “Long Arm of Law” requires coordinated efforts of judiciary & executives. Given provincial government is solely responsible for law & order (After 18th amendment, even more clear) asking judges to sort out the mess which actually is created by govt. is harsh. Sindh govt failed in providing security to witnesses in major cases and totally failed in maintaining law & order including wiping out the political factors. Where business community is protesting time & again to demand army intervention for peace in city; the argument of blaming judges is absurd when executives are not willing to do nay thing for good.

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