NationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 51

A flawed legal system

Pakistan’s entire history endorses the fact that no serious and sincere effort has been made by the rulers to establish the rule of law in the country.

The rule of law is the very foundation of a progressive, egalitarian and prosperous society because it ensures the impartiality, accessibility, and effectiveness of the legal system—from the making of laws to their enforcement and eventually to the court process. It includes issues with equitable treatment under the law, governmental accountability, restrictions on the use of arbitrary power, impartial and independent dispute resolution, protection of human rights, democratic participation in the drafting of laws, and a more general culture of lawfulness.

Geoffrey de Q Walker in his book, “The rule of law: foundation of constitutional democracy,” has described the rule of law in the following words: “the people (including, one should add, the government) should be ruled by the law and obey it and that the law should be such that people will be able (and, one should add, willing) to be guided by it”. In simple words, the rule of law simply means that the law should be supreme, clear, accessible and one for every individual in society.

However, the Pakistani ruling elite, including politicians, feudal lords, pirs, businesspeople, civil and military bureaucracy, does not want the rule of law in the country as it would decrease their power and rule. In reality, laws are made and used to save the callous and corrupt ruling elite’s interests and exploitation in Pakistan. While the poor and helpless people are enslaved, controlled, exploited, deprived, silenced, tortured and even sometimes killed by using these flawed laws with impunity. GB Shaw’s famous saying that “the golden rule is that there are no golden rules” aptly applies to Pakistan’s prevailing legal system that protects the powerful people by using any rule.

The acquittal of Maryam Nawaz, Shahbaz Sharif, Hamza Sharif, Asif Ali Zardari in NAB and FIA cases and Shahrukh Jatoi in the murder case endorses the fact that there are “no golden rules” in the legal system and justice is only served to the ruling elite.

On 18th October 2022, the Supreme Court’s three-judge bench, headed by Justice Ijazul Ahsan, and comprising Justice Munib Akhtar and Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, acquitted Shahrukh Jatoi along with other convicts in the Shahzeb Khan murder case.

Twenty-year-old Shahzeb Khan, son of a police official, was shot dead at Karachi’s Defence Housing Authority on the evening of December 24, 2012. He was returning home from a wedding with his sister, who was harassed by the accused’s employee. Khan demanded an apology from the accused. Despite the fact that the issue was resolved, Shahrukh Jatoi, the accused, chased the victim and shot him dead. Due to immense pressure from newspapers, TV channels and social media, the then chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry took suo motu notice of the incident. And the accused, the son of a powerful feudal lord in Sindh, was arrested.

An anti-terrorism court awarded Jatoi and his friend Siraj Talpur the death punishment in 2013, while other accused received life sentences. Despite the fact that the deceased’s parents had pardoned the criminals accused of killing their only son, the death penalty had nonetheless been upheld due to terrorist allegations against the defendants.

The Sessions Court did, however, grant the defendants bail, which infuriated and unnerved the general public. After the reaction from the public, civil society and the media, the Supreme Court took suo motu and the order of bail was overturned. But in 2019, the death sentence was commuted to the life sentence. Now, after ten years, the Supreme Court has acquitted all the convicts on the basis of pardon granted by the family of the deceased under the Diyat law.

On the order of the Shariat Appellate Bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the Diyat law was introduced in Pakistan’s legal system around 32 years ago. Under Section 310 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), the family or heirs can forgive the murderer after receiving blood money as compensation. The heirs or family can also forgive the murderer in the name of God, without taking any money as compensation, under Section 309.

However, there should not be any doubt that this law has become a tool in the hands of powerful and influential people to get away with even a murder. An American CIA agent Raymond Davis, Qandeel Baloch’s brother, Nazim Jokhio’s murderers, including Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) MPA Jam Awais and MNA Jam Karim, and now Shahrukh Jatoi have all been set free by using this flawed law. Balochistan MPA Majeed Achakzai was also set free on the plea of a settlement as per tribal traditions.

The powerful people of Pakistan should not be allowed to manipulate the law for getting off scot-free. The state should ensure the rule of law by amending the Diyat law. If the state does not protect the poor and punish the powerful people equally, there would be chaos and bloodshed in the coming days.