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September 13, 2020

Above the law


September 13, 2020

Since ancient times, rule of law has been deemed essential for mankind. The Law Code of Hammurabi (king who ruled the Babylonian Empire in 1792 BC), is a four ton stone slab with 282 laws etched onto it. It was excavated in 1901 by a Jacques de Morgan led French archaeological expedition in the ancient city of Susa, modern day Sush in Iran.

The US Supreme Court’s south wall lists, among others, Hammurabi as a historic lawgiver. Hammurabi’s Code, as it is known, provides one of the earliest examples of “lex talionis”; the doctrine of retribution. The maxim “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” features prominently in the Hammurabi Code.

Recent news about the acquittal of former Balochistan lawmaker Majeed Khan Achakzai in the death of traffic warden Haji Attaullah Dashti at Quetta’s main GPO Chowk in June 2017 was as agonizing as it was unsurprising.

The whole tragic scene was clearly captured on tape showing a reportedly inebriated Achakzai running down Haji Attaullah who was diligently performing his duty in the hot summer sun.

The tragedy, seen by millions, is an allegory to the sardar based oppressive system of a perpetually impoverished Balochistan and the elite cabal that continues to rule roughshod over Pakistanis. It also confirms that we all live in an Orwellian farm where some are far more equal than the others.

After Haji Attaullah’s death, true to their form, the police registered a case against unknown persons. With a viral CCTV footage, the beleaguered police lodged a manslaughter case against Achakzai. The furious reaction led to terrorism charges being included in the FIR.

The deceased’s brother, Haji Saifullah, and Moazzam Atta, his son, requested that, given Achakzai’s influence, the case be transferred to Islamabad. The plea was not accepted. Moazzam refuted any claims of pardon or accepting blood money.

On Achakzai’s application, a Quetta court removed the terrorism charge and the case was transferred to a model court. This model court acquitted Achakzai citing ‘lack of evidence’. Achakzai’s body language bespoke this impunity when he was presented in court without handcuffs and he taunted and misbehaved with media members.

Sharukh Jatoi and Siraj Talpur were convicted of murdering Shahzeb when he reacted to their misbehavior with his sister. A remorseless and ever-grinning Shahrukh’s crass brazenness was on display when he openly conveyed his ire at the then Chief Justice Saqib Nisar’s surprise visit to his Landhi prison ‘cell’ replete with all amenities. Aurangzeb Khan, Shahzeb’s father, is said to have accepted 250 million rupees as Diyat from the Jatoi and Talpur families; coercion was much in play. Soon after, Aurangzeb Khan immigrated to Australia.

Raymond Davis, the CIA spook was pardoned after a reported 2.4 million dollar settlement with the affected families. We all know how that pardon came about.

The heart-wrenching crimes that see lives snuffed out by the scions of the powerful elite remain undeterred because law remains ever-servile to their kind. Their unbridled arrogance is evident as they move in cavalcades with trigger happy guards who are better armed than law enforcers. Zain, the 15-year-old only son of a widowed lady, was murdered by Mustafa Kanju, son of a former foreign minister. Reportedly drunk, Kanju shot Zain on a main Lahore road in front of hundreds of people. Heavens could have fallen apart; but having lost her son and threatened regarding the well-being of her daughters, Zain’s mother ‘forgave’ the culprit.

On 9 October, 2014, Malik Tahir, a young boy, was murdered by Abdul Qadir Gilani’s (son of Yusuf Raza Gilani) guard. Tahir’s cardinal sin was that, while on a bike with his brother, he had dared overtake Abdul Qadir’s vehicle.

On 8 May, 2014, 18-year-old Suleman Lashari was killed by Salman Abro, son of SSP Ghulam Sarwar Abro. After a minor altercation on overtaking his vehicle at Seaview Karachi, Salman, accompanied by five armed policemen, barged into the residence of Suleman and murdered him. Despite irrefutable evidence, a medical board reportedly declared Salman a juvenile on false grounds; the case drags on.

These are only some of the cases that came into the limelight given their coverage by the media. Scores of cases, especially in rural areas, go unreported because the perpetrators are from the impunity brigand.

Equality before law is one of the basic principles of the Islamic Justice System. To forgive is a virtue emphasized in Islam; Qisas and Diyat or blood-money too is an Islamic injunction. Coercion or threats to achieve any of the two is a criminal act in itself.

Qisas and Diyat provisions were enacted in 1997 as law at the behest of the Federal Shariat Court and Shariat Appellate bench of the Supreme Court.

It is a matter of record that murder conviction rates declined dramatically and the percentage of cases cancelled before prosecution increased. This is because the police and the accused prevail upon victim families to ‘settle’ the case out of court. In many cases, the Qisas and Diyat law has been invoked by murderers with threats and coercing the victims’ families. How can judicial forums and the executive remain oblivious to the blatant perversion of these provisions?

Socrates was found guilty of not accepting the gods of Athens and for corrupting the young. He was sentenced to death. Crito is a dialogue between Socrates and his friend Crito. In this dialogue Socrates refuses Crito’s offer to finance his escape from impending execution. His response is: “When a citizen chooses to live in a state, he has entered into an implied contract that he will do as the laws command him”.

Plato elaborated this in his last book ‘Laws’, asserting: “Where law is subject to some other authority and has none of its own, the collapse of the state is not far off; but if law is the master of the government and the government is its slave, then the situation is full of promise and men enjoy all the blessings”.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s much repeated refrain is ‘equality of all before law’ and his vision of transforming Pakistan into a welfare state. One has reason to believe in him. However, it is instances like Achakzai’s acquittal that symbolize the very negation of his declared vision.

The writer is a freelance contributor.

Email: [email protected]