By Sameera Rashid
September 16, 2013
Peruvian Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa, in his hauntingly beautiful novel Who killed Palomino Molero?, chronicles the attempts of entrenched power players to block the investigation of the murder of Palomino by an honest police officer. Llosa’s skill as a novelist lies not in hiding the identity of the perpetrator of the crime, for the reader knows almost from the start that the commander of the Air Force base had got Palomino killed for befriending his daughter and wooing her for marriage, but in mystifying the lethal social vortices of Peruvian society that provide the impetus for killing. By Llosa’s skillful cartography of power structures, the reader understands the real mystery that begets the crime.
To understand the twists and turns in the murder trial of Shahzeb Khan, Llosa’s novel comes in handy. We know who killed Khan, we know the circumstances of his death to the minutest detail now and we also know that his killers have been convicted by an anti-terrorism court after a long and valiant social media campaign by Pakistani youth.
Yet, the pardon of Shahzeb Khan’s killers by his parents and siblings — his legal heirs — has shocked activists and the public at large. A disappointed supporter has written on a Facebook page ‘Justice for Shahzaib’: “Shahzaib Khan was murdered on 25th December 2012. But he died today.”
No doubt, these words mirror the emotional hurt of thousands of supporters who endeavoured to win justice for Khan, but, at the same time, the sentence also depicts their naivety. Apparently, activists of the ‘Justice for Shahzeb’ campaign fail to understand the social context in which the country’s criminal justice system operates. Here justice is both blind and bound by power interests.
In popular iconography, the Roman goddess of justice is depicted wearing a blindfold to symbolise the objectivity and impartiality of the justice system. However, in Pakistan, the goddess of justice is blind to the interests of the meek of this land but tips the scales of justice to favour the strong and mighty in myriad ways that range from harassment of witnesses to mishandling of incriminating evidence to the laws that allow killers to go scot-free in the name of religion.
That said, activists must realise that the slain boy’s parents have done what was best for their interests: security of two young daughters, desire for normalisation of life, and belief that forgiveness and reconciliation might take the sting and sorrow out of their lives. So, instead of castigating the parents, they should direct their efforts at rectifying the wrongs of the justice system, especially by appealing to the courts for not acceding to the request of pardon under the Quisas and Diyat laws filed by the heirs of Shahzeb Khan.
Here arises a question: what is the philosophy behind Quisas and Diyat?
Quisas and Diyat laws are based on the principles of equal retribution and compensation. The precept of Quisas is an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose and tooth for a tooth, and Diyat is compensatory payment for the victim or the heirs of the victim, as provided in the Holy Quran. Many Islamic jurists argue that the rationale behind making Diyat part of the Islamic model of justice had been to end a cycle of tribal warfare Badal (vendetta), which could be perpetuated by the retributive model of justice. Therefore, to establish reconciliation between the families of victim and the offender, Sulh-i-Badal — monetary compensation — was enshrined in the Islamic laws.
The philosophical basis of the Quisas and Diyat laws is noble, but in an inequitable society like ours, by allowing individuals and not the state to decide the fate of the killers, the Islamic laws of punishment and compensation sideline the role of the state — and society that it represents — as the arbiter and guarantor of justice, causing moral chaos and legal malfunctioning.
The act of forgiving by the parents of Shahzeb Khan, at some point in time, might heal their wounds, but the pardon would not establish peace and harmony but foster Fasad fil Arz (mischief) in this land. The reason is simple: the ‘Justice for Shahzeb’ campaign has pitted a significant section of Pakistani society against the killers of the young man and the desire for retribution of killing is not limited to the immediate heirs of Shahzeb Khan but the whole society hankers for it.
Therefore, people and society at large, longing for justice and peace, like a well-meaning, brave prince in a fairytale, who crosses seven rivers of fire and slays countless dragons and gorgons to rescue a hapless damsel, must courageously fight the remaining dragons still lurking in the corner to bring the killers to justice.
Sameera Rashid is a public policy practitioner based in Lahore