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The Frailty of Judges: Many killers in Pakistan cannot be hanged, but the most 'un-hangable' is Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer




By Khaled Ahmed

February 28, 2015

There are many killers Pakistan cannot hang, but the one most “un-hangable” out of them is Mumtaz Qadri, ex-policeman, security guard of late Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, whom he shot full of bullets, thinking the governor had blasphemed. Qadri was sentenced to death by a judge of the anti-terrorism special court who had to flee abroad because the judicial process is now thoroughly subordinated to religious extremism. It is also unreliable because the judges may think like the killers when it comes to blasphemy.

When Qadri appeared in the court in 2011, the lawyers of Rawalpindi garlanded him and showered him with kisses. It is a measure of the lawyers’ grasp of the law that the killer had shot a man who had simply criticised the blasphemy law, which the entire world knows is a mousetrap for all rational citizens with a social conscience. One lawyer whom the media showed kissing Qadri was rumoured to have been appointed to the Islamabad High Court, which is hearing Qadri’s appeal against the death sentence. (The high court later found that the kisser in the picture was not the new judge.)

Now the wrongly identified judge is hearing the appeal and mercifully asking the right questions. How can you kill a person for blasphemy when he has simply raised objections to the manmade — and not divine — law? But the “legal team representing the convicted murderer outnumbered the police presence at the court” earlier this month. At least 90 lawyers came to court to defend Qadri, while over 300 of his supporters gathered outside court premises “to egg him on”, carrying placards and “shouting slogans in favour of the assassin”. In 2011, when the conviction took place, there were 3,000.

But the shocker is still to come: his defence was being led by Khawaja Muhammad Sharif, a former chief justice of the Lahore High Court, and another former high court judge, Mian Nazeer Akhtar. Both were admired by the government now in power — one was greatly pampered and the other made head of an Islamic charity. Unlike in other countries, where there is a mix of conservative and liberal judges in the judiciary, Pakistan appears to have only conservative judges, dotted with fanatical ones devoted to a literalist interpretation of the law.

In Lahore, when a small group of harried liberal citizens tried to stage a protest against the way Qadri was being glamorised, they were given a sound thrashing by “unknown individuals” as the police “stood aside and watched”.

The ex-judge leading Qadri’s defence admires the killers who attacked Charlie Hebdo in Paris. He has written a travelogue that reveals his personality. A Lahore lawyer, Khawaja Muhammad Sharif, travelled to the Philippines and the UK in 1995 and carefully recorded his observations during the tour. His jottings became the book that appeared in 2012, titled Shakh-e-Nazuk kay Ashiyanay (Nests built on a weak branch). Fifteen years later, he was the chief justice of the Lahore High Court.

The great law-giver of Athens, Solon (circa 638-558 BC), travelled “to be able to theorise”. The motive was wisdom rather than information. The travelogue of Khawaja Sharif is clearly a testament of wisdom, as it reveals the traveller too. Khawaja Sharif the lawyer is clearly a man of great personal piety and deep commitment to his country. But he is no Oliver Wendell Holmes. He wrote the book as he travelled, jotting down each detail of the day. Like all lawyers, he lacks style, which is forgiveable in a profession that requires prolixity on the trot.

The London journey is a linear description of calling on expat Pakistanis at their homes, who regaled Khawaja Sahib with food. Indeed, the cataloguing of food is so persistent that each page has him eating twice or thrice, which seems abnormal. On Page 79, Afzal Butt, of Sheranwala Gate, gave him cold lassi followed by chicken tikka, daal and chicken curry, taken with extra-large tandoori rotis.

On Page 84, he feels sleepy, and by Page 93, he has a toothache. By Page 152, he is positively ill after eating “qima wali roti” and has to take pills. On Page 191, he is laid low by Khalid Butt’s “samosas”. There are parallels to Ibn Battuta’s “rihla” (travelogue) to medieval India, in which Battuta judges alien societies on the basis of the conduct of their women, whom he liked marrying in great numbers. In the case of Judge Sharif, the surrogate is endless food.

Khawaja Sahib is properly censorious about England’s “loose morals”. On at least three different pages he observes and regrets the way the women of England do “bos-o-kinar” (petting) with men in public. However, the climactic orgy takes place during Khawaja Sahib’s meeting with Mian Shahbaz Sharif, now chief minister of Punjab but then living in exile in London. Khawaja Sahib, who had been president of the Lahore High Court Bar Association, had written to him to return and lead the campaign of struggle (Tehreek-e-Nijat) against the PPP government. Shahbaz Sahib was duly grateful. When Khawaja Sahib retired as chief justice, he was allowed to keep living indefinitely in the official residence he was supposed to vacate.

On Page 121, Shahbaz Sharif got him over to his apartment and, you have guessed it, treated him to a lavish meal, giving him “chun-chun kar botian” (select pieces of meat) with his own hands. Later, they had “ras malai” and “rasgulla” too, with a box of sweets to accompany Khawaja Sahib as he left. Shahbaz Sahib also offered him money, which he declined, but once out of the apartment, he realised he had eaten too much.

He was too obliging a guest to refuse hospitality; otherwise, he could have refused to eat “kharbuza” after he had had his fill of “alu bukhara” from the back garden of one Chaudhry Sharif (sic). On his way back, he ran into Ishaq Dar Sahib (today Pakistan’s finance minister) at Heathrow, also in exile because of the rascalities of the PPP, who had come to see off his children.

This gluttonous judge is today defending the killer Qadri, when everyone knows that the judges are too scared to judge. There are a number of great offenders we cannot punish in Pakistan: Maulana Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid, who attacked Islamabad’s local and foreign citizens in 2007; Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi of Mumbai terror fame in Adiala jail, where he rules; so does Ahmad Saeed Sheikh in Hyderabad jail, involved in the Daniel Pearl case and earlier sprung from an Indian jail; Abdur Rehman in Karachi jail, leader of the killing-machine of Jandullah; Malik Ishaq, leader of the Shia-killing Lashkar-e-Jhangvi; Dawood Ibrahim of D-Company; Captain Haroon Ashiq, killer of Major General Naqvi; Hafiz Saeed, with UN head money of $10 million; Masood Azhar, leader of the Jaish-e-Muhammad, sprung from an Indian jail; and Fazlur Rehman Khalil, with $5 million head money.

Khaled Ahmed is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek Pakistan’