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Two men convicted several years ago of killing  Shahzeb Khan, the only son of a senior police official, in Sindh province have had their death sentences commuted to life imprisonment, which highlights how Pakistan’s justice system favors the wealthy and powerful over ordinary people.

Shahrukh Jatoi killed Khan on December 24, 2012, when the victim was returning from his older sister’s wedding with his family. On their way back they were stopped by a drunk, Siraj Talpur, who tried to harass Khan’s sisters. Khan stopped him and Talpur backed off, as he was alone.

Later Talpur and his friend Jatoi and other accomplices went to Khan’s home, shot him and fled the scene. Khan was taken to hospital but was declared dead.

The news was broadcasted on television and soon Jatoi and his friends were arrested. They were tried in a terrorism court and Jatoi and Talpur were both sentenced to death.

After the verdict, the families of the killers approached Khan’s family and threatened to kill their daughters.

Constant pressure from the powerful feudal and political families of Jatoi and Talpur led Khan’s father, Aurangzeb Khan, to sign a forgiveness deal. He appeared in court and said he had forgiven Shahrukh Jatoi and Siraj Talpur.

After that, the murder case was reopened. With the help of the Sindh provincial government, the case against Shahrukh Jatoi was weakened, resulting in the dropping of terrorism charges, and after that, it was a cakewalk for both the Jatois and Talpurs to manipulate the judicial proceedings and get their children out of jail and protect them from any legal consequences.

Khan’s father is said to have accepted 250 million rupees (about US$1.75 million) in blood money from the Jatoi and Talpur families to compensate him for the loss of his son. This money was taken in the name of Diya, an Islamic law that allows victims to forgive the accused in exchange for money. Raymond Davis, the US Central Intelligence Agency contractor who shot people in Lahore, was released under the same law.

This law dates back to the tribal Arab culture of centuries ago. The law protects wealthy and influential people as they can pay a large amount of money to the deceased’s family to avoid prosecution or a harsh sentence. This is often achieved through the use of pressure tactics or the exploitation of the family’s economic circumstances. Since this law has an affiliation with religion, there is no way that such legal loopholes can be discussed or debated in the conservative society of Pakistan.

The family of the deceased did the right thing by taking money from the influential feudal lords. There was a lot of criticism of the family at that time for allowing the sons of feudal lords to go free. But people who taunted Aurangzeb Khan actually had no idea of the ground realities of Pakistani society. When influential and well-connected people threaten to kill your children, when the children are being chased down every second, it is very hard for parents to risk the lives of their living children for the sake of dead ones. Only a fool would risk his children’s lives, knowing that the state and the institutions are in the pockets of the influential and well-connected.

The law protects wealthy and influential people as they can pay a large amount of money to the deceased’s family to avoid prosecution or a harsh sentence

This deal, however, was later rejected by the court and both Jatoi and Talpur were sentenced to death. However, after the death of Shahzaib Khan’s father and with the passage of time the media focus shifted away from this case, and the influential families of the two criminals made sure that their sons benefited from the loopholes in the system. As a result, they are no longer on death row as their punishment has been reduced to life imprisonment, which in reality means only seven years, as according to Pakistan Law, day sand nights spent in jail are counted as separate days. What a joke: killing someone mercilessly and destroying someone’s family and in the end spending seven years in jail, with luxuries available to them even behind bars.

It is actually the state that should have been in the forefront in this case. After all, this brutal murder sent waves of terror across the country, and it was just a matter of imposing the writ of the state. Sadly, the state itself has absolutely no interest in protecting the lives of its own citizens, which raises the question: Why should I remain a law-abiding citizen knowing that the state has left the law in the hands of criminals like Shahrukh Jatoi?

This is not the first incident where the influential have successfully played with the system. A young barrister was killed on a busy road in the capital Islamabad last year by the armed men of a famous Land Mafia person, Taji Khokhar, but the family of the victim is still helplessly seeking justice.

Zain, the only son of a widow, was shot on the main road in Lahore in front of hundreds of people by a drunk, Mustafa Kanju, son of the famous politician Siddique Kanju, but the widow who lost her only son gave a statement to the court that she could not fight this case against the influential man due to threats to her daughters, hence she forgave the culprit. The lady, who was forced to walk naked in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, is still seeking justice as the people who were involved in this brutal and inhumane act are connected to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s political party.

Unfortunately, the Pakistani political elite, solely for their own benefit, support and nurture these hardcore criminals and as a result, we see incidents like this where a family’s only son loses his life and the murderers are not even touched in some cases. Our collective approach of accepting crimes and violence has paved the way for this lawlessness. We love to gossip about murders and terrorist attacks as we sip our tea and coffee, or love to post sentimental messages on social media just to pass the time, and after a day or two forget the incident and always look forward to new ones.

This habit of gossiping and passing time idly, while doing nothing to bring about practical changes in society, is successfully being exploited by the political and feudal elites. They know that society is not ready to stand up for their rights, thinking that it is only Khan or Zain who have lost their lives and it will never happen to their kids.

The other hypocritical attitude is our behavior toward criminals. As criminals like Malik Riaz, Aleem Khan the Jatoi family, the Talpur family, Taji Khokhar and many others are rich and influential, we love to make connections with them; we even feel proud taking selfies with them. Until and unless we change our attitudes toward crime and criminals, innocent young men like  Khan will be shot to death every now and then. It was, unfortunately, Khan’s turn but it can happen to any one of us. A knock on our door or a doorbell ring and a murderer like Jatoi can shoot our kids too.

We have to act now. We must not accept the court’s decision to overturn the death penalties awarded to Jatoi and Talpur. We must pressure the government to take the matter to the Supreme Court of Pakistan. As long as hardcore criminals like Jatoi and Talpur do not receive justice, we cannot live without fear for our children.

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