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Editorial | Justice Denied: A Tragic Tale Of Two Fathers

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State and society in Pakistan are increasingly unkind to those who the country has already failed.

Nowhere could this be truer than in the cases of two elderly Pashtun men who had been looking for justice for their sons: Mohammad Khan and Iqbal Lala. Their families have been hit by the two most terrifying sources of violence in Pakistan.

On Monday Mohammad Khan, the father of Naqeebullah Mehsud — a victim of extra judicial killing in January 2018 — passed away. Khan had been pursuing Naqeebullah’s murder case till his last. The case assumed national importance and led to a major outcry across the country. An anti terrorism court (ATC) indicted infamous encounter specialist former SSP Rao Anwar and 17 others for the murder of Naqeebullah in the fake encounter. But Anwar and the former deputy superintendent of police Qamar are currently out on bail. Eight other policemen involved in the incident are in jail while former SHOs Amanullah Marwat and Shoaib Shaikh are absconders in the case.

Iqbal Lala lost his bright son Mashal Khan to the wild fury of religious fanaticism. While Muhammad Khan has left this world, Iqbal Lalal now faces charges of sedition for daring to participate in the Student March organized by progressive youth in Lahore.

Once again, there was progress made in Mashal Khan’s case when a Haripur ATC in February of this year, handed one person two death sentences, five persons multiple terms of life imprisonment, and 25 others jail sentences. But the court acquitted 26 others due to lack of sufficient evidence.

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More importantly, the sources of bigotry on campus and outside, the role of local politicos is yet to be addressed. In fact, the FIR against Iqbal Lala has been defended on social media and conspiracy theories have been presented as facts to prove that students mobilization is yet another effort by enemies to destabilize Pakistan.

While the elderly suffer on in their dignified composure, the young demanding change are not treated any better. Alamgir Wazir, nephew of outspoken MNA Ali Wazir, found himself spirited away from Punjab University’s campus by state authorities in the most suspicious circumstances – presumably for his speech at the Students’ Solidarity March in Lahore. Speculation on social media suggests it is because he had the gall to point out, in plain speech, the deprivation endured by marginalized regions of the country – and how some in these regions feel about it.

Meanwhile, the ordeal of popular academic and activist Dr. Ammar Ali Jan continues. He is included in sedition charges alongside Alamgir Wazir, veteran democrat and left-wing leader Farooq Tariq and others.

To glance at the experience of young men and women advocating rights and justice is particularly dispiriting. In any other country, academics and activists who inspire youth to stand up for themselves and demand progressive change would have been considered an asset and nothing else. But in Pakistan, a strange pall of suspicion hangs around such efforts as far as officialdom is concerned.

If Pakistan can no longer tolerate the voices of its best and brightest – across age-groups – then it bodes ill for the future cohesion of this deeply fractured society. Thinking minds ask themselves the same question again and again: how long can brute force be successful in sweeping legitimate and much-needed dissent under the carpet?

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While Ammar Jan and others face the courts for advising students on marching for their rights, a state official Rao Anwar accused of a spate of extrajudicial murders, can rest easy that even art installations gently pointing to his alleged atrocities will not be allowed to stand.

Our authorities are remarkably swift in taking action when they feel it is necessary. Nobody would know this better than Iqbal Lala or the late Mohammad Khan.

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