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Order Through Lawlessness: Understanding Extrajudicial Killings

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The plague of extrajudicial killings continues to affect Pakistan since its inception. A string of murders committed outside judicial sanction have made headlines throughout the history of Pakistan. The scene of these murders stretches from open courtrooms to behind closed doors in police custody.

Recently, an elderly man appearing in Peshawar Judicial Complex on the charges of blasphemy was fatally shot six times in front of a judge by the 19-year-old Khalid Khan. Khalid confessed to the crime and prided himself for killing someone who he deemed an infidel. He told the police that the previous night the Prophet (PBUH) visited him in a dream and ordered him to kill the alleged blasphemer. Khalid was celebrated as a “lion of Islam” for killing an unarmed elderly man in broad daylight in front of several witnesses. He was showered with praise and hugs during his court appearance. A similar response met Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of Governor Salman Taseer, during his court appearances. He was dowsed in flowers; his followers circulated his pictures on social media and sang his praises.

Analysts believe that the response that these people receive upon taking the law into their own hands is one of the primary motivations behind the acts they commit. It can be argued that these killings are a product of our cumbersome justice system. Mumtaz Qadri’s execution was carried out nearly six years after he shot Governor Salmaan Taseer in broad daylight. The gaping holes in the justice system and the glorification received from the public can be a dangerous combination. It compels these people to think that they will be celebrated like heroes or that they will get away with their actions.

But the cases of extrajudicial killings are not just about religious vigilantes.

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When SSP Rao Anwar’s case surfaced, it was found that he was responsible was 444 extrajudicial killings. In February of 2019, an appeal was filed in the Supreme Court for an inquiry into the degree of culpability for the mass killings. It was also brought to court’s attention that SSP Rao Anwar had been partaking in extrajudicial killings since 2011, yet not a single inquiry was conducted against him. After the lengthy judicial proceedings, no sentence was passed against him.

In 2019, Salahuddin, a mentally challenged prisoner, was tortured to death while in custody in a cell in Rahim Yar Khan. In the light of Salahuddin’s custodial death, three policemen were suspended, and an investigation was initiated. However, one month later, Salahuddin’s father “forgave” his son’s murderers “in God’s name.” It is unclear whether settlement money was paid to Salahuddin’s father or he was threatened into taking back his claim.

According to the extensive research conducted by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), the number of extrajudicial killings by the police amounted to 2,108 men and seven women in 2015. Out of these, 696 people were killed in Karachi alone, while 1,191 men and three women were killed in Punjab. Perhaps the most brutal of these killings included the murder of four people, including a husband, his wife, their teenage daughter and their neighbor in Sahiwal. They were returning from a wedding in Burewala when police opened fire on their car at a toll plaza on the Lahore-Sahiwal highway. The police mistook this harmless family for a bunch of terrorists.

The rule of law in Pakistan has mostly been de jure; although it is guaranteed in legislation, it is seldom practiced. AV Dicey identifies three aspects that constitute a classical definition of the rule of law.

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1) Absence of arbitrary powers. This highlights the absolute supremacy and predominance of the law, where the state and its authorities should not practice arbitrary powers. Arbitrariness and discretionary forms of power distort the rule of law.

2) Equality before law. This emphasizes that provisions of the law must apply to citizens, police, and judges alike. It indicates that no man or authority is above the law, regardless of their social standing.

3) General rules of constitutional law are the result of judicial decisions. This means that the rights and liberties granted and restricted by the constitution result from cases brought before the judges and decided as per judicial reasoning.

Listening to daily news updates in Pakistan is enough to realize that the rule of law in this country is non-existent. A high degree of arbitrariness is apparent in the decisions passed by our courts. The decisions sometimes vary from province to province, and in other cases, from the rich to poor. In most cases, money and power expunge people from their rightful punishments. In his Politics, Aristotle writes, “Where there is no rule of law, there is no constitution.” This quote concisely encapsulates the justice system of Pakistan.

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