The Supreme Court must have wrung its hands in despair when ordering the release of Malik Ishaq on bail on July 14 because of insufficient evidence produced by the prosecution. It is not the first time that a dreaded terrorist has been allowed to walk in Pakistan and not the first time that a banned terrorist organisation has garlanded him in triumph at Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat prison, indicating to Pakistan’s civil society who is really in charge.
Malik Ishaq’s counsel declared that his client had been imprisoned for over 12 years and that the prosecution had failed to produce any cogent evidence which could implicate him in any of the 44 cases of culpable homicide for which he was accused, out of which he had been acquitted in 34. He is the founder of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ), which is aligned with al Qaeda along with Jandullah and Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan. Like Omar Sheikh, another terrorist linked to LJ and al Qaeda, he was not subdued by jail conditions. He allegedly continued to plot terrorist acts and was accused of having executed the attack against the Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009. The news of his release will not be well received in Sri Lanka. Nor by Iran whose diplomat he had allegedly killed in Multan.
It has already been reported that Malik Ishaq had in October 1997 admitted to an Urdu daily to being involved in the killing of over a 100 people. He was flown from Lahore to Rawalpindi in 2009 on a military plane to get the al Qaeda-linked terrorists to negotiate with attackers who had taken several people hostage inside GHQ. On his release, he was accompanied by Sipah-e-Sahaba chief Maulana Muhammad Ahmad Ludhianvi who is in triumph today, having made a political deal in Punjab after the alleged killing of a minority group in Gojra.
Prosecuting terrorists is a problem in Pakistan because of fear. This fear becomes credible when seen against the background of the retreat of the state in the wake of state-sponsored jihad that began in the 1980s. When you receive a phone call that you can be killed if you investigate a certain leader of a certain terrorist group, you have to believe it, no matter if you are a judge at the lower judiciary or a mid-level police officer. These examples, and there seem to be many, clearly point to a severe weakening of the state: In Multan, a judge is hamstrung with another LJ killer, Akram Lahori, witnesses against whom have either been killed or have run away.
There is another more serious matter, that of reverse-indoctrination: Those who prosecute these killers are infected with the same kind of perverted faith mandating the killing of a Muslim by another Muslim. On top of the list of laws that make this happen and persuade the state functionary to make common cause with the terrorist is Pakistan’s blasphemy law, especially close to the heart of Malik Ishaq. Many among the police posse that surrounded him during his release must have nodded vigorously at his statement that he will continue to kill the ‘insulters’. One policeman in collusion with others in his security detail was able to brutally murder former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer. Let it be clear to all Pakistanis that a group of lawyers showered flower petals on the governor’s killer and the court has been most reluctant to proceed normally with the case.
A lot of people have died complaining that terrorists released by the courts will put them to death. There have been cases where judges have been reluctant to hand down a verdict. In the case of Riaz Basra, the first big sectarian killer, a number of judges hearing the case at the Lahore High Court moved on from their jobs before finally the man was convicted for killing an Iranian diplomat. After he escaped, the state finally decided to kill him in a ‘police encounter’. Basra was so bold that on one occasion he proved to the PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif that he could kill him any time he wanted within his security compound. Tragically, political parties have learned to coexist with such killers instead of punishing them for terrorising the common man.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 16th, 2011.