Ajmal Pahari’s release

Published February 9, 2022

IT is on occasions such as the release of Shahnawaz, better known as Ajmal Pahari, that the public’s trust in the country’s justice system falls to new lows. Pahari, a former MQM worker and an alleged hitman, is said to have been involved in over 100 targeted killings in Karachi. He remained in and out of jail for years, with the courts acquitting him in several cases as they were unable to find enough evidence to convict him in even one. Last week, a video of a ‘changed’ Ajmal Pahari in religious garb went viral on social media, following his unpublicised release from Sukkur jail on Jan 14, after a court granted him bail in the remaining cases against him. Similarly, Uzair Baloch, a notorious gangster from Karachi’s Lyari area, and chief of the banned People’s Amn Committee, is allegedly involved in scores of cases of murder, kidnapping and extortion. Yet, he has been ‘rewarded’ with acquittals in around 20 out of the 70 or so cases in which he has been reportedly named. Given this trajectory, it will not be surprising if the law fails to nail Uzair Baloch in the remaining cases.

It is no secret that the arrests of both men came about due to the loss of their political patronage rather than the professional capabilities of the law-enforcement agencies, which remain unable or unwilling to build even a single iron-clad case against them. However, it is also true that systemic issues such as lack of operational independence for LEAs and flawed witness protection programmes, combined with limited evidence-gathering capabilities and forensic processing, have created serious hurdles in ensuring convictions in such cases. Moreover, the state has provided ample opportunities to political and criminal elements to influence sections of the judiciary and prosecution — either out of apathy or because it has its own agenda. Such an approach always extracts a heavy cost and sends a message to even the most dangerous criminals that their chances of escaping the clutches of the law are very good indeed.

Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2022

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