Forgiveness for the powerful is not always divine

Forgiveness for the powerful is not always divine

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On February 2, a Lexus jeep broke a traffic signal on Islamabad’s Srinagar highway and plowed into a Suzuki Mehran, instantly killing four out of five passengers. It then emerged that the Lexus belonged to Federal ombudsman Kashmala Tariq and it was alleged that the vehicle, driving far above the speed limit and racing through a red light, was driven by her son. That part remains unproven, with Kashmala claiming that the errant vehicle was being operated by her driver, who later turned himself over to the police, was interrogated and then released.

Even at that early stage, where confusion as to who was driving the vehicle prevailed, there was one thing on which there was a near-unanimous public consensus: that this case, like so many others before it, would end in the victims ‘forgiving’ the offending party.

And so it went: a few weeks later the families of two of the four men who lost their lives submitted affidavits that said they had pardoned the accused ‘for the sake of Allah’ and had no objection to their release on bail.

Now forgiveness is indeed divine, and given the vagaries of our judicial system, an option for reconciliation should exist: not many families have the stomach or staying power to fight long, protracted court battles with little hope of relief. But time and again we find that this hallowed concept, when implemented, disproportionately favors the rich and relatively powerful. And while the Kashmala case is of an accident-- recklessness and violation of traffic rules notwithstanding, we cannot call it murder-- we have seen the forgiveness clause availed in far more heinous cases before.

Remember Shahrukh Jatoi? In 2012 this scion of a wealthy and influential family murdered Shahzab Khan and then, after a massive outcry on social and mainstream media, fled to Dubai to avoid arrest.

After many twists and turns he was apprehended and sentenced to death. But then, Shahzeb’s family approached the court saying that they had forgiven him ‘for the sake of Allah.’ We may never know what pressures were levied or what incentives were offered or if the family simply decided to cut their losses and compromise, but Shahrukh remains in jail today only because the then Chief Justice rejected the compromise.

Dr. Khalid Masud, former chairman of the Islamic ideology council, believes that the problem stems from the fact that the original spirit of the Qisas and Diyat laws was not preserved when these laws were written in the Pakistan penal code.

Zarrar Khuhro

A similar series of events were seen in the case of child maid Tayyaba who was brutally tortured by Judge Raja Khurram Ali and his wife Maheen Zafar, both of whom were sentenced to jail. Here too we saw that the girl’s parents ‘forgave’ the couple their trespasses after initially being adamant that they be prosecuted. And here too, it was the court that intervened to ensure some modicum of justice be done.

Such interventions are exceptions, and not the rule. 

The rule is that in too many cases a mixture of fear and incentive pushes the aggrieved party to pardon the offenders, with the entire process being sanctified by the Qisas and Diyat laws. 

Dr. Khalid Masud, former chairman of the Islamic ideology council, believes that the problem stems from the fact that the original spirit of the Qisas and Diyat laws was not preserved when these laws were written in the Pakistan penal code. Masud says the original purpose of the laws was to prevent the generational blood feuds that plagued contemporary Arab society, and were envisioned to be implemented in a very different scenario, with tribal ‘safeguards’ put into place. In an age dominated by tribal systems with no centralized government, murder was naturally a crime against the individual, not a then non-existent state. In the age of the nation-state, in the here and now, instead of healing the wounds of society, the process breeds impunity as an Islamic law has been decontexualized and implemented without safeguards to preserve the cause of justice.

Take Bushra Iftikhar who was stabbed to death by her husband Samiullah when she was pregnant with their fifth child. An inherently violent man, he had previously been arrested for assault and attempted murder but had paid off the families of the victims and this, according to the victim’s brother, left him feeling he could literally get away with murder. 

In the case of Raymond Davis, the state itself pressured the victim’s families to accept diyat. Some cause was certainly served, but not that of justice and much less of divine law. And this is also because the court more often than not takes such deeds of compromise at face value without making serious efforts to ascertain whether or not they were obtained under duress. Then there is the very real question of whether the court is even capable of making such a determination. 

Yes, there has been progress, as in the case of ‘honor’ killings where compromise and forgiveness are no longer an option, but even so, a great deal more reform is needed. Because to see a forgiveness clause meant to heal wounds be turned into yet another tool of oppression-- is frankly unforgivable.

– Zarrar Khuhro is a Pakistani journalist who has worked extensively in both the print and electronic media industry. He is currently hosting a talk show on Dawn News.

Twitter: @ZarrarKhuhro

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