Yes, Shahrukh Jatoi is a murderer, but is he a ‘terrorist’?

Published: January 2, 2018

The real issue is Pakistan’s controversial Qisas and Diyat laws which are religiously inspired and frankly prone to misuse and manipulation

Once again, the murder trial of Shahrukh Jatoi is making headlines. Since December 24th, 2012, the evening Shahzeb Khan was shot, the case has constantly been in and out of the media spotlight.

As per the latest developments, the Sindh High Court (SHC) ordered a retrial of the case in November 2017, following which the session court released the accused on bail on December 23rd, 2017. This development has shocked many, particularly those belonging to the civil society who showed their intention to challenge the decision in the Supreme Court.

Despite several obstacles and delaying tactics employed – including misleading statements about the age of the accused murderer – by the influential family of Jatoi, the Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) convicted Jatoi and his accomplices and awarded them strict punishments in June 2013.

But the case took a new turn when the deceased’s own family apparently reached some sort of a negotiation with the convict’s family and forgave him under the Qisas and Diyat law in September 2013. As per the law, the victim’s family can choose to do an out-of-court settlement and pardon the family of the accused. Usually, there is a certain sum of money (blood money) paid by the accused to the family of the victim as Diyat or Qisas. However, at that time, perhaps due to intense public pressure, the court did not proceed with the pardoning.

However, the case again took another dramatic twist when the SHC ordered a retrial, effectively nullifying punishments meted out to the accused as per the former verdict of the ATC court. According to the court, the pardon which the victim’s family had given in 2013 was void as the case had been tried in an ATC and included clauses of terrorism, and hence, granting a pardon should not have been possible in the first place. He ordered the retrial in a session court, which ironically also brought back the possibility of pardoning through Qisas and Diyat law into play.

In fact, the recent bail given to the accused from the session court materialised after the victim’s father, Aurangzeb Khan submitted an affidavit requesting the approval of Jatoi’s bail. He further requested the court to drop the case against the accused as he and his family had pardoned the convicts.

Now, however, the civil society has decided to challenge the retrial in the Supreme Court, arguing that it is a terrorism case and therefore SHC’s retrial should be put aside and the original verdict should be upheld.

The manner in which this case has become a media trial, it is impossible that the case is going to proceed in any sort of objective and normal way. Too many emotions of very well-meaning members of Pakistan’s civil society are attached.

While I agree with the good intentions of those who are challenging the verdict in the Supreme Court, I respectfully disagree with their strategy of trying to prove that the SHC was wrong in eliminating terrorism charges.

I have extremely high respect for people like Jibran Nasir. For the past some years, he has been at the forefront of liberal activism and has taken such positions bravely, which would make any liberal proud. He has stood up for minorities, spoken in favour of abducted bloggers when no one was risking speaking up, and also tried to provide an alternate narrative to the mainstream jingoism.

However, as mentioned earlier, in this case, while I agree with his intentions, I respectfully disagree with the methods he and some other activists are adopting.

In my opinion, in order to punish Jatoi, the definition of terrorism is being stretched and it is fundamentally a dangerous strategy to take. The Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) is itself a controversial law which can be manipulated and misused to punish political opponents and also stifle dissent. The law has enabled prosecutors to circumvent the normal judicial procedure and go for “speedy” justice even for ordinary crimes.

What Jatoi did was criminal and abominable, but bracketing it under terrorism is dangerous overstretching, which does not bode well for justice in the long run.

Furthermore, under the current law of Qisas and Diyat, Khan’s parents are, unfortunately, well within their right to pardon.

Now, from a strictly normative and moral point of view, the civil society advocates are correct in saying that what we are right now witnessing is travesty of justice as apparently the parents have forgiven the criminals under pressure (or through some alleged sort of settlement). However, their way of addressing is wrong. Rather than using this opportunity given by the high profile nature of the case, to spark a debate on the real issue, they are trying to just punish Jatoi using whatever means they can.

The real issue is Pakistan’s controversial Qisas and Diyat laws which are religiously inspired and frankly prone to misuse and manipulation. These laws have unfortunately often been used in honour killings in the past for pardoning the murderer who often happened to be the brother or close relative of the deceased woman.

In 2016, luckily, the Parliament passed an amendment thereby making a prison sentence necessary for the accused even if they have been pardoned under Qisas and Diyat; however this law continues to be used in other instances.

In 2011, it was this very law which was used to provide relief to Raymond Davis, much to the dismay of many religious parties. Ironically, before his release, all of them had been screaming about letting the Pakistani courts decide instead of giving diplomatic immunity to Davis. At that point, the court made use of this law and released Davis, showing the religious parties and the rest of the Pakistani patriotic brigade the extent of amenability of this law to be misused. Yet, instead of coming to their senses, their resistance to amending this law has not wavered much.

In fact, most of the Pakistani public, including those who felt such an outrage over Davis, want the entire legal system to be based on a strict religious code, showing that they do not understand the possible implications. It should be understood that applying strict literal religious laws in modern complex societies will always lead to problems.

I have pointed out in one of my earlier articles on secularism that one advantage of having a secular state is delinking of legal code from religion. However, unfortunately, the word ‘secularism’ is so extremely disliked that even talking about it is difficult. In this scenario, a good alternate is to suggest amendments to the Qisas and Diyat law, on the same lines as was done in 2016, which would make its misuse extremely difficult.

If our civil society is really serious about providing justice, they should be directing talking about this issue rather than trying to misuse another controversial law, the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997. Compared to blasphemy laws, where there is literally no room left for argument due to threats of extremely violent backlash, in this case, there is a precedent of amendments and it should not be an impossible task.

Misusing another controversial law to stop the misuse of the controversial Qisas law is not the answer. In fact, we are, in essence, reinforcing the validity of Qisas and Diyat law when instead of challenging it, we use an alternate and equally controversial route. Eventually, we will end up consolidating both theses regressive laws and it will be the society that will suffer.


Raza Habib Raja

The author is a recent Cornell graduate and currently pursuing his PhD in political science at Maxwell School, Syracuse University. He has also worked for a leading development finance institution in Pakistan. He is a freelance journalist whose works have been published at Huffington Post, Dawn (Pakistan), Express Tribune (Pakistan) and Pak Tea House. He tweets @razaraja (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • muzaffaralisyed

    if chasing down a victim with your heavily armed guards and then stopping the victim by hitting his car and gunning him down is not terrorism then I don’t know what is.Recommend

  • Murad Farooqui

    Great Article Raza Habib Raja. You, very eloquently highlighted the 2 real problems with Shah Rukh Jatoi case. One being the inclusion of Qisas and Diyat law in Pakistans penal system, which seems to favour the rich and influential and trial of Jatoi and accomplices under ATC, and that at the behest of a very inappropriately activist Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary at that time.Recommend

  • RHR

    Its always good to read the article rather than just the title, before you start to comment.Recommend

  • Junaid

    Jatoi gunned down another soul in open day light. Irrespective of the philosophical debate, Jatoi is both murderer and terrorist. Plain and simple.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Nicely argued …. I am not a legal person but what I understand is that the Pakistani legal system is a mishmash of British Law ( from colonial times ) and Islamic Law. So when you have an ‘ aadha teetar, aadha batair ‘ situation the end result is predictable… was seen in the Raymond Davis case and is now being played out in the Shahrukh Jatoi farce.Recommend

  • MJ

    The pardon given by the victim’s family was under great duress. They were threatened with their lives as well as the honor of their women. I don’t know what else can terrorism be defined as?Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    Terrorism court may be the only place in Pakistan that justice will be served when accused is Pakistani Elite!Recommend

  • Syed bukhari

    Another bad Face of our society, we can’t stop these kind of activities until we take it and feel it same for others, we only feel pain when someone affected from our family, I must say sorry to Shahzeb’s soul, that we can’t do anything we just here to talk and fight, practically we don’t want any changes in our society, we make fun of everything. People die we screamed for short time and forget.. This is how we are dealing with our issues . Next day we pretend like nothing happened yesterday. May God protect all of usRecommend

  • Saif

    I hope that the author gives his response to my comment. I do like your observations. Terrorism is basically murdering people based on an ideology and sowing fear in the process. If this monster was doing that to show the might and terror of the elites/bourgeoisie then I guess it sort of fits the definition. But it’s more likely that he did it out of a personal vendetta.
    The Author does make some valid arguments but I want to highlight another. People in Pakistan have lost faith in the criminal justice system. Terrorism is the hot topic nowadays and now anything and everything is linked to it in order to generate a more quicker and appropriate response. People believed that the National Action Plan (which tried to reinforce the ATA as well) could breathe life into the rotting corpse of the justice system of country. While it has yielded some results, its effectiveness is still debatable.
    Therefore the reason why prosecutors are playing the terrorism card is not because it fits the definition but rather they’re hoping that it would provoke a much larger response from the masses and possibly the military (although the latter is quite unlikely to get involved).Recommend

  • Sane

    Yes, Jatoi is is terrorist more, than a murderer. The judicial system is on test as whether a terrorist is punished or get a safe passage. No more jokes with people of Pakistan. The case must be decided to a logical and just conclusion with a due punishment.Recommend

  • Phantom

    Fact is, the rich and powerful of our country abuse all laws equally, whether religious or secular. The diyat and qisas law merely allow for the victims to exercise their ability to forgive. in essence, this is not much different from “out of court settlements” that many a secular jurisprudence permit.
    Furthermore, as you said, there is inherently nothing wrong with a family forgiving their culprit of their sons murder.
    The problem, therefore, is not the law or its origin. It is the abuse of power by a murderer and his family to clean up after him. Every time you see Jatoi on tv whether to or from a prison/court hearing, he is seen with a broad smile and a victory sign. What exactly is he celebrating victory over? He hasn’t been declared innocent by any court. No, he is celebrating his victory over the law itself. And that…is a problem.Recommend

  • MakeSense

    Just look at the photo of Shahrukh Jatoi.Try to imagine the context when it has been taken and one can feel terror. This is the test case to defeat this terror in ordinary citizens mind. This guy needs to be made an example to which we can look upon proudly in future.Recommend

  • muzaffaralisyed

    Its always good not to assume the person commenting has not read the articleRecommend

  • sultan Mrmood

    Can the learned author give us his own definition of terror?Recommend

  • Sane

    People of Pakistan are anxiously waiting justice to be done. Justice delayed is justice denied.Recommend

  • Khurram

    Well then, it is always sane to remain specific to the topic in question too.Recommend

  • Sane

    Setting him free is making this country crime friendly. Kasur incident and other many such are the results of apathy in this murder and terrorism case.Recommend

  • Sane

    Hang him high in public.Recommend

  • Momina Ali

    You can’t just accuse him of something he hasn’t done. He has killed only one person i.e Shahzaib, not anyone else!Recommend

  • Momina Ali

    I agree with the author. He is not a terrorist, but a murderer. This nation will label anyone with any kind of names. What Jatoi did is simply a murder, which should be called a murder, nothing more or less!Recommend

  • layla hai

    I hope people realize soon enough the need to challenge these primitive laws that don’t apply to our society at all.Recommend