HRS International

Pakistan’s morality for sale

The man known as Raymond Davis (it is not his real name, as American authorities point out) was acquitted last week by a court in Lahore on charges of murdering two Pakistani men. The question that needs to be asked is this: has Pakistan become so poor that the lives of men are worth money in return for murder?

Pakistan’s morality for sale

By Rooshanie Ejaz, HRS Islamabad

The man known as Raymond Davis (it is not his real name, as American authorities point out) was acquitted last week by a court in Lahore on charges of murdering two Pakistani men. Leaked documents show that after Davis was unable to establish that he had diplomatic immunity, detailed and lengthy negotiations with the families of the deceased men resulted in their receiving cash and U.S. residential visas in exchange for Davis’s acquittal.

Whether Raymond Davis was or wasn’t acting in self-defence, whether he was a CIA operative or not, are not the questions I am interested in here. The whole truth of the matter is not known by the public and never will be. The question that needs to be asked is this: has Pakistan become so poor that the lives of men are worth money in return for murder?

The sad answer is: yes. This is not because American has a stranglehold over Pakistan and it is not the result of some conspiracy. Nor does it have anything to do with poverty. It has to do, rather, with the laws of Diyat (the payment of blood money) and Qiyas (deductive analogy) that were incorporated into the Pakistani constitution.during General Zia-ul-Haq’s military rule.

In laymen’s terms, these laws state that in accordance with sharia law, murder is not to be treated as a public offence but rather as a civil offence. Such a policy is alien to the West, where for hundreds of years murder has been prosecuted as an offence against society – and rightfully so, for a murderer by any name is a murderer and represents a menace to the peace and order of the entire society. In Pakistan, one consequence of the treatment of murder as a civil offence is that as little as 12 % of murder cases are actually prosecuted. Once it has been established that a murder has taken place, the victim’s relatives need only produce an “agreement deed” affirming that they have been paid in accordance with “Islamic law” in order for the perpetrator to get off scot-free.

In effect, these laws mean that if you have money, you can murder. It also means that if the victim’s family forgives the murderer, he will be acquitted. But what if the murder is committed by the family? Take, for example, the case of Samia Sarvar. At age 17 she was forced into an arranged marriage with a cousin. After years of abuse, she wanted to file for divorce while her parents were away on a pilgrimage to Mecca. She engaged a human-rights lawyer, Hina Jillani, to assist her with her ordeal. (In Pakistan, in accordance with sharia law, a woman cannot divorce her husband without his consent.) When her parents found out about Samia’s plans, they hired a hit man to murder her. She was shot in cold blood at Jillani’s office, with Samia’s mother (a doctor) serving as both witness and accomplice. When the killer was brought to trial, Samia’s parents signed an agreement with him and presented it in court, whereupon he was acquitted. The perfect crime!

The Diyat and Qisas laws openly violate international human-rights agreements. They swathe the perpetrators of honour killings in a cloak of religious justifications. Between 1981 and 2000, the murder rate in Pakistan has risen by 6.5 % annually. Murderers are walking free amongst us and the Pakistani government, by allowing these laws to stand, has effectively abdicated itself of the responsibility of arresting, prosecuting, and punishing them

Thousands rose in protest after Raymond Davis’s release. They included prominent politicians, doctors, lawyers, and clerics. I have not noticed that imams and mullahs have issued fatwas and levelled death at these protestors, as they did when Salman Taseer, the deceased governor of Punjab, publicly disputed the death sentence passed on Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of four, for blasphemy. Is it not also blasphemy to protest against the “Islamic” acquittal of Raymond Davis?

Hundreds of perpetrators of honour killings and other murders have been acquitted under these laws. Why was there no protest against any of these verdicts? The wall of silence was not broken until a Western man paid blood money. The reason for this discrepancy is obvious. Pakistanis have become drugged by the ‘opium of the masses’. As a rule, we do not see the suffering of women, children, and the poor as actual suffering so long as a ‘divine’ deal has been struck.

In 1992, a man named Ishtiaq murdered his sister to obtain her property. The case went to court and Ishtiaq was acquitted after he and his parents (the sister’s ‘heirs’) produced an agreement deed. As recently as 2000, one Ijaz Ahmed shot his sister several times for failing to iron his clothes when he asked her to do so. The court sentenced him to 14 years in prison, as he is obviously a danger to society. He and his parents appealed to the high court, presenting the agreement deed, and Ijaz Ahmed was freed.

These 1400-year-old laws allow criminals to hide behind a holy book. They allow women to be murdered by their families in the name of honour. They allow the rich to do as they please, without moral compunction, as long as they have the means to pay compensation for any ‘insect’ they choose to abuse or even murder.

I interviewed a gentleman once about sharia law. He worked at a prominent media institution and sported a long beard as mark of his religious devotion. After much argumentation back and forth, I asked him simply if it is possible to implement all aspects of sharia without violating the human rights of any individual. He replied that “Unless the entire population under sharia law consists of Muslims of the same sect [there are over 100 different ones], and unless all the laws are implemented with 100 % honesty – and quite frankly, my dear, human error does not allow them to be – no, it is not possible that sharia law can be practised without someone falling short of receiving his or her basic human rights”. Even he, with his loyalty to Islam, couldn’t in all honesty claim that these laws are fair.

This mentality which allows any crime to be papered over with money not only does harm in cases of murder. To my astonishment, I have heard many a Muslim women claim with absolute pride that “Islam is a religion that empowers women! I could ask my husband to pay me for breast feeding my baby if I wanted.” Can everything be reduced to money – up to and including the sustenance we are morally responsible for providing to our children?

Pakistanis stand at grim crossroads. It is vitally important for us, as a nation, to stop identifying ourselves with the Wahhabi brand of Islam, which is preached and implemented so aggressively with the open support of Saudi Arabia and other oppressive nations. For a country is worth absolutely nothing if we continue forever to equate the blood of its men and women with a few camel hides.