By Sonya Rehman
Towards the end of last December, a 20-year-old was gunned down in Karachi’s upscale Defence area by two young men hailing from well-known feudal families. The victim, Shahzeb Khan, was killed by Shahrukh Jatoi and Nawab Siraj Talpur over a seemingly insignificant tiff which fast escalated.
The incident unfolded on the night of December 24, when Talpur’s hired help, Ghulam Murtaza Lashari, teased Khan’s sister. A heated confrontation ensued. Moments later, Jatoi and Talpur ambushed Khan’s vehicle and opened fire, killing him on the spot.
While incidents such as these are not uncommon in Pakistan, Khan’s brutal murder has attracted intense interest from the Pakistani civil society, prompting local media to take note of the case and continue its coverage. Social media, too, has had a major role to play in the case.
“In memory of Shahzeb Khan”, a Facebook page set up by Khan’s friends and family, has oft been highlighted and spoken about in local print and broadcast media. The case has also sparked protests across the country – in every major city of Pakistan, primarily Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad.
Yet, given the immense support and interest that the case has generated, Khan’s family still awaits justice. In light of the fact that Khan’s father himself is a police officer, it seems odd that the killers are yet to be incarcerated. However, this isn’t surprising.
Khan’s murder sheds light on a grave problem that Pakistan faces: those in power from influential (primarily feudal and political) backgrounds are able to evade the law, pulling strings and escaping scot-free with blood on their hands. And this appears to be exactly what happened in Khan’s murder case.
Soon after Khan’s killing, Jatoi – the prime suspect – fled to Dubai. A local Pakistani channel, GEO TV, broadcast CCTV footage of Jatoi’s assisted escape. However, Jatoi soon surrendered himself to the authorities when his father was arrested in Karachi in Jatoi’s absence.
But since the shooting, the case is finding itself on shaky footing. The incessant delays and withdrawing of statements by eyewitnesses is testing nerves and patience.
In addition to dealing with the trauma of their son’s death, Khan’s family has also had to deal with damaging, malicious rumors meant to obstruct the case’s progression, and derail public support. One such rumor was that the culprits brokered a deal with Khan’s family.
However, Khan’s mother, Ambreen, was quoted in a report by The Express Tribune as saying that the family had held a press conference on March 18, “specifically to quash such rumors.” She added that crucial eyewitnesses were retracting their earlier statements because “Money is the name of the game.”
In his column for a local Pakistani daily newspaper, lawyer Saad Rasool issued a harsh assessment of the affair.
“We have, through our actions (or lack thereof), established a society where some people exist outside the empire of law,” he wrote, adding that over the centuries Pakistan has become “a culture of hereditary entitlement.”
He continued: “We have, through constantly voting along the ethnic and tribal divides, strengthened the tentacles of feudal power… We have, through years of apathy, become desensitized to loss of innocent lives. Let us accept it: WE have killed Shahzeb Khan.”
The Diplomat Magazine