Meet Asma Nawab, The Lady Who Was Failed By Pakistan's Justice System

By Alveena Jadoon | 22 May, 2018

Asma Nawab is a victim of the justice system of Pakistan. Her story can never leave the walls of the prison cell she spent 20 long years in.


Imprisoned for a crime that she did not commit, Asma Nawab had to stay in prison for two decades because of the inefficiency of Pakistan’s justice system

Back in 1998, in the city of Karachi, a robber broke into Asma’s house. He murdered Asma’s parents and her brother. The crime made headlines on mainstream media and the sudden attention pushed for a speedy trial. A speedy trial is not the usual course taken by our justice system and that impacted the outcome. Asma and her then fiance were given death sentences.

In these last 20 years, her crime could not be proved. As speedy as her trial was, her release was as slow. It was only in 2015 that her lawyers finally petitioned the Supreme Court (SC) to take up her case. The SC also took its time and after three years of hearings, they released Asma due to lack of evidence proving that she committed the crime.


These are 20 years of someone’s life, we are talking about. Asma is now 36 years old

She has no sense of how the world has evolved and what tools are required to survive in the society today, especially without an immediate family. She is a victim of the justice system that either takes too long to solve cases that people resort to other means of justice or too soon that they end up taking away 20 years of someone’s life.

In a report this year, over 1.8 million cases are pending in Pakistani courts. As per the latest statistics of the Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan (LJCP), there are 38,539 cases pending with the SC, 293,947 with the five high courts and 1,869,886 cases with the subordinate judiciary of the four provinces and the federal capital.

These cases are not recent. Some of the cases date back to the early years of Pakistan. This goes to show how speedy the justice system is.

One example is of Sheikh Abdul Waheed. He purchased a commercial plot in an auction on November 11 in 1956. To this day, he does not have possession of that plot because the case is pending in the SC due to litigation over the plot.

This makes Pakistani people resort to alternative means of justice

In this case, the reliance on jirgas and panchayats increases. Even though constitutionally, the existence of jirgas and panchayats is illegal but the government believes that this provides speedy justice to those who cannot afford to contact the justice system of Pakistan.



“A jirga is a traditional assembly of leaders that make decisions by consensus and according to the teachings of Pashtunwali.” Jirgas are most commonly prevalent in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and in Karachi as well.

“Traditionally panchayats consisted of wise and respected elders chosen and accepted by the local community. However, there were varying forms of such assemblies. Traditionally, these assemblies settled disputes between individuals and between villages.” These panchayats are prevalent in the province of Punjab.

The idea behind a jirga or a panchayat is not wrong but the fact that they follow orthodox beliefs is what makes the practice wrong. In several cases, panchayats and jirgas have treated women inhumanely for crimes committed by men. And that tradition is being followed since the time these alternative justice systems were set up.

What is even more problematic is the government’s reliance on them to provide speedy justice as well but not defining their boundaries that they end up violating the lives of innocent people.

We have also witnessed the advent of the military courts

Back in 2015, the government introduced the 21st amendment to the constitution of Pakistan. This amendment allowed the military to set up courts to try people in terrorist offenses. There were two reasons for it. The first was that the justice system would take a lot of time to execute criminals, and the second was the threat attached to dealing with such cases which civilian lawyers could not handle.


The amendment was supposed to expire on January 7 in 2017 but it has been granted extensions repeatedly. The idea was to equip our own judicial system to deal with such cases but the process still has not been completed.

At the same time, the court does not offer a free trial to those suspected of being involved in these activities. This is against the fundamental rights of the individual, as offered by the constitution.

In the recent past, we have seen the Supreme Court taking up a lot of cases

The SC has taken suo-moto notice in several cases recently. The Zainab case is one instance, which sped up the process of investigation.  The SC also took notice of the encounters by the Punjab police. Same is the case with the performance of the government departments.

While these notices speed up the process and calm down the agitated public, they do not solve the actual problem at hand and that is the justice system. The system which lacks the resources, the manpower, and the efficiency to solve the problems of the growing population.


The Horrors Behind The Jirga System In Pakistan


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