At this point, Shafqat Hussain has been discussed ad nauseam in the media. There is no shortage of questions regarding his case and the hunt for answers continues. We have a civil society chomping at the bit to save Shafqat, a trigger-happy court waiting to give him the rope and a government juggling its powers to please them both. Is this case about a wrongly convicted boy? Is this case about a rightly convicted boy given the wrong sentence? Was he even a “boy’ when convicted? And, finally, is all of this a ploy to reinstate the moratorium on the death penalty?

In the aftermath of December 2014, Shafqat Hussain’s case was brought to the spotlight once more through news networks and the social media. A game of tug of war between civil society and various Government entities then ensued, debating the legitimacy of executing this death row inmate. Where we now stand, Minister of Interior Ch. Nisar has succumbed to the pressure of civil society advocates and postponed Shafqat’s execution for another 30 days until his age may be conclusively determined.

To clear misconceptions regarding this case, it is imperative to truly understand what is at stake. The issues with this case are two-fold. Firstly, the issues relate directly to the specifics of the case. Secondly, and more importantly, there are the possible repercussions, which have interesting implications for the judicial system in the long run.

Regarding the specifics, the question at the heart of the matter is whether Shafqat was, in fact, fourteen at the time of his conviction and sentencing. To this end, it may be prudent to mention that Shafqat Hussain exhausted his right of appeal and, as is repeatedly mentioned, at no significant point was his alleged age or lack of capacity addressed as a factor, especially during sentencing. Also, the President rejected an additional request for a pardon.

Further issues were raised regarding the competency of the defense counsel and the use of evidence allegedly obtained through torture. Again, these issues are now coming to the surface after eleven years. The criminal justice system allows someone facing criminal charges the opportunity to select his own lawyer and even to object to a lawyer appointed on his behalf by the state. During the proceedings, the presiding judge is allowed to raise any questions or issues that they feel are necessary as per Qanun-e-Shahadat. In light of all of this, raising these issues now to cast doubt on the legitimacy of Shafqat Hussain’s trial in a bid to discredit the use of the death penalty may be disingenuous. These are issues that the test to determine his age and a thorough examination of his case records can resolve.

The secondary set of issues, those that are broader in nature, are the ones that make us uneasy. If Shafqat Hussain was actually fourteen when sentenced to death, then his case should be sent back to the appropriate court to address his death sentence. This would of course open Pandora’s 8,000 death row prisoner-filled box, giving every inmate ammunition for appeal by establishing reasonable doubt regarding the general competence and credibility of our criminal justice system.

On the other hand, if his age is proved to the extent that he was not a juvenile at the time, then the efforts exerted by civil society raise some serious eyebrows. On this one case, a case already appealed to the Supreme Court, we have stretched the boundaries of re-examination to the extent that a retrial of sorts is playing out daily in the news. This power to halt the process of punishment for criminals, this power to dominate the headlines, we have given it away too easily. This begs the question, what was Shafqat meant to do? Is he a symbol? Would raising questions about his case bring enough international pressure to reinstate the moratorium on the death penalty? It is uncomfortable to think in yet another instance, an angry mob, in this case the “NGO-mafia” as they are so often called, can wield such power over the government, at least enough to bring every level of our criminal justice system into question.

Since we as a people seem to have a talent for exploring the conspiracy in all things, lets try that here. If our convicted killer was an innocent boy caught up in circumstance, then our justice system is out to get us. Those with less money and those with less power among us will suffer as a result. If this is the game of a weaponized civil society, then what is to be gained from turning Shafqat into a baby-faced symbol of injustice?

This is why the broader issues make us uneasy. We are both patriots and pessimists alike. We rise quickly to defend Pakistan from outsiders and we do not hesitate to share our opinion on our system’s incompetence. Our Shafqat problem is our larger problem. Who do we trust?