The gruesome murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl on Pakistani soil in 2002 is perhaps one the most infamous events to have unfolded in the region post-911. Now after a period of 18 years, a two-member bench of the Sindh High Court has commuted the life sentence of Mr Sheikh and three others, citing insufficient evidence to establish anything more than a kidnapping charge.

The convicts are likely to be released from jail as the Sindh government deliberates on filing an appeal in the Supreme Court. If we take this judgement at face value, the fact that insufficient evidence was found against those formerly convicted implies that the court is not convinced of their guilt. Both the prospect of never having found the perpetrators of this heinous crime, or having let them go after 18 years is disheartening in the extreme.

The case has always been mired in controversy due to claims by journalists and US intelligence that while Mr Sheikh had definitely played a key role in the abduction of Daniel Pearl, the beheading had in fact been personally carried out by Khalid Sheikh Muhammad – currently imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay. He had confessed as a result of interrogation by US officials.

In light of this, it is unlikely that the Pakistani authorities will be able to produce fresh evidence to present a strong case if an appeal is indeed filed in the Supreme Court. As far as the kidnapping charge is concerned, the men have already served 18 years behind bars for the crime. However, in such scenarios that involve international terrorist organisations and hardened criminals, it is difficult to bring about a real sense of clarity and closure for those affected.

The Daniel Pearl case serves as a painful reminder of the terrible loss suffered by so many across the world due to the menace of terrorism. As Pakistan leaves behind the worst of the fallout and moves forward towards rehabilitation and normalcy, it must continue to strive to create a secure space for journalists and common citizens alike. The work of the Daniel Pearl foundation also serves as a model of immense courage and unbreakable resolve in response to unthinkable cruelty.