Dr Shakil Afridi, who allegedly helped the American spy agency find Osama bin Laden, has no legal counsel as of now. His legal counsel has resigned, citing pressure from the US and militant counsels as a cause.

This is hardly a surprise. On Wednesday, renowned human rights lawyer Rashid Rahman was murdered in his office. His colleague who was fighting the case with him, Advocate Allah Dad Khan, wrote to the Chief Minister and the police in April, claiming that two lawyers amongst others, threatened them to not appear in the blasphemy case. Akram Shiekh, the government’s prosecutor in the Musharraf’s treason case said he was being threatened by the agencies. Even Musharraf’s lawyers claimed they were “threatened with beheading” by militants.

Lawyers in Pakistan have two added disadvantages. First, they work in the courts which represent the state, and are therefore far more likely to come under attack from non-state factions. They are in the public eye and more importantly, record. Second, they come under fire after taking up controversial cases dealing with terrorism, sectarianism, blasphemy or high-profile politicians. This has repeatedly happened in cases related to blasphemy. Of course, the threat is not exclusive to lawyers. Judges too, come under fire. Judge Pervez Ali Shah, the district court judge who sentenced Mumtaz Qadri to death, left the country soon after because of death threats. Militants openly approach the courts, sometimes with guns, and blackmail the judiciary and lawyers into giving the decision of their choice.

How is it possible to fight extremism if those with the mandate for delivering justice are consistently left unprotected? Today Shakil Afridi’s defense dropped out. It will be no surprise if others follow suit. Who will defend those allegedly on the other side of the traditional mindset? The state must begin, in earnest, the heavy task of probing into such cases or get ready to lose more lawyers and judges.