Cleric Mufti Abdul Qavi’s first appearance before the court in connection to the murder of Qandeel Baloch was an eventful one, to say the least. When the honourable cleric learned that his petition to have his bail extended would be denied, he fled the courtroom with the help of a few lawyers and policemen, led the law enforcement on a merry chase, and was eventually tracked down through his mobile phone and arrested.

While people will surely make their own conclusions on this undignified escape attempt, the prompt arrest and indictment has already drawn praise for the law enforcement and justice system from the public. Perhaps the justice system can hold connected and influential offenders accountable after all.

While the Mufi Qavi episode is certainly emboldening, the meat of the matter – the trial and the conviction – remains as is. High profile arrests and lengthy indictment sheets are a necessary part of the process, but also the easiest one. The task of the government gets exponentially difficult when the cases go through the long trudge of regular hearings away from the shine of the glaring cameras. It is here, away from the spotlight, that the law is subverted, and the justice system’s weaknesses are laid bare.

We have to look no further than Haripur to see this happen in a similar case. Not factually similar, but the Mashal Khan case touches on many of the same issues; religious motives, national outrages, high-profile investigations, and most importantly, a courtroom struggling to fight influence. It also shows how even the most well-meaning of prosecutions can falter at their job.

The prosecution’s first private witness backed off from his statement that he had recorded before the judicial magistrate, Mardan, that he had seen one of the principal accused opening fire at the student. This was followed by a withdrawal of the other three witnesses as well. The prosecution lawyers were left dumbfounded, weakly alleging witness interference and vowing to appeal.

While several departments of our legal system require urgent attention, witness protection remains the most woefully neglected. Protecting witnesses from outside pressure and influence is another matter; the government has been unable to secure the physical safety of witnesses in many high-profile cases – a fact that is reflected in our abysmally low conviction rate and the most common reason for acquittal, “lack of evidence”.