The tragic incident at Lahore-Sialkot motorway has once again led to a familiar frenzy; the demand for stricter laws. The death penalty, that too with public hanging is being chanted with utmost fervour in and outside the Parliament. PM Imran Khan has come up with the novel idea to castrate the perpetrators if public hanging is restricted, with Pakistan a signatory of international human rights treaties.

Is it due to the lack of suitable and sufficient laws that culprits manage to roam around freely without fear of punishment? The answer is no on the basis of past evidence of ours and other countries.

Almost the same day when the PM proposed public hangings of rapists or using chemical castration, the Attorney General of Pakistan spoke about the bitter reality of our policing, prosecution and judicial system. The ruling elite knows very well but doesn’t want to acknowledge this, because it is a failure of governance. The country’s criminal justice is heavily tilted in favour of perpetrators of the crime rather than the victims, the Attorney General (AG) said while speaking at a ceremony to mark the start of a new judicial year at the Supreme Court.

Khalid Jawed khan, AG, mentioned the obvious which most of us know; injustice is at its worst if the perpetrator happens to be powerful, socially or financially. Wealth and social status raise an impregnable defence in favour of the perpetrators of all sorts of crimes while highlighting that gender-related crimes were endemic. Female victims, whether a three-year-old child or a mother of three, are particularly targeted; some even kill women as a matter of honour and for some women there is no peace even in their graves. The AG concluded that it’s time for serious collective introspection.

Collective introspective is what is missing in the public discourse on this issue. The main accused in the case, Abid Mallhi is a case in point. We are told by the provincial police chief that he has a criminal record since 2013. He was involved in a similar rape case in 2013 in his native area, his DNA was taken for the investigation of same case but later, he managed to get off scot free. How? With his family, he threatened the victims’ family and brokered a settlement which ended in withdrawal of the case. It is the same DNA sample stored in the database which has helped the police to identify him as the main perpetrator. The Police Chief stated in the same press conference alongside the Chief Minister that the perpetrator has about eight cases registered against him since his first heinous crime. The question arises; how come a criminal has been able to go free despite so many FIRs piling up against him? The answer lies in the remarks of the Attorney General.

A week ago, Abdul Majeed Achakzai, an MPA from Balochistan, was freed in a dreadful accident case that involved the killing of a police constable on duty. CCTV footage revealed how mercilessly the accident took place. The accused had confessed in various tv interviews after the incident that the vehicle belonged to him and he was in the vehicle; presumably driving it too. Despite widely-shown CCTV footage and the accident in broad daylight at a busy intersection, no witness “saw him driving”.

Two years ago, it took about ten little girls’ lives in Kasur; raped and killed by the perpetrators and then coincidently Zainab’s ordeal surfaced. The media, social media and civil society chanted about this non-stop, which finally prompted the provincial government to go into crisis gear. Similar calls for public hanging were chanted at the time as well. The perpetrator was arrested and hanged. Justice was delivered but did it end similar crimes in that area at least if not in the whole country? Sadly, not.

The Motorway case is a brutal reminder of how poor governance and callousness of the governance can unleash hell on ordinary citizens. The Lahore-Sialkot Motorway was not officially handed over to Motorway Police. Hence, neither the Motorway Police was obliged to carry out patrolling, nor Punjab police felt the need to do so. This was an open invitation to criminals, wasn’t it?

The callousness of our ruling elite has turned public discourse to their own polity. The quality of debate in the parliament was sickening and has usually focused on mud-slinging. Social media was abuzz with debates about stricter laws. Meanwhile, the media was filled with non-stop news stories of child abuse and rapes. A victim in Bahawalpur took poison to end her ordeal due to the police’s attitude.

In this backdrop, the demand for stricter laws may be a tried and tested political optic, but is not a solution. The solution lies in the comments of the Attorney General; the country’s criminal justice is heavily tilted in favour of perpetrators of the crime rather than the victims. Fix it, if you can.