A sickening, circular reality becomes starkly visible when examining the Salmaan Taseer murder case. As government prosecutors refuse to appear for the Jan. 27 hearing at the Islamabad High Court, there are a myriad of problematics that reinforce each other. Ambiguity is the name of the game. For one, it is unclear why the additional attorney general (AAG) is not set to appear in person at the hearing of a high profile case of such pressing significance. Instead, deputy attorney generals (DAG) and standing counsel without the experience, stature and spine to handle the risks associated with the case have been appointed by the federal government. There has been some back and forth finger pointing from the AAG’s office to the Islamabad Advocate General’s office, as the two squabble over who the responsibility falls on. Therefore, there is no clarity on who exactly the legal counsel will be. This is, no doubt, a difficult decision and one that requires heavy doses of bravery and nerve. After the May 2014 fatal shooting of human rights lawyer Rashid Rehman who was defending a blasphemy accused, prosecutors are understandably scared for their lives. This is where the government must step in.

For one, the federal government needs to assess who the right people for the job are. It has been four years this month, since Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was gunned down in broad daylight by his bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri. Qadri has proven himself to be a ruthless and cunning operator, turning prison guards to his own vile philosophies, prompting one of them to shoot an inmate accused of blasphemy. He has a mosque to his name, and devoted followers who have formed a frenzied cult. This is a complex case to charter for any prosecutor, both psychologically and legally and the government must see to it that the appointment is in line with the importance of the case. Secondly, there is the issue of protection. A special judge who convicted Qadri in Oct. 2011 had to flee the country due to threats to his life. Rashid Rehman had repeatedly alerted the authorities to death threats but to no avail. With a record that speaks for its utter ineptness, it is no wonder that Jan. 27 will in all probability come and go without a prosecutor for the case. Can the government guarantee the protection of its witnesses and law officers? If it cannot, then the entire justice system turns on its head. This case is a true challenge for the government and the National Action Plan. Sentenced by military or civilian courts, it is one thing hanging largely anonymous suspected terrorists, but here is a man who has planted himself deeply into the public memory. If Qadri, that brazen, smiling face of terrorism can get the punishment he deserves, then the country might just convert to the government’s NAP narrative.