In the twilight hours of Wednesday morning, Malik Ishaq, chief of banned sectarian outfit Lashkar-i-Jhangvi was killed. The exact circumstances are unclear, and will perhaps remain so, but he was ostensibly shot when a police convoy carrying him and his two sons, Haq Nawaz and Usman Nawaz, was attacked by militants seeking to free them. In the ensuing gun battle 11 militants were killed, while six policemen were injured. Thus ends the life of one of Pakistan’s most feared criminal, whose deadly career spanned decades. The irony is, where the combined might of the state’s legal system failed to permanently put him away, the actions of his own supporters did.

Malik Ishaq was one of the founding members of Lashker-i-Jhangvi, and under his command the organisation gained an ominous reputation for carrying out attacks against the Shia community. Its legacy can still be seen in the on-going violence in Karachi and Quetta. He was implicated in several dozen cases of murder, and had been in and out of police custody since 1997. Yet his fearsome persona, strategic murders of witnesses and their families, and blatant intimidation of judges, let him be repeatedly released for “lack of evidence”. During the later years, he was used by the government in several stand-offs with other militants. In 2009 he was flown to Rawalpindi to negotiate with terrorists who had stormed military facilities, and was used – behind the scenes, and begrudgingly – to keep several other groups manageable. Yet this encounter suggests that perhaps Malik Ishaq himself was ultimately unmanageable. His death may also signal the beginning of a crackdown on sectarian groups – where the NAP implementation has only focused on the tribal belt so far.

Regardless of what the future may hold, the death of Malik Ishaq and Ghulam Rasul Shah, another Lashker-i-Jhangvi senior caught in the crossfire, closes a chapter in Pakistan history. A chapter that is rife with instances of the state’s lack of courage and littered with prompts for judicial reform. Principle dictated that a man like Malik Ishaq be dealt with by the state’s justice system; showcasing the state’s writ and its obligation to give due process to all alleged criminals. Thus, where the judicial system failed to find a way to end a reign of terror, a shootout may have provided the same result.