SIALKOT, Pakistan (Reuters) - Mughees Butt won prizes for memorizing the Koran, which taught him about compassion and mercy. The mob that murdered him and his brother in Pakistan showed none.
Apparently mistaken for robbers, the teenagers were beaten with sticks and rods before being strung up on metal poles in broad daylight as a large crowd and several policemen looked on.
The high-profile lynchings, captured on a video frequently broadcast on television news channels, highlight the extent that Pakistanis have over many years lost faith in the police and the courts to deliver justice.
Critics say the killings have also compounded a sense of failure hanging over the current government, more unpopular than ever after its slow response to Pakistan’s worst floods.
“In the Roman empire the accused were thrown before the hungry lions and they cut them into pieces within five to 10 minutes,” said Mohammad Anwar, the 87-year-old grandfather of the brothers, breaking down and shaking.
“But my grandsons were tortured for two hours constantly with stones, bricks, rods and wooden sticks. I have not seen the video. I will see them in the life thereafter.”
Twenty-eight people, including eight policemen, have been arrested in connection with the August 15 killings in the eastern town of Sialkot.
Newspaper editorials and commentaries dissected social malaise and called for national soul-searching.
“The Sialkot degeneration ought to be used as a cohesive instrument to bind the rather fractured remnants of whatever remaining morsel of benevolence we have left,” said a commentary in the Daily Times entitled “Blood Sport.”
“And if that means an all out war against the self of the Pakistani mindset, then let’s see some heads roll.”
Interior Minister Rehman Malik told the media people will not be allowed to create their own justice system, and the culprits will be punished without political interference.
Many Pakistanis say the courts are riddled with graft, agonizingly slow and let too many criminals go.
Unlike soldiers who are often seen with respect, the police are often despised as corrupt and ineffective. At times, they are accused of taking part in or encouraging extra-judicial killings.
The brothers, Mughees, 17, and Muneeb, 15, were killed on a busy street, a few steps from an emergency rescue service center.
The mob pushed their way into the building and grabbed ropes used to hang the boys, and then attacked them again until their last gasps of air, witnesses said.
“This has further undermined the government’s credibility in providing protection and security for the people in whose name they were elected,” said Riffat Hussein, chairman of the department of defense and strategic studies at Quaid-e-Azam University.
“It points to the bankruptcy of this government.”
Islamist militants battling the state have at times tried to capitalize on the frustration with the courts and police, promising swift Islamic justice.
Even if they wanted to address the issue, Pakistan’s leaders won’t have the time to do so any time soon.
The government is busy trying to clean up its image after its poor handling of the flood disaster, which made millions homeless and will cost the state an estimated $43 billion in damages.
Foreign investment will be badly needed to get the economy back on its feet. Pakistan may have to show it is a stable country with a potent government serious about maintaining law and order to get it.
More mob justice may be in store until then.
The boys from a typical middle class family had driven off on their father’s red motorcycle to play cricket. They may have been mistaken for robbers who shot and killed someone and then sped away on a black motorcycle.
Standing near a weight-lifting bench at the family home, the grandfather proudly recalls how the older boy was a fitness fanatic and wanted to join the army, while the younger one was highly intelligent and could have been an engineer.
The chief minister of Punjab gave the family one million rupees ($11,680) as compensation.
For the boy’s uncle, Khawaja Amjad, the deaths exemplified a “cancer” spreading through Pakistan.
“This is really the collapse of society,” he said. “We don’t have any trust in our political leadership.”