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True crime. Casually done.

Javed Iqbal – Pakistani Justice

If you compare modern crime and punishment to the systems of days gone by, you’d be forgiven for thinking condemned criminals have it pretty cushy nowadays. The history of capital punishment is rife with gruesome methods of execution that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.

For example, fall foul of the king in 14th century England, and you might find yourself hung, drawn, and quartered. Or, in plain English: dragged behind a horse to the gallows, hanged half to death, mutilated and chopped into four pieces, then mounted on a castle wall for the peasantry to gawk at.

Or piss off a 17th century admiral, and he might order you to be ‘keelhauled’: tossed overboard with a rope tied to your feet, and dragged along the bottom of the ship over and over again (to be scraped to death by all the barnacles and splinters). Or how about this, last one, I promise: besmirch the honour of a priest’s daughter in ancient Israel, and you’d be force-fed a nice, refreshing jug of molten lead for your last meal.

You might think that stuff is a thing of the past, but today we’re taking a look at how all this historic gore was given a run for its money by a sentence issued by one judge in Pakistan, just 20 years ago. On March 16th 2000, a Lahore magistrate passed down a sentence upon one particularly reviled convict which included a metal chain, gratuitous dismemberment, and even a bath of acid.

So what in the hell does someone have to do to invoke that kind of old-testament wroth from a sworn-in judge? Well, as you can probably imagine, it requires that you be one of the most awful, contemptible, downright sickening individuals the world has ever seen.

Which is about as accurate an epitaph as you can get for Javed Iqbal: Pakistan’s most gruesome serial killer…

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Hidden Victims

Throughout 1999, the city of Lahore was plagued with a series of mysterious disappearances which went all but completely unnoticed by the public. Dozens of the country’s 1.5 million street kids went missing while out begging at monuments and shrines around the city, and in many cases nobody even noticed they were gone.

Anarkali Station Orangeline Lahore
Anarkali Station Orangeline Lahore. By King Eliot, is licensed under CC-BY-SA

Unfortunately, when you’ve had as rough a start in life as these kids, nobody’s putting you on the side of a milk carton. Most were orphans, or runaways — teens whose parents took months to report their disappearances. Invisible to the rest of society, these kids were the ideal target for a sadistic serial killer, who was in the midst of a marathon killing spree that would rock Pakistan to its core.

It wasn’t until the last week of November of that year that the nation even had an inclination that something was amiss, when the killer himself sent a full confession to a local police station. This wasn’t some Zodiac style coded cypher either; the guy gave his full name, listed his crimes, and even told them his home address. Included were pictures of the missing kids, and other evidence of his deeds.

Serial killers often love an audience, so maybe he was irritated at the complete and utter apathy of the ones who were meant to be chasing him. If so, they were about to disappoint him all over again; the cop who opened the letter allegedly read it through, immediately decided it was a hoax, and tossed it right into the trash.

That might sound like gross negligence, but you have no idea how much work is involved in a serial killer case, and this guy had plans for the weekend — was he supposed to cancel the family picnic to go avenge the death of some orphans? Don’t be ridiculous.

Thankfully, the killer was already familiar with the… unconventional procedures of Pakistani law enforcement, so they also sent out an insurance police: the same confession letter was also delivered to the mailroom of newspaper The Daily Jang on December 2nd. Their journalists weren’t quite so nonchalant about claims of mass-murder, especially with bold statements like:

I have killed 100 beggar children and put their bodies in a container.”

The journos decided to take the killer up on his invitation: come to my apartment on Ravi Road, and see for yourselves. Shortly after, they turned up outside that dank little three-bedroom home. This was the residence of Javed Iqbal, local sex offender, who was soon to become one of the most reviled names in Pakistani history…

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Who was Javed Iqbal?

Born in 1956, Javed Iqbal Mughal was the 6th child of 8, from a wealthy family in Lahore. His father was a successful businessman, and as a result, little Javed was provided for comfortably all throughout his young life. When he went off to study in the Shad Bagh district of Lahore, his dad purchased not one but two villas for the pampered little prince to stay in.

Javed Iqbal Mughal
Javed Iqbal Mughal

From everything I’ve read, I get the distinct impression that, throughout his whole life, Javed was the sort of person who never heard the word “no”. His father bankrolled him through a series of business endeavours, starting with a steel casting business which he ran out of one of the villas.

This was basically a paper-thin ploy for Javed, now in his twenties, to ‘employ’ a group of teenaged strays to come live with him (an arrangement which he would maintain for his entire adult life, changing the roster over the years). Everyone knew there was something untoward going on, but for the most part, Javed had the wealth and status to deflect any suspicion.

Now, as you might already know, Pakistan isn’t exactly on the Lonely Planet’s. ‘Top Ten Queer Travel Destinations’. Javed was always going to be a target of suspicion for his sexual preferences, but that is not what I’m taking issue with here. It’s the fact he paid a group of underagers to live with him, like a mad sex pest Fagin, and called them ‘his boys’.

Javed and his crew of half a dozen minors could often be seen cruising around town in his fancy cars. When friends and family pointed out how weird it was for a grown man to keep that kind of company, he would kick off, and demand they stay away from his house and ‘servants’.

As the years wore on, he gained a well-deserved reputation as a proper skin-crawling creep, and his predilections were pretty much an open secret. Throughout the 80s Javed would acquire teenaged penpals through children’s magazines, set up the district’s first video game arcade to lure in victims, and used his father’s money to fund a series of other ventures like the ‘Sunny Side School’ (which, given his reputation, had an enrolment rate of exactly zero).

It’s not as if this went unnoticed by the law, but Iqbal’s father was always able to foot the bill in order to save the family name. Every time a parent or neighbour reported him to the police through the eighties, old Javy managed to dodge criminal charges on the strength of his father’s reputation.

But his arrest in 1990 would be the last time daddy Iqbal was around to dig him out of a hole — shortly afterwards, he passed away, meaning Javed was now vulnerable. The next time he was brought in, in 1992, his time in jail was markedly less cushy. Charged with sodomy, the cops allegedly beat him to a pulp during interrogations, and threatened to kill him and cover up his death.

His mother, who he was extremely close with, attempted to throw money at the problem like back in the good old days, but without his father’s political clout it wasn’t quite so easy. That old impunity, it seemed, had now expired. Javed was sentenced to a public thrashing, and six months in prison. On the inside, he claims he was brutally attacked by the police, telling a Lahore paper: “I was so badly beaten that my head was crushed, my backbone broken and I was left crippled. I hate this world.”

Javed’s mother passed away from a heart attack while he was in custody, and he blamed the state for driving her to an early grave. (Because as we’ll see, the pampered little prince was pathologically incapable of taking responsibility).

Humiliated and defeated, Javed saw himself at war with the world and everyone in it upon his release from prison. The final breaking point came in September 1998, when he and one of his ‘boys’ got into an altercation with a masseuse and another ‘employee’. Javed had his head kicked in (probably quite deservedly), and a sizable amount of rupees were lifted from his wallet. When he reported this to the police, they dismissed his complaint, and slapped him with a fresh sodomy charge. He was more furious at the establishment than ever, and vowed to take revenge on them for daring to make him face the consequences of his actions.

The attack left him in hospital for three weeks, and none of his family were willing to foot the bill. By the time he got out, he discovered they had sold off his fancy cars and property to cover the costs, leaving him comparatively broke. That’s when the 42-year old sex offender and his remaining ‘employees’ downsized from their luxury pool villa, to a dingy little three-bed apartment on Ravi Road, Lahore.

Which, almost exactly one year later, was where a group of journalists pulled up in the early hours of the morning to make the most unsettling discovery of their careers…

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In this way, I would take revenge against the world I hated.”

If the letter was to be believed, Javed had decided to wage war against the world in the most horrific way imaginable. He claimed that this little concrete apartment building was the site of one of the most atrocious mass-murders ever orchestrated by an individual — a parting gift to the world before he would take his own life.

In his confessions, he wrote that his killing spree began several months after being released from the hospital. He and his four ‘boys’ would prowl the streets, looking for victims to lure back to their lair. There Javed would feed them, ask about their lives, and take their photographs.

The letter outlined how he and his gang of young kids would then sexually assault the victims, then strangle them with a metal chain. In some cases, he would put on a mask, and force them to inhale a mixture of acid and cyanide while sleeping To dispose of the bodies, they would dismember them, and toss the remains into a vat of hydrochloric acid, then dispose of whatever was left down a sewer grate which flowed to the nearby Ravi River.

His goal was ostensibly to get back at the cops for corruptly mishandling his many criminal cases, and to ‘make 100 mothers cry, the same way his own mother was forced to cry for him before her death’. Never mind the fact his mother was crying about her son being an actual convicted rapist— apples and oranges, Javed.

And yes, you heard correctly: in only six months, he claimed to have killed an incredible 100 victims on this moronic quest for vengeance (potentially more than any American serial killer in history). To make matters worse, all of his alleged victims were aged 16 or under at the time.

If that sounds too horrible to be true, then I admire your optimism. When the journalists entered the unlocked door of Javed Iqbal’s apartment that December day, there was little doubt that all of his grisly claims were true…

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A Museum of Murder

In anticipation of the intrepid journalists’ arrival, Javed had set up placards on the wall, elaborating on his confession — not unlike the signs in a museum, explaining the items on display. And that’s exactly what this place was: a carefully-curated museum of murder — an archive of 100 lives cut short, each one described in excruciating detail.

Javed wrote at length on the fate of each victim — some whose blood still stained the walls and floor — and directed the readers towards parcels of clothing which he had kept from each. These were neatly arranged like books in a library, filed in order, with handwritten notes slipped in between. It was basically a ready-made evidence locker just waiting to be claimed by the police. Who, by the way, had finally decided to stop dicking about and came along to take a look.

In his extensive confessions, our misguided freedom fighter also had some choice words for the boys in blue. He claimed his spree was supposed to protest the “police system, irregularities in jail system in Pakistan and injustice in other sections of society.” Because as everyone knows, social justice reform is only possible if you manage to murder enough people to fill a double-decker bus.

Amazingly, this unorthodox protest didn’t do much to garner support for the Justice for Javed movement. After all, it’s fairly tough to get behind a man who’s willing to butcher people and toss their remains into acid. The final exhibit in Javed Iqbal’s immersive serial killer experience was a demonstration of that macabre technique: two open plastic barrels towards the rear of one of the bedrooms, from where a rancid chemical stench was emanating. Inside were the half-dissolved skeletal remains of the two latest victims — number 99 and 100, killed just days before.

When the writers back at the Daily Jang office typed up their story later that day, one question was at the forefront of everyone’s minds: had Javed already managed to kill victim 101; had he, as promised, taken his own life?

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The Manhunt

As mentioned, at the end of the candid confessions pinned to the wall of his home, Javed claimed that he planned on drowning himself in the same river where he had disposed of his victims’ remains. In the days which followed, vast stretches of the Ravi were dragged to no avail.

Meanwhile, parents of missing children from the city and surroundings were invited to pick through the personal effects found that day, identifying victim after victim. As the papers published pictures of devastated mothers and fathers sorting through photographs and clothing, public anger boiled over at the lack of progress in finding the killer.

Pictures of the killer were circulated in the papers, dozens of his family and friends were detained and interrogated, and alerts were passed out to border guards around the region, all to no avail. It was the biggest manhunt in the country’s history, but failed to catch even a whiff of the killer’s scent.

A full month passed before the first break: two teenagers walked into a Lahore post office to attempt to cash a traveller’s cheque. These were Muhammad Shahzad and Muhammad Nadeen, just 13 and 15 respectively. They admitted to helping Javed escape capture, and revealed he had been holed up in a drainage culvert, and then a cave, for the past four weeks. Their confessions led to the capture of a third accomplice shortly after.

Perhaps those cheques were the gang’s only source of funds, or perhaps Javed simply had a change of heart about ending his own life. Whatever the case, with his underlings in custody, he finally decided to face the music himself. On December 30th 1999 — caked in filth, and wearing damp clothes, ragged clothes — Pakistan’s most serial killer strolled into the office of the Daily Jang paper, and announced his surrender with one of the most chilling greetings you’re every likely to hear:

I am Javed Iqbal, killer of 100 children. I hate this world, I am not ashamed of my actions, and I am ready to die. I have no regrets. I killed 100 children. I could’ve killed 500; this was not the problem. Money was not a problem. But the pledge I had taken was of 100 children, and I never wanted to violate this.”

Hold on, let me check the scoreboard. Did old Javed just jump up to the top of our CasCrim leaderboard of legendary scumbags? Remorseless — check. Child killer — check. Delusions of grandeur — check. Yep, ring the bell, I think he’s clinched it.

Congratulations Mr Iqbal, you’re officially the worst human we’ve ever featured on the show — Simon will have your medal sent out in the mail this week…

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Killer Cops and Mental Magistrates

Actually, hold on a minute. You might want to hold off on mailing that award — I forgot to mention that our reigning champion isn’t exactly around any more to receive it. In fact, the circumstances surrounding the end of his life are the reason we’re talking about it in the first place. It’s what came after his capture that made the story hit international headlines.

Let’s jump back to the newspaper office, where he made his surprise surrender in December 1999. Apparently satisfied that his macabre mission was complete, it appears as if this was Iqbal’s last-ditch gambit to save his own life. Or rather, to save himself from a torturous death at the hands of the police; he was so distrustful of the cops, that he believed capture at their hands would result in an extrajudicial lynching, off the record.

And that’s probably not just baseless paranoia. Just days before, one of his alleged associates had found himself in the custody of Pakistani law enforcement. Not long after being brought in, the teenager ‘tossed himself out of a window’, falling to his death. A post-mortem suggested that he had been brutally beaten before allegedly ejecting himself from the tower block. Which raises a few questions over whose idea this dry, urban high-dive was in the first place.

Let’s be honest, I’m not here to defend the reputation of the Pakistani police. There’s a reason the country is ranked 124th on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (a measure of how much the citizenry trusts their own public institutions). You don’t hit triple digits on that scoreboard without at least a little bit of torture.

From what I can gather, even their own law-abiding citizens are generally wary of cops, because simply reporting a crime can reportedly end in a shakedown for the victims! So as you can imagine, if a child killer like Javed Iqbal put himself fully at the mercy of the Lahore police force — especially after humiliating them so badly — he was probably set to follow his teenaged servant right out of the interrogation room window. That’s if he even made it that far.

Surrendering to a newspaper, who were sure to break the story to the public, would at least ensure he made it to a courtroom, rather than a roadside ditch. Towards that end, he provided the journalists with a 32-page journal, outlining further details about the crimes, complete with images of the victims for identification. In return, they agreed to call the army to take him away, rather than the police.

A videotaped confession filmed that day at the newspaper office would go on to form the backbone of the trial of the century, which — as I mentioned right back at the start — would end with one of the most jaw-droppingly brutal sentences handed out in the modern age…

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An Eye for an Eye, an Acid Bath for an Acid Bath

The authorities wasted no time in bringing the case to trial. After all, Javed had saved them a hell of a lot of admin work with his detailed confessions and neatly-labelled hoards of evidence. Just five weeks after his dramatic surrender, his case was being heard by Judge Allah Bukhsh Ranjha. (careful with the pronunciation there Simon — one slip up and you’re automatically a massive racist).

The accused maintained a cold and indifferent stare throughout the proceedings, often tossing in contradictory statements to his version of events that meant his story shifted every other day. He had repeatedly admitted to the killings without remorse, but at times he now made himself out to be the victim of a police conspiracy — after all, there was no direct physical evidence to definitively link him to the crimes… I mean, the acid skeletons in his house didn’t look great… but just ignore the acid skeletons, and he’s got a point.

Mr Iqbal ‘s defence team even argued that some of the victims he had allegedly killed weren’t even dead, they had just run away once again (which is a lot easier to argue when the remains were poured into a river months ago). Regardless, the depth and number of his confessions won out in the end.

Those were enough for the court to find him guilty on all 100 counts of first-degree murder. Usually you’d just expect some ludicrously long jail term as a result, or something else symbolic. But that’s not how Judge Allah Bukhsh Ranjha rolls. On March 16th, he convened the court for sentencing, and dealt out a punishment that would ring out across the entire world:

Javed Iqbal has been found guilty of 100 murders. The sentence is that he should be strangled 100 times. His body should be cut into 100 pieces and put in acid, as he did with his victims.”

Old Javed must have been suddenly wondering if you shouldn’t have just taken his chances with the cops in the first place. That quote doesn’t even convey the brutality of what was in store for our convicted child killer.

His death was to be a full public recreation of his own crimes. He would be brought out to a park in central Lahore, before a crowd made up of the parents of all his victims. Then he would be strangled over and over again, with the exact same chain he used for the murders. Once his body gave out, the 100-piece dismemberment was meant to represent each of the deceased, and each of them would be dissolved in the same chemicals he disposed of them with. That is a punishment lifted straight out of the seventh circle of Hell.

And let it sink in that this came from a qualified, well-respected judge, not the comments section of the DailyMail.com. Justice Ranjha has got to be the most gloriously bloodthirsty magistrate since Judge Dredd. Poor little Javy never stood a chance!

And a moment of silence, please, for his defence lawyer. As the counsel to a self-admitted mass murderer, Javed’s defence couldn’t have expected for this whole ordeal to go particularly well. But Jesus Christ, when your client is scheduled to be publicly strangled and turned into a human soup, that’s surely got to be one of the low points of your career.

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A Change of Tune

Immediately the killer’s legal team announced they’d be appealing the decision, and Javed himself doubled down on his bizarre pleas of innocence. With such a gruesome end staring him right in the face, he decided to pull out the greatest legal trump card there is: the “it was just a prank, bro!” defence.

Yes, now Javed’s story got more bizarre and inconsistent than ever before. He attempted to recant his entire confession, explaining that he had fabricated the entire affair for a good cause; he wanted to draw attention to the plight of Pakistan’s street children… by staging the murder of 100 innocents using details drawn from western detective books…

Oh I see, so he was actually an advocate for the street kids who he had been abusing for decades — it was the parents who were neglectful, I see. I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for the two in the vats of acid at his house as well (maybe they slipped). My mistake Javed, sorry — this was all just a big misunderstanding.

In fact, I’m surprised you weren’t appointed a UNICEF ambassador for all those years of tireless activism.

Somehow, the court wasn’t as sympathetic to this new plea as I am. Javed was condemned to death row, alongside the oldest of his accomplices, 17-year-old Sajid Ahmed, was sentenced to die alongside him. As for the two young teenagers caught cashing the cheque, they were also found guilty for their part in as many as 13 of the killings (as described in the diaries). Nadeem, the older boy, was sentenced to 182 years behind bars, while Shazhad received 63.

Compared to the fate of their greasy, twisted ringleader, a lifetime behind bars doesn’t sound too bad after all…

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The Last Days of Javed Iqbal

Now, I’m sorry to disappoint some of our more psychotic listeners, but the remainder of this episode will not in fact be a play-by-play account of a man’s harrowing, afternoon-long execution by the Pakistani state. If that’s what you’re looking for, I’m sure there’s a dark corner of the web somewhere that can accommodate.

At this point, our story actually takes a bit of a U-turn, because of one little technicality: judges don’t actually have the power to dissolve people in acid. Judge Allah Bukhsh Ranjha claimed that his judgement was in keeping with traditional Islamic law, which would theoretically lend it credibility in this deeply religious country.

But before you whap out your grandad’s UKIP rosette, I should point out that dissolving the corpses of convicts is very much not Halal. Don’t take my word for it: it was actually Pakistan’s Council of Islamic Ideology who stepped in to cool the jets of our bloodthirsty judge.

See, the Quran is apparently pretty specific about the treatment of dead bodies, and doesn’t look fondly upon their desecration. Neither does the international Human Rights Commission, which Pakistan’s government is a signatory of.

So with the combined backing of the clergy and Pakistan’s interior minister Moinuddin Haider, the overkill execution was overturned. Javed Iqbal would still be facing the death sentence, but without all the spectacle and showbiz. Instead, he’d be hanged behind closed doors, and disposed of by more traditional, less corrosive means.

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A Late Night Discovery

And so, Javed Iqbal was sent to await his end in Kot Lakhpat Prison. There he and his teenaged servant remained for a year and a half after, before their sentences were carried out a little prematurely (and it appears, by their own hands).

In the small hours October 8th 2001, the guard tasked with patrolling the cell block where Javed and Sajid were imprisoned decided to take a nap mid-shift. When he awoke, he discovered on his next patrol that two of the prison’s most important prisoners were hanging by their necks, dangling from bed sheets tied to the iron window bars of their cells. Apparently this was just the latest in about a dozen attempts, and judging by the burst blood vessels in Javed’s face, this time he had succeeded.

The night watchman panicked, knowing that he would be strung out to dry by his superiors for letting the country’s most-hated killer dodge his date with the hangman. So he did the only thing he could: opened up the cells, brought the bodies down, and tucked them back into bed all nice and cosy! He then clocked off for the night without filing a report, and left the bodies for the warden to find at morning roll call.

Apparently he was supposed to assume the two killers had got tangled up in their pillowcases and strangled to death in their sleep? I’m not sure; it was an awful plan from the outset, so obviously the guard had to admit his slapdash cover-up, and was fired on the spot. Well, that’s the official version of events anyway…

Once the coroner conducted an autopsy of the bodies, there were suggestions that foul play might have been involved in the deaths. Both men were bleeding from the nostrils, and their necks were smeared with blood. On top of that, he recorded that, “countless healed wounds inflicted with a blunt weapon were also found all over the body of Javed Iqbal.”

Were these just the symptoms of everyday beatings, from which a suicidal Javed was trying to escape, or had someone employed by the prison finally went too far, and staged the suicides after the fact to cover up their own crimes? All we can do is speculate; inthe end, both deaths were ruled genuine suicides.

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Wrap-up

And that was the end for Javed Iqbal — not quite the gruesome spectacle that was threatened by that slightly unhinged judge, but a violent end nonetheless. Until the very end, this unrepentant child killer saw himself as a hero, fighting back against the injustice of the state. And while Pakistani justice certainly has some… questionable aspects, the idea that these can be righted with by the brutal mass murder of 100 innocents is probably one of the most pathetic serial killer delusions I’ve ever come across.

Even more frustrating is the fact that it was so damn easy for him to pull off. A perfect storm of police incompetence and public indifference meant that these victims were completely at the mercy of this vicious killer. The sad reality is that he’s not the only one targeting these young people.

The 1.5 million Street kids of Pakistan — many of whom are refugees from neighbouring Afghanistan — are among the world’s most vulnerable children, subjected to exploitation on a daily basis. So, if some of the more tragic elements of today’s episode hit home for you, then you might want to think about donating to some of the projects which support and protect these kids while they find their feed in life. Save the Children and Human Appeal both operate in the country — they’re a reliable place to start.

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Dismembered Appendices

1. One reason Javed was able to get away with his crimes for so long, was that he was a master manipulator. In 1983, his family started questioning why he wouldn’t let them marry him off, he shocked them with a surprise engagement… to the sister of one of his victims. With that one move, he succeeded in shutting his family up, and keeping the victim under his control. He actually pulled off this stunt twice within just a few years.

2. Our man Javy didn’t always have such a strained relationship with the cops. Part of his tactics used to be keeping friends in the local PD. He even once used his wealth to fund a magazine in which he gushed over their heroic crime-fighting deeds. Yeah, it’s always a lot more fun when it’s not your own skull getting cracked with a baton, right Javed?

3. If you’re a fan of Lollywood (that’s Lahore’s answer to Bollywood), you’ll be pleased to hear that there’s currently a Javed Iqbal biopic in the works, for release next year. Well, that’s if it can get past the censors — apparently they’re a bit touchy about the idea of allowing a big budget flick portraying one of the darkest episodes in Pakistani history. Maybe throw a couple of lighthearted musical numbers in to take the edge off?

4. When he was being led out of the newspaper office, Javed remarked how easy it was to dispose of the bodies, and commended himself for bringing this to the attention of the police, saying: “What if terrorists learned of these things?” God forbid, they might do something awful like kill 100 people… good thing you killed 100 people first to prevent them…

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