The Pakistani Taliban, the country’s most active banned terrorist group, has claimed responsibility for both attacks.
Throughout the past six months, Ms. Ismail’s parents have shuffled in and out of court, even as Mr. Ismail’s health began to fail. “I have fever, throat infection, cough, headache and high blood pressure but have to stand in High Court Peshawar,” he texted in late November.
A few days later, he and his wife tested positive for Covid-19.
“The puppet courts are responsible for our sufferings,” he said in another message.
In contemporary Pakistan, there has been little room for political dissent. Former leaders have been jailed or hounded out. Prime Minister Imran Khan, once an internationally famous cricket star, is widely seen as being under the thumb of the military establishment, which has been running shadow wars for years, alternately working with or against various militant groups, including the Afghan Taliban insurgency.
In this atmosphere, many human rights activists have disappeared into the hands of the security services while well-known terrorists move around untouched.
“In Pakistan, banned terrorist outfits are in fact not banned and roam freely,” said Afrasiab Khattak, a veteran politician and a former member of Parliament. “But people who always raised voices against banned outfits for their barbarism have been punished in baseless cases.”
Just last week, in fact, Pakistan’s highest court ordered the release of Ahmed Omar Sheikh, a British national and militant, who had been convicted of being the mastermind behind the 2002 kidnapping and beheading of Daniel Pearl, a celebrated Wall Street Journal reporter. Many countries, including the United States, had been exerting enormous pressure on Pakistan to keep Mr. Sheikh in jail.