Pakistan's top judge reprimanded airport security agencies on Friday after a wealthy murder suspect managed to flee abroad, warning that lax procedures could allow terrorists to escape.
Chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry is investigating how Shahrukh Jatoi, 20, managed to fly to the United Arab Emirates from Karachi, without any record of his departure despite an alert for his arrest.
He is the chief suspect in the December murder of 20-year-old Shahzeb Khan, the son of a senior police officer who was shot dead in Karachi.
Jatoi returned to Pakistan last month to face trial, but the Supreme Court is now calling for those who allowed him to board the plane to be punished.
"Two months have passed and nobody knows how Shahrukh Jatoi managed to escape... If this is the state of affairs of security agencies at airports, then tomorrow, terrorists might escape after carrying out attacks," said Chaudhry.
Pakistan suffers from near daily bomb and shooting attacks blamed on Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants. According to Islamabad, more than 35,000 people have been killed as a result of terrorism since the 9/11 attacks.
The country also faced damaging questions of incompetency or collusion after US troops shot dead Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden in the northwestern town of Abbottabad in May 2011.
Investigator Mohammad Malik told the court that Jatoi had "deceived" immigration and blamed Pakistan's "VIP culture", which allows the rich and influential to move around unchecked at airports and through the country.
"If a young boy can deceive you, then how can you stop terrorists?" the judge said, describing Pakistan's financial capital Karachi as "the largest den of human trafficking and rife with corruption".
Police officer Shahid Hayat told the Supreme Court that CCTV footage provided by airport security had been analysed but no record of Jatoi was found.
"The entire country is in the grip of terrorism. Your security is so loose that you will never know if some criminal commits a crime and escapes the country," Chaudhry said.
He then ordered investigators to submit an explanation for the lack of progress in the case and adjourned the hearing for 10 days.