Death for terrorism

Updated December 19, 2014

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The image shows a noose for hanging. — Reuters/File
The image shows a noose for hanging. — Reuters/File

The atrocities unleashed by the banned TTP in Peshawar on Tuesday have illustrated, horribly, that decisive and cohesive action is required against the monster of militancy. But while there is justified anger against the perpetrators of the attack on the Army Public School, government action should not take its cue from populist demands that are based more on emotions than reason.

It is in this context that we must see Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s decision to rescind the de facto moratorium on capital punishment vis-à-vis convicts in terror-related cases.

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First, consider how ineffective capital punishment would be in the case of those militants who resort to suicide bombing as their primary weapon of death and destruction. Indoctrinated to the point where the perpetrator does not expect to emerge from the attack alive, how can the death penalty be expected to deter others of his ilk?

Secondly, in recent years, domestic and international human rights organisations have repeatedly raised the concern that the high number of people on death row for terrorism-related convictions points to an overuse by Pakistan of its anti-terrorism laws.

A joint report released recently by Justice Project Pakistan and Reprieve states that “instead of being reserved for the most serious cases of recognisable acts of terror ... [it is] being used to try ordinary criminal cases [...]”. In such a situation, the lifting of the moratorium will undoubtedly lead to serious miscarriages of justice.

Besides, the death penalty will always remain a cruel and inhumane form of punishment, even if those sentenced to die are found guilty of having perpetrated the most barbaric of acts.

At the crossroads where it stands, Pakistan can either attempt to temporarily lighten the pressure by instituting cosmetic measures, or do what is needed: devise a coherent push-back at several tiers, only one of which is the battlefield.

Realisation must dawn that matters have gone far beyond physical attacks by the militants, and that the Talibanisation of society is being fanned by those who act as apologists for the killers by justifying their barbaric acts.

Their numbers include those representing banned radical groups, from the Lashkar-e-Taiba to the Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan, that are openly operating under new names.

Without clamping down on such leaders and groups, no policy can remove their poisonous discourse that is encouraging public opinion to subscribe to conspiracy theories and to turn a blind eye to the enemy within.

Published in Dawn, December 19th, 2014