Anti–death penalty advocates may have found an unlikely supporter in their global campaign to end the execution of convicted prisoners: the Taliban terrorist group.
The government of Pakistan has cancelled plans to restore the death penalty following a wave of threats of more attacks by the Taliban should they reinstate the practice of killing prisoners (many of whom belong to the militant group and its affiliates).
"Pakistan has decided to continue with the moratorium on capital punishment since the government is aware of its international commitments and is following them," Omar Hamid Khan, a spokesman for the interior ministry, said in a statement.
Pakistan’s newly elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had pledged to lift a moratorium on capital punishment that was imposed five years ago by former President Asif Ali Zardari as a means of cracking down on violent criminals and militants. That order expired on June 30, leading to speculation that Sharif’s government would commence a program to execute some of the estimated 8,000 people currently languishing on Pakistan’s death row (one of the biggest such "communities" in the world).
However, when Islamabad officials announced in July that they would execute four imprisoned militants -- including two members of the outlawed Lashkar-e-Jhangvi militant organization at the Sukkur jail and Karachi Central prison -- the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) accused the government of declaring war on them and vowed serious consequences.
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“The Sharif government would have to pay a heavy price for the execution of TTP prisoners,” spokesman Asmatullah Muavia of TTP said in a statement.
In response to that threat, Pervez Rasheed, federal information minister, told UPI Next: "We are not afraid of terrorists.”
Nonetheless, the government at the time stated it would temporarily postpone the suspension of the moratorium and commuted the death sentences on convicts to life terms in prison.
Under Pakistan Penal Code, 27 offenses can lead to capital punishment, including murder, terrorism, blasphemy, arms smuggling, drug trafficking and rape.
The last Pakistani execution involved a soldier who was court-martialed in 2008 (since the military is exempt from the moratorium).
Death row prisoners constitute more than 10 percent of the prison population in Pakistan, said a report by the British-based Foundation of Fundamental Rights. "For me it's not the number of people facing [the] death penalty," said Dr Farzana Bari, a Pakistani human rights activist. "I believe the state should not be allowed to take the life of its citizens. Criminals can be incarcerated in jails for life."
But some politicians are irate over the government’s move to prolong the moratorium.
The Inter-Press Service news agency reported that political leaders are accusing the Sharif government of kowtowing to the Taliban (the very group they are supposed to be fighting against).
"Stoppage of executions by the government means that it has succumbed to Taliban pressure," said Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the leader of the Awami National Party (ANP), adding that the government had "not been listening to the demand of civil society organizations."
ANP has suffered mightily from Taliban atrocities: Some 800 party members were killed by the TTP when the ANP ruled the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
"The Taliban have killed hundreds of people without trial but are now making a hue and cry over the execution of their men who were convicted by courts," Hussain told IPS.
Indeed, in a country awash with violent crimes and terrorism, the demand for the ultimate justice is widespread. Mushir Alam, the chief justice of the Sindh High Court, warned that the crime situation in the province will not improve until death row convicts are summarily executed. Mangan said that in Sindh alone there are more than 350 prisoners awaiting the hangman.
“The reintroduction of the death penalty is a symbol of [the Pakistani] government’s tough stance against terrorist activities, which have seriously affected the social and economic life in the country,” he said an op-ed piece in Arab News.