South Asia Research and Analysis Studies

Death penalty to terrorists
S M Hali

The spokesman for al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), Usama Mahmood, has released a statement condemning the Pakistani Taliban’s heinous attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar where 132 children were brutally murdered. In a Twitter message, Mahmood claims that al Qaeda carefully selects its targets inside Pakistan so as to avoid unnecessary civilian casualties. In harsh terms, Mahmood condemns the Pakistani Taliban’s attack as “un-Islamic” and says that al Qaeda’s jihadi scholars have already set forth the rules for engaging the enemy, which were not followed in Peshawar. The attack violates the jihadis’ version of sharia law, Mahmood claims. The AQIS spokesperson’s condemnation of the barbarous act and similar copycat messages by other jihadis, in a well-choreographed move to garner public support and sympathy for the miscreants, portrays al Qaeda as the defender of Muslims inside Pakistan. Addressing “our beloved Pakistani Muslims”, Mahmood says their defense is “our responsibility” and al Qaeda seeks to “relieve” their pain.

Pakistan is passing through exceptionally unusual circumstances and the situation warrants clear, bold and firm decisions to deal with the menace of terrorism, especially the threat of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The National Action Plan (NAP) formulated by the political parties comprises an unequivocal 20-point agenda to combat terrorism. The first item on the agenda is the execution of those terrorists who have been found guilty of their crimes and have been condemned to the gallows. Since 2008, Pakistan has invoked a moratorium on capital punishment but, following the Peshawar carnage, the government has lifted the suspension of the death penalty. Unfortunately, some murmurs of dissent to the government’s decision have been heard while the EU has demanded the immediate restoration of the moratorium on the death penalty. Human rights activists find capital punishment analogous to the pagan rites of human sacrifice. Currently, 58 nations actively practice capital punishment, 98 countries have abolished it de jure for all crimes, seven have abolished it for ordinary crimes only (they maintain it for special circumstances such as war crimes) and 35 have abolished it de facto (have not used it for at least 10 years and/or are under moratorium). It is significant to note that over 60 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where executions do take place, such as the China, India the US and Indonesia.
After the US was struck by the terror attack of 9/11 it enacted a series of laws and executive orders to prevent another attack on US soil and restore a feeling of safety to a nation shattered by tragedy. Amongst some of the measures adopted were the ?approval of the Patriot Act and the formulation of Homeland Security. Another bone of contention in Pakistan is the establishment of military courts for ensuring speedy justice to hardcore criminals involved in extremism and terrorism. Some detractors of capital punishment and critics of the establishment of military courts equate them with vigilante justice.
By legal definition, a vigilante is someone who takes the law into his/her own hands by trying and/or punishing another person without any legal authority. In 2007, the clerics of Lal Masjid and the seminary Jamia Hafsa in Islamabad began meting out vigilante justice and posed as judge, jury and executioners besides harbouring terrorists, prompting military operation against them.
Whereas the 16/12 incident (the Peshawar massacre of 132 school children) has created a fusion of public opinion in dealing with the miscreants expeditiously, there has been some dissent regarding the establishment of military courts even for two years. The masses look up to the judiciary to take decisions so that the scourge of terrorism can be eradicated from Pakistan. Unfortunately, terror mongers intimidate the judiciary, traumatising judges for finding them culpable of mass homicide. They also deter the judiciary from taking punitive measures against those who facilitate terrorists or abet them in committing heinous crimes. A case in point is Justice Pervez Ali Shah, who convicted Mumtaz Qadri for the self-confessed murder of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer but had to flee to Saudi Arabia after getting death threats. Qadri, who was one of a team of police bodyguards assigned to protect Governor Taseer, shot him 27 times in the back on January 4, 2011, for the governor’s support for revisiting Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law.

The other caveat of having hardened terrorists languishing in jails, pending trials or facing the gallows even after conviction, is the frequent and massive threat of jailbreaks. Two major jailbreaks, one in April 2012 when the TTP stormed Bannu jail and freed 384 inmates and, in July 2013, when the Taliban freed 242 prisoners in the daring assault on the Dera Ismail Khan prison, both comprised numerous hardened terrorists.
Desperate times call for desperate measures and the government will have to take courageous steps to rid the country of the menace of terrorism.