Executing terrorists won't erase terrorism

Pakistan’s lifting of an unofficial moratorium on the death penalty to execute terrorism convicts is deeply flawed on multiple fronts. Six convicts were hanged last week and some 500 others in death row for terrorism-related convictions could go to the gallows as well.

The government’s decision to end the six-year moratorium comes in the wake of the recent massacre of 149 people, mostly children, by Taliban militants inside an army-run school in Peshawar. That horrific incident evoked deep outrage in Pakistan and abroad, triggering calls for stern action against the terrorists.

Public fury is directed as much against the Taliban and other terrorists as it is against the Pakistani state, which has failed to protect civilians from terrorist violence. It is to mollify an angry citizenry that the government, in a bid to be seen to be taking stern action, has announced the execution of terrorist convicts.

This is to appease a very vocal section that is crying for revenge. However, the execution of terrorism convicts or any convicts for that matter, is not the solution to Pakistan’s terrorism problem.

The massacre of children in Peshawar, indeed all the attacks that Pakistan’s terrorist groups have directed against hapless civilians in the country and abroad, were reprehensible; their perpetrators deserve punishment.

Proponents of the death sentence argue that executing a killer is apt punishment, one that will deter others as well.  However, studies reveal that the death penalty does not deter crime.

What makes the death sentence all the more worrying in the Pakistan context is that often convicts are handed the death penalty after flawed trials and terrorism laws are over-used, even misused, to secure convictions and even settle scores.

At a time when the rest of the world is doing away with retributive justice, Pakistan and India are among a minority of countries that are persisting with the death penalty. 

Pakistan’s mass execution of terrorists is aimed at deflecting attention away from the real source of its terrorism: the ISI/ military and sections in the civilian government that nurture terrorist outfits. The government needs to lay out a long-term strategy that involves radical overhaul of the ISI and its links to terrorism.

Terrorist handlers and masterminds in the ISI must be eliminated and Pakistan must move away from perceiving terrorists as useful instruments of its foreign policy. Executing terrorists will only provoke retaliation, leaving civilians vulnerable to more attacks in the coming weeks.

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