Who is actually being hanged in Pakistan?

By Arooj Zahra

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Executions are a big news in Pakistan. The country lifts the moratorium on death penalty after seven years, in December, 2014, following a deadly attack on Army Public School in the city of Peshawar. The attack took more than 150 lives, most of them children. The incident sent shock waves across the country. Protest rallies were held and civil society demanded strict actions against the terrorists. The government, sensing the public sentiment, agreed carrying out the executions. But some analysts say that the executions are being carried out selectively, sparing many of those the public most wanted to see hanged – terrorists who killed civilians.
According to data compiled by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), over 139 people have been hanged since December 2014. Out of these, more than 10 were hanged for involvement in attacking former military dictator and President Pervez Musharraf and attacking Army’s General Headquarter (GHQ). Another 10 were hanged for sectarian killings, and the rest were executed for charges like rape and murder.
“A perception is developing that the undeclared policy is to fast-track the execution of the ones who targeted the military officials while putting the ones who mass murdered the civilians, on the back burner. No major figure from the Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) appears to have received death penalty while many of their ringleaders were captured, for example from Swat. Some of these TTP men have perhaps not even been convicted yet”, said Dr Muhammad Taqi, a columnist with Pakistan’s Daily Times.
Pakistan has the largest number of death row inmates, with more than 8,000 people awaiting execution. 700 out of these are involved in sectarian killings, while 1,500 are accused of staging terror attacks on security installations. “There are over 500 convicts in Pakistani jails, who had been awarded death sentence on terrorism related charges”, says Baqir Sajjad, a senior Pakistani journalist with Dawn, an English newspaper.
As the law and order situation was getting out of control the government wanted to send a strong message to the militants that’s why the moratorium on death penalty was lifted in the first place. At the start, some members of the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), involved in killing Shi’ite Muslims were also hanged, but then the militant organizations clearly told that the executions of their men would be taken as a declaration of war by the government for which it would have to pay a heavy price.
In the first two months of this year, number of attacks on Shi’ite Muslims were increased, situation changed in March as the focus shifted from hanging militants to those involved in murdering over personal enmity and rape. Why this sudden shift in policy?
“This clearly indicates that there has been some kind of settlement between the militants and the authorities and both sides are observing restrain, militants would be encouraged to cooperate with the authorities and the move was only to clip the reneged groups”, said Kalbe Ali, who also works for Pakistan’s Dawn.
The terrorists and their various outfits operating in Pakistan are interlinked. A militant working for a small regional based banned outfit may also be working or helping the TTP and Al-Qaeda. It’s a vicious cycle, that’s why if the government hangs one member of any outfit, the rest of them creates hurdles. Even the judges who awarded death sentences to terrorists were also targeted.
The government wants to complete its tenure without creating problems with the banned militant organizations. On the other hand, Pakistan’s embassy in the US rejects these allegations. “Such a perception, if held by anyone, is baseless and not supported by the facts on the ground. Judiciary in Pakistan is completely independent and its decisions are being implemented by the government in letter and spirit. Therefore, the question of government being selective in implementing judicial decisions does not arise.”

Arooj Zahra is a Lahore based journalist, currently on Daniel Pearl Fellowship with The Washington Post in DC.