By Yasser Latif Hamdani
Mumtaz Qadri was hanged on 29.02.2016 for having assassinated Governor Salmaan Taseer five years ago. Qadri was given a fair shake by the courts. He went through two appeals process and a review. Ultimately, he forwarded a mercy petition to the President of Pakistan who rejected it. What was unusual were the circumstances – the Pakistani government against all odds grabbed the bull by the horns and executed a murderer.
This death penalty debate that some people have started is utterly useless in the present context. I am someone who stands for the eventual abolition of death penalty. This has to happen in a legal framework. The framework in this case are Pakistan’s international obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”) which operates as minimum standards to be incorporated in national legislation. The reason why these minimum standards exist in international law is a nod towards the idea that different societies are evolving at different speeds. Pakistan’s requirement under the ICCPR is to limit the usage of death penalty in the most extreme and rare cases. One may legitimately argue that Qadri’s case was legitimate and necessary. This does not mean that one is not committed to an evolution to a point where death penalty would be unnecessary.
To do that first you have to take death penalty off the books for many of the offences that we currently have it on including blasphemy and adultery. Next thing is to ensure that the culture of impunity and violence is curbed. Once the society evolves to a point where all of us (and not just 2 percent liberals) understand that taking a life is immoral can we finally progress to a point where we can contemplate an end to death penalty in Pakistan. Saying that Mumtaz Qadri should not have been hanged is an immoral suggestion. His imprisonment at Adiala Jail was no punishment at all. Not only was he surrounded by adoring fans even amongst jailers, he was egging on people from within to follow his example. Already one blasphemy accused was attacked and wounded by a police officer acting on his instructions. In the end if the government would have backed down, it would only lead to many more such Mumtaz Qadris. The principle here is not whether death penalty is immoral or not – it may or may not be immoral but it is the law. Without maximum punishment being meted out in the case, the message to the society would have been simple: kill people in the name of religion and be pardoned in the end.
States cannot be governed through idealism alone. States act in self interest. They are pragmatic entities and sometimes some of their actions are abhorrent. Pakistani state’s crisis for at least two decades has been that it has lost the monopoly on violence. The erosion of the writ of the state was against the interests of the state as well as citizens. By hanging Mumtaz Qadri, the state has sent out a clear message to the naysayers i.e. it will not be blackmailed in the name of religion. For Pakistan to have a level playing field for competing ideas, the existence of a neutral and moderate state is sine qua non. Therefore one has to back the state in this case and others like it. The time for radical reform and even an end to death penalty will come one day but that time is not now.