The state’s credibility problem endures. Following the unprecedented attack on APS Peshawar, death penalty was reinstated after seven years moratorium. The death penalty returned with popular support based on the argument that it was needed to fight terrorism. Somehow, we believed, terrorists who were willing to die for their delusional cause would give up if they faced the death penalty. However illogical our reasoning, though, the death penalty has not been used as a tool against terrorists. Actually, only 7 per cent of executions are related to terrorism charges! This shows that ‘terrorism’ was only an excuse, not the real reason, which seems to happen with alarming regularity in Pakistan.
The state’s credibility problem has been on display in many ways lately. Not only from the death penalty report, but the release of Quetta Commission report also which catalogued the state’s duplicity including what Dawn described as ‘the state’s complicity with militant groups for parochial agendas that allowed the creation of an infrastructure of jihad’. Is it any surprise that rather than make any effort to correct these issues, the state has instead rejected its own report!
The unwillingness to face facts and be honest with ourselves has a long history. Over 30 years ago we were already telling ourselves sweet little lies.
This failed mindset not only damages our credibility in the eyes of the world, it has destroyed the state’s credibility with our own people. When Quetta Commission report was released, who really believed it would change anything? Same with Abbottabad Commission before that and Hamoodur Rahman Commission before that.
Government has increased diplomatic efforts to stop the execution of Pakistani national Zulfiqar Ali by Indonesia. Sartaj Aziz recently sought a meeting with his Indonesian counterpart, and Indonesian Ambassador Iwan Suyudhie Amri was also summoned to the Foreign Office to officially protest. This is good news, and it is hoped that the execution will not be allowed to proceed. However it also raises the question why so much effort is being made to save the life of Zulfiqar Ali while the government has remained completely silent while dozens of Pakistanis have been executed by another country.
In the first five months of last year, 10 Pakistanis had already been executed by Saudi Arabia. Earlier this year, Pakistani citizen Elias Ismail was executed by Saudi Arabia also, but there were no smiling photos in the media and no diplomatic efforts to save his life. Pakistani citizen Shah Zaman Khan Sayyed was executed by Saudi Arabi in April this year for attempting to smuggle heroin, the same crime accused against Zulfiqar Ali.
Saudi sympathisers will claim that the cases are different because Zulfiqar Ali claims he was tortured, but is this really a difference? International human rights NGO Amnesty International reports that ‘Torture and other ill-treatment remained common and widespread’ in Saudi Arabia and ‘courts did not exclude statements elicited by torture, ill-treatment or coercion and convicted defendants solely on the basis of pre-trial “confessions” without investigating their allegations that the confessions had been obtained through torture, in some cases sentencing the defendants to death’.
It is the responsibility of the government and the Foreign Office especially to protect the rights of overseas Pakistanis. It is good to see the government doing everything it can for the defence of Zulfiqar Ali, but we should be very worried about what it means that they refuse to do the same for Pakistanis in Saudi.
What he is referencing, of course, is the historic decision by Supreme Court maintaining the conviction of Governor Salmaan Taseer’s confessed murderer and rejecting his appeal against his death sentence. The confessed murderer will now hang to death as a terrorist, the lowest of the low in our society.
This has brought mixed emotions to many liberals in Pakistan who celebrate with great relief and a renewed sense of hope the Court’s decision which not only cements the principle of rule of law by demanding that individuals cannot take the law into their own hands but must take their complaints through the due process of law, but asked some pointed questions about the use – and misuse – of blasphemy laws. The feeling of hope that, while we have a long way to go, the darkest days may finally be behind us cannot be understated.
However that feeling is also mixed with a discomfort with the death penalty for many who have seen it also misused and know that in killing someone the state takes on the ultimate power of life and death. It is a sentence that cannot be overturned. Death is permanent. Even when the death penalty has not been misused for political purposes, such as the case of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, we have seen situations such as the hanging of people convicted when they were children over the outcry of international human rights groups. This has left an understandable distaste for the practice.
In the case of Salmaan Taseer’s killer, though, I believe the Court has made the correct decision. In the case, there is no question of the killer’s innocence as he has freely and proudly confessed to his crime. In that way it is a fairly open and shut case. In another way, the case is extraordinary. Such a case cannot be viewed without acknowledging the times we live in. By treating the convict in the same way that we have treated hundreds of other terrorists, we are sending a clear message that this is not the case of a hero or Ghazi but a common murderer and terrorist that has no place in our society.
So let us end this case with a feeling of hope. Hope that the Supreme Court’s courageous decision will mark a turning point when our justice system is following the popular sentiment against extremism and lawlessness. Hope that the pathetic end to this terrorist prevents others from following his evil path. And hope that with the closing of this case, we also begin to close a dark chapter in our nation’s history and begin a new, happier chapter for generations to come.
16th December was supposed to be a turning point. The brutal massacre of hundreds of innocent children at APS Peshawar had finally awoken the nation and united our resolve to defeat the real enemy – the jihadi extremists that had killed tens of thousands of Pakistanis since the last ten years. It is almost six months since that black day, and where are we now? The truth is not encouraging.
Shafqat Hussain’s case took on international attention when the question of his age was raised. This has caused some confusion in Pakistan where people have posted pictures of the accused with a beard asking how this can be a teenager. This misses the point completely which is not that he is a teenager now but that he was a teenager over a decade ago when he was convicted for his alleged crime. Global human rights groups including those that have previously been highly favoured for speaking against drones have demanded the execution be stopped and termed his trial as “farce”. In Pakistan, that farce continues today and the state appears to be completely dysfunctional in its handling of the case.