ISLAMABAD - The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government is in a fix on the issue of capital punishment. There is tremendous pressure from civil society and the world community to abolish it, but rightwing hardliners insist that death plenty for heinous crimes is in line with the Islamic injunctions so it must be retained.
Lately, the execution of 800 convicts who are on death row, including around 150 hardened criminals and terrorists, was deferred by the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on the request of President Asif Ali Zardari who wanted to have a word with him on the matter.
Background interviews and information from informed sources reveal that government has decided to keep the matter on hold and formulate some policy in this regard after consultation with all the stakeholders.
Last week the PM and the president in a matter discussed this matter but, according to the sources, the only thing they agreed upon was that the executions would be kept withheld at least until President Zardari leaves the office on Sept 8.
Sources in Pakistan People’s Party said that President Zardari during the PPP rule too kept on dangling the matter in view of its sensitivity. Neither did he want to blemish his party’s liberal face nor offend the right-wingers so kept the ambiguity on the issue, they said.
Primarily, the PPP-led government wanted to appease the Western democracies, which were constantly exerting pressure on Pakistan to abolish capital punishment, while the civil society organisations within the country were also demanding to end this ‘uncivilised’ practice. But the then government did not formally abolish the capital punishment because they feared their fragile coalition won’t be able to withstand the expected fierce reaction from the Islamist hardliners and opposition parties.
The leadership of the present government is divided on the issue. One group wants immediate implementation on the pending execution cases saying that government must show strength and come out of this state of indecision. But the opposite camp is of the view that such a large number of executions would invite worldwide condemnation and the image of the government, which is already alleged of having relations with religious extremists, would be further tarnished.
The PML-N leaders who support keeping the capital punishment say that its abolishment would lead to increase in heinous crimes and terrorism, which has already caused much damage to the country. Its impact on case of family feuds would be particularly debilitating as people will be much less hesitant in killing their enemies in absence of capital punishment, the maintain. Moreover, abolishing of execution would be in complete conflict with the Islamic injunctions so it would invite a strong reaction from the religious elements and severely damage the popularity of the government, they add.
Sources in the government said that party leadership would keep the matter in limbo at least for sometime because the implementation on the pending cases of execution would leave negative impact on the government efforts for talks with Taliban because the death list also carries names of many members of this terrorist group.
They said apparently the civilian government and military establishment are on the same page regarding terrorism menace and country’s role in war on terror, but when it comes to the nitty-gritty of the matters there are many grey areas and the matter of putting to gallows some of the high-profile terrorists falls in that territory. The PML-N right now is also not in a position to annoy certain ‘allies’ who too would be highly angry over hanging of some high-profile terrorists.
Therefore Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is most likely to keep the matter undecided till the time his government is able to tackle the matters of most urgent nature like revamping of the economy, management of the electricity crisis and the looming gas crisis in coming winter which is knocking at the doors.