The Pakistani government has carried out 150 executions in the last six months and has become one of the world’s most prolific executioners, raising international concerns over its human rights situation. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed regret over the executions since Pakistan cancelled its moratorium on the death penalty in the aftermath of the Peshawar school attack in December and said that the use of the death penalty cannot and does not debunk violent extremist ideologies. And he may be right. Has there been a significant change in the number of attacks, death threats and target killings? The Shafqat Hussain case is a clear enough example of how facts can be blurred and the judicial mechanism can easily be unsure of its decision. The EU had also expressed concern over Aftab Bahadur’s hanging and said his petition, alleging that his juvenile status at the time of the crime, and torture while in custody to extract a confession, was not given due consideration. Pakistan’s Foreign Office has responded by saying it has not violated any international laws and is only punishing those who have committed heinous crimes. Facts may present a different picture. In Punjab, for example, 226 prisoners were placed on death row for “non-lethal offences” and now face the noose. Up to 1,000 people convicted as juveniles are facing execution- something that is illegal under international law.

We were once called the ‘most dangerous place on earth’ and now we have the title of the world’s ‘top executioner’. This does nothing for our image abroad, and there are other consequences to consider apart from the moral quandary of killing criminals. The effective implementation of the international conventions, like the abolition of the death penalty is a requirement under the European Union’s Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) Regulation. Trade sanctions will be another setback to the country and to the economy. If there is no moral incentive to stop executions, there is an economic one.

There is too much eagerness in our country to get blood for blood, and that is what got us into this situation in the first place. As a nation, we need to think about what humanity, civilisation, kindness and respect for law and human dignity mean for us. Public opinion is one support that is propping up the death penalty, but people are angry and this is understandable (and changeable). Just because the opinion is of a majority does not mean it is the right opinion. No one is asking for criminals to be freed. Why can Pakistan not choose to err on the side of caution and let punishment be harsh without it including the taking of human life?