The Prime Minister on Wednesday approved the removal of the moratorium on the death penalty in terrorism cases, in the wake of the horror in Peshawar. The announcement has been met with roars of approval by a grieving nation. The sentiment is understandable; 132 innocent children were systematically hunted down and mercilessly murdered. The rage that runs through the nation is stronger than it has ever been; it demands revenge, swift and bloody retribution, and within the binaries of this rage, the nation can see only a thin line between justice and no justice. That line is capital punishment.

However, mustering every ounce of level headedness left within this polity, it is important not to let surging emotion sweep logic with it. The moratorium on the death penalty was an important milestone, reached after decades of effort by civil society and human rights groups and it has been undone by a knee-jerk reaction aimed at appeasing a wounded nation, without any debate.

If we let closure take the back seat for a moment, the arguments for lifting the moratorium lose much of their force. It is hard to see how it would deter future terrorists from carrying out their plan – as advocated by Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haidri – seeing as most of these militants attack, fully aware of the fact that they will die by the end of it. How on earth will the death penalty deter a suicide bomber? It might be a factor for those lower in the hierarchy, but they are rarely given the maximum penalty and are often similarly radicalised. The only two realistic benefits are: it could permanently ensure that some terrorists are not a threat to society in case of mass jailbreaks and prisoner exchanges. Secondly, it would build a concrete narrative: if you engage in terrorism, you will be hung. This could coalesce state policy into a visible, symbolic gesture. Yet, these are vague, idealistic “benefits.”

The fact is that there is no one definition of terrorist under Pakistan’s dangerous new anti terrorism law, the Protection of Pakistan Act, which allows several non-terrorism related offences to be tried under it, leaving room for greater abuses without proportionate protection. Security forces and judicial officials acting under this law operate with effective immunity. What is to stop the ever widening definition of terrorist to include “blasphemer” or political dissident? How can a justice system in the throes of a constitutional crisis, distribute irreversible penalties? Who after all, is the death penalty going to deter? The seven men who walked into the school on Tuesday knew they were walking to their own deaths. It is quick and easy and symbolic to commit to capital punishment; it is difficult to act aggressively against seminaries, to enrage your extremist allies, to change narratives and provide counter narratives. That is the task before our government, that is the price of true retribution.