The death penalty has been awarded to two TTP operatives, Moavia and Abdullah, responsible for brutal attacks on Ahmadis in 2010. The two men awarded death sentences by an Anti Terrorism Court (ATC), carried out attacks on Ahmadi mosques that led to the deaths of 94 people and left 120 injured. The sentencing, though generally problematic when the debate on capital punishment is considered, is a significant and welcome confusion to the legal and ideological fold of the country.

The Second Amendment to Pakistan’s Constitution in 1974 declared Ahmadis non-Muslims, preceding and following which there have been countless attacks on the community, with the most significant being the 1974 Anti Ahmaddiya riots and the May 2010 mosque attacks. Over time, an entire community has been discriminated against repeatedly, targeted violently and isolated socially. Ahmadis have been popularly deemed “Wajib-ul-Qatl” or deserving of death by various right-wing clerics, with even relatively mainstream clerics choosing to avoid the issue rather than condemn instances of violence against them. A recent example of this view being reinforced on a popular television show by a cleric, resulted in the murder of an Ahmadi man in Gujranwala. And so, before this brutal landscape, when an ATC sentences two men to death for killing people deemed “deserving of death,” it can only be seen as an ideological victory.

Much backlash from religious right wingers can be expected in the coming days, and the resolve of the government and the Court will be tested. The lifting of the moratorium on the death penalty following the APS Peshawar school attack has received widespread criticism from human rights groups around the world, and within the country with most seeing it as a knee-jerk reaction and a regressive legal step. The irony must therefore, not be lost on those hailing the ruling of the ATC in this particular case. It is an intellectual dilemma; the barbaric killers of Ahmadi children are receiving the same punishment as those responsible for murdering Shia and Sunni children. Ideological victories and failures aside, it is, if nothing else, a moment for reflection. Does this mean the state is finally putting sectarian violence at par with other kinds of militant violence?