Pakistan hanged 324 people last year to rank third worldwide in terms of executions, but the vast majority of those put to death had no links to militant groups or attacks according to human rights groups.

The general sentiment is that criminals, dangerous murderers deserve to die. If they don’t, they get to live an easy life in jail, and are a further source of crime as well as a drain on the state’s resources. This is very strong argument, but the problem is that while we are deterring these “dons” who make prisons their operative base, we are also sending many a poor man to the gallows who is often there because of a lack of access to a lawyer, a confession extracted from torture, and a corrupt legal system. While our legal system remains ineffective and protective of the criminal (say Mumtaz Qadri and his like), are we really okay with killing criminals, who might not be innocent?

Human life on the whole, has such little value in our society, that this is not even a passing concern. The hordes of people executed, who are not terrorists, and maybe, just maybe even innocent, are shrugged away as collateral damage – and often by people who would protest the collateral damage of the US drone program (while applauding Zarb-e-Azab as unequivocal success - without collateral damage).

The knot of ethics must be unravelled, and the legal system, the judges, the lawyers and their penchant for bribes and political decisions must be stemmed. If we are choosing to kill people, we have to be unequivocally sure that they are criminals. It is debateable whether threat of the death penalty can deter extremism. Most of these righteous militants are ready for death as a consequence of their jihad, will state punishment really deter them? The military operation was our only bet, and is our only bet, until minds that support religious extremism can change.

How does the state, and military, ensure that the legal process was unflawed and the accused had proper legal representation? The concept of human rights applies to all citizens of Pakistan- it is not suspended when one person is accused of a crime. The “greater good” argument suggests that we should not stop hanging 99 criminals to save one innocent. Our religion, our constitution and most standards of ethics would suggest otherwise.