ISLAMABAD - Linked to unabated wave of unprecedented terrorism Pakistan has been fighting over the years, the country’s security establishment holds reportedly strong reservations against the abolition or suspension of the death penalty.

While international human rights watchdogs and the United Nations continue to urge Pakistan to do away with the death penalty, the country’s security apparatus comprising military and civilian security and law enforcement agencies sounds vocal in categorically opposing capital punishment’s abolition or even its suspension. This has much to do with thousands of high-profile militants involved in terrorism being on the death row.

“Our prosecution system is already so weak and doing away with the death penalty would be like last nail in the coffin,” a senior serving army officer, who once served at Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, commented.

“Instead of taking the terrorists to justice, giving them a breathing space would invite the worse that is going to happen let alone what’s happening and what’s happened here.”

The top cops at Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police do not think differently. In separate conversations with this correspondent, the incumbent Inspector General KP Police Ehsan Ghani as well as the former IG Akbar Hoti shared their views in strong support of the capital punishment.

“There is absolutely no instance of hanging even one of those hundreds of militants who have killed thousands of innocent citizens of Pakistan and are yet to be taken to task,” Ghani said.

“Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is worst affected by terrorism. Thousands of security men and ordinary citizens have laid down their lives. But not a single terrorist has been punished under the due process of law. Even if one terrorist or a criminal was hanged, it would have given a message to miscreants that taking a life was not that easy here and it did not go unrewarded.”

Akbar Hoti said, during his tenure as IG KP police, more than 800 wanted terrorists, mostly from Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and some other militant organisations were arrested and presented before the courts. “No one has really seen justice and that encourages the militants to unleash terrorism again and again.”

Since its arrival in power in the year 2008, the PPPP-led former government had followed a moratorium on executions, which, the security officials believe, led to massive surge in terrorism.

According to the military source, the military and its security agencies had arrested 1,016 terror suspects from Federally Administered Tribal areas (FATA) alone during the last three years. These suspects, the official said, were handed over to the law enforcement agencies to be subsequently put to trial by the courts. Of them, terrorism allegations against more than 800 were proved and they were handed death sentence, the source furthered. “But no one has been executed and we believe a significant number of hardened terrorists is on the loose again as result of jailbreaks in Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan,” he referred to the verified reports suggesting that several hundred TTP militants had fled in the two jailbreaks having respectively taken place last and this year.

Earlier last year, the source added, the PPPP (Pakistan People’s Party-Parliamentarians) could not abolish the death penalty due to strong opposition shown by the military intelligence establishment led by the then Director General ISI Lieutenant General (Retd) Ahmad Shuja Pasha.

In course of the preparation of the story titled “Can Pakistan afford to abolish death penalty?” printed in The Nation on November 22, 2012, this correspondent had contacted the UN Resident Coordinator in Pakistan Timo Pakkala to acquire the UN’s version on whether it was a workable option to abolish death penalty in Pakistan against the backdrop of serious security challenges emanating out of terrorism, targeted killings and related crimes and whether the UN suggested an alternative against death penalty for the countries like Pakistan. He had expressed inability to comment on the issue saying, “The UN General Assembly has called for states that maintain the death penalty to establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty with a view to abolition. This is the UN position. I cannot comment on the other issues.”

Islamabad-based former UN diplomat Atle Hetland believes the countries like Pakistan, which, he said, are the terrorisms’ worst suffering nations, need to introduce and implement extraordinary laws to get rid of this menace. “Death penalty really has to be an option here. Pakistan needs to follow what suits it the best irrespective of what the world says. No country in the world has suffered from terrorism the way Pakistan has. Had any developed country suffered even fractionally from terrorism compared to Pakistan, it would have gone for extremely tough laws,” he told this newspaper.

“How could you expect Pakistan to abolish death penalty the imposition of which is vitally needed here when the countries like the United States have not abolished it?”

In the US, 34 states have not abolished the capital punishment whereas several countries including India, China, Japan and Iran have kept the capital punishment intact in order to control crime rate.

This June, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the UN member states to move towards the abolition of the death penalty.

Last November, the UN Human Rights chief Navi Pillay had expressed disappointment over the first ever execution in Pakistan in four years. In the same month, this scribe had spoken to Director Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) IA Rehman regarding the issue. Despite that the HRCP opposes the capital punishment’s implementation here, its top representative avoided a direct answer. “I think every country has a set of socio-political circumstances within which it operates. Exercising death penalty differs from state to state. This should not be generalised in holistic terms. Pakistan’s socio-political dynamics are different from other countries and it has to operate within these dynamics. All factors need to be accounted for, before touching a sensitive human rights issue as lawful executions,” he had said.

In a recent statement, the Human Rights Watch said, “It is absolutely essential that militants who threaten and kill people be held accountable for their crimes. However, terrorism won’t be stopped by hangings but by rights respecting counter-terrorism measures and fair prosecutions.”

Last year, as many as 110 states had voted for abolishing death sentence at a session of a UN General Assembly’s committee but the states such as the US, Japan, China, Iran and India had opposed the resolution while Pakistan and 35 other countries had abstained from casting their votes.

The present government in Pakistan has suspended the executions of the four convicts who were scheduled to be hanged in the recent days. They include two men from the banned terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, who were found involved in terrorism.