Open letter to Mr Ban Ki Moon

Courtesy:-  Asghar Qadir

The UN and the European Union have expressed great concern about the decision of Pakistan to rescind the moratorium on the death penalty. Some of us feel that perhaps they do not fully grasp the reality of the situation in Pakistan. With your permission, I would like to set the background for my argument to revive the death penalty here, then give the argument itself and finally give a brief proposal.


The state of Pakistan is in a state of war. For a long time we were in a state of denial about the war against “the enemy within” but recently our military and then our civilian government came to admit that it is not external threats but the big internal threat that represents the greatest danger to the state of Pakistan. We are at war with people who repudiate our state. Some of them do indeed come from outside but the bulk of them are of Pakistani origin. However, they are not Pakistanis as they have repudiated our laws and our state. They have committed treason and have thus lost the right to our citizenship.

It is easy to blame present and past governments for incompetence and ineptness in managing and governing the country. One can point to the corruption of this and previous governments. Due to lack of adequate care, we have lost our forest cover in the northern areas and hence are more prone to damage by earthquakes in those areas. This has led to the displacement of tens of thousands of people. Due to lack of forests and adequate care, there has been heavy damage done by floods. There are hundreds of thousands displaced.

Due to mismanagement of our economy and lack of development projects, we are left short of power, food and water. Due to the misguided policies of the US in its efforts to first destabilise the USSR and then interfere in Afghanistan, we are faced with millions of refugees from Afghanistan. Due to their poor judgment in supporting the last two military rulers, we are stuck with a substantial amorphous, indigenous population of enemies of the state. It is easy to blame the governments of Pakistan, of the US, of India (for encouraging insurgencies) but it is not so easy to see how to deal with the multifarious problems that the state now faces. “I tell you that which you yourself do know; show you my country’s wounds and bid them speak for me.”

It is in this backdrop that I come to the matter of the death penalty for militants who are not Pakistani citizens, having declared themselves opposed to the state. We have to not only provide them with food and shelter, but we have to provide them with special security to ensure that there are no jailbreaks. This is an expensive proposition for a poor country like Pakistan. We have to decide whether the limited resources should be spent on trying to alleviate the starvation in Thar or to feed the militants. We must choose whether to try to provide shelter for the homeless, internally displaced persons and the refugees or the militants. Remember that many of the persons were displaced from their homes because of these militants. The conditions in the camps of the displaced have led to diseases that have reached epidemic proportions. In the middle of winter people in the northern areas are catching diseases and dying of cold. We have to see if we will provide more power to those people or more power to the imprisoned militants.

The militants kill without compunction and claim religious merit for doing so. They say that those perpetrating these atrocities will go to heaven. This misrepresentation of the religion can easily influence illiterate and uneducated people with whom our country abounds. These include underpaid guards in prisons. For those who have nothing, the promise of heaven is too enticing; those who have a good semblance of that heaven on earth may withstand their arguments better. We do not have the resources to pay all the guards required well enough. Unilateral interference by the US provides fertile ground for the sowing of more seeds of terrorism and reaping a rich crop of future terrorists. As we do not keep a Guatanamo Bay where the prisoners cannot convert the wardens, we run the risk of their converting their guards into potential inmates. Who, then, will guard the guardians?

When advising us to “maintain the high moral ground” consider that most of those who are so kept will produce more terrorists. Many of them will probably escape or be released. While human life should be protected, we do not have the choice between saving human lives or not; we must choose which lives to save. While “maintaining the high moral ground”, we have to remember to “retain the higher strategic ground” for our war. While it sounds good to say that “it is better that 100 guilty go free than one innocent being wrongfully convicted, we will then free 99 guilty terrorists to go and kill thousands of our children — our hopes, our dreams, our future torn to shreds. So that the one innocent adult is not hanged, we condemn thousands of innocent children to a gory death and abet their murder by refusing to act. “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

Having presented my case for our resuming capital punishment let me make my proposal. We are a poor country that cannot afford to maintain terrorists sufficiently, safely and humanely but many of the countries that tell us to abolish it are rich. Let the UN and those countries take our terrorists and maintain them in the comparative luxury of their jails (especially compared with the conditions of our people in camps and those in Thar or the northern areas) to relieve us of the financial burden, and even more of the grave risks of keeping them in Pakistan. We are sure that with the security they would provide the risks would be nonexistent. We only ask in return, assurance that the risks be nonexistent and not ‘minimal’, as we cannot afford a single one of them to escape and return here to continue killing our citizens. What could be a fairer offer than that?

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