When asked how he registers cases, the police officer – a friendly man with a full white beard – says it’s easy. “First, I wait for a few hours.” What for? He shakes his head at so much ignorance: “For someone to offer me enough money so I can let the prisoner go.”
He only enters the delinquent’s name and crime if there’s no bribe, the police officer patiently explains and taps the thick, somewhat faded tome on the desk in front of him.
This exchange took place in a police station in Islamabad, but it could just as well have been in Karachi, Lahore or one of the tribal areas. Pakistan’s legal system is thoroughly corrupt, a former Supreme Court judge concedes.
Seated in his small office where one can hear his colleagues’ voices from the offices next door, he shrugs. “Everyone knows that false testimony is completely normal here.” Witnesses are bought, judges bribed, lawyers threatened: it’s the norm in Pakistan.
The gallows won’t solve the problem, says Naomi Conrad
Not even close to a fair trial
That makes it even more alarming that the Pakistani government has lifted the moratorium on the death penalty, in place since 2008. The decision follows last week’s massacre in a school in Peshawar that left almost 150 people dead, most of them children, the deadliest terror attack in Pakistani history.
While TV stations showed non-stop footage of pools of blood, child-sized coffins and crying parents, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif strode up to rolling cameras to declare war on the Taliban, a war that would last until “the last terrorist has been eliminated.”
So, aiming to show strength, the government has begun executing convicted terrorists. The plan is to execute another 500 in the coming weeks. About 80,000 people are incarcerated on death row in Pakistan, around a third of them on terrorism charges, according to Pakistani figures. How many had a fair trial, an incorruptible defense and prosecution? How many were tortured, blackmailed and threatened?
They all must be ‘eliminated’
Can that really be the response to the Taliban? No, of course not!
Brutal state violence is by no means a sign of strength, but of helplessness. For too long, Pakistan’s government has created the breeding ground for extremism: corruption, poverty, an abysmal state school system, a judiciary that can be bought and a lack of prospects in many parts of the country are proof of the state’s complete failure. In the past, these factors have helped drive young people into the arms of the Taliban.
For too long, the government looked the other way when well-known hatemongers preached extremism at their Koran schools. For too long, the government supported, or at least indulged, the “good” Taliban – those who fought against India and Afghanistan.
Such state failure, however, can’t be cured by turning to the gallows. That would only create more martyrs for the extremists, and perpetuate the spiral of violence.
No, true strength lies in developing the country: building schools, creating jobs and effectively fighting corruption. In short, declaring war on poverty instead of “eliminating” the extremists. That’s the only way to defeat – though not completely eliminate – the Taliban.