Protests, executions follow Pakistan school attack
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As protesters took to the streets in many Pakistani cities to denounce last week’s deadly Peshawar school attack, the government is taking a tough line on terrorism. But will executions solve Pakistan’s security problem?
Dressed in Santa Claus costumes, holding placards proclaiming, “United we stand in grief and sorrow,” a group of protesters on Sunday prayed for the victims of the December 16 Peshawar school attack, which killed 149 people, mostly children.
The protest in Pakistan’s commercial capital of Karachi was organized by a Christian charity to express solidarity with the families of the Peshawar army school massacre.
In a country where religious minorities – including Christians, Shiite and Ahmadi Muslims – are frequently targeted, Pakistan is seeing an unprecedented display of unity prompted by the recent school massacre.
More than a thousand kilometers away, in Lahore, capital of the most populous Punjab province, demonstrators took to the streets to call for the execution of those responsible for the massacre.
The Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack in retaliation for a military offensive in the tribal border region.
“We believe that these terrorists are the first enemy of humanity and this rally is for solidarity with the martyrs who have given their life for the cause and the whole Pakistani nation is with the Pak[istan] Army to eliminate these worst terrorists," said protester Qazi Faiz-ul-Islam.
Plans to execute around 500 terror convicts
In the aftermath of the Peshawar attack, the Pakistani government has launched a tough stance on terrorism, with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declaring the end of an unofficial embargo on executions last week.
Six convicted militants have been hanged since Friday in the first executions since 2012. Of the half-dozen hanged so far, five were involved in a failed attempt to assassinate then-military ruler Pervez Musharraf in 2003, while one was involved in a 2009 attack on army headquarters.
On Monday, senior government officials told the AFP the country plans to execute around 500 convicted militants.
"[The] Interior Ministry has finalised the cases of 500 convicts who have exhausted all the appeals, their mercy petitions have been turned down by the president and their executions will take place in the coming weeks," a senior official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The resumption of the death penalty has sparked criticisms from human rights groups such as Amnesty International.
“This is a cynical reaction from the government. It masks a failure to deal with the core issue highlighted by the Peshawar attack, namely the lack of effective protection for civilians in north-west Pakistan,” said David Griffiths, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia Pacific Director, in a statement released last week.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch on Saturday termed the executions "a craven politicised reaction to the Peshawar killings" and demanded that no further hangings be carried out.
But amid rising public anger over the deteriorating security situation, there is widespread support across Pakistan for the reinstatement of the death penalty.
At a press conference Sunday, Pakistani Interior Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said police had arrested several people suspected of involvement in the Peshawar school attack.
“Few suspects have been taken into custody. Kindly allow me not to divulge either the number or their identities, but quite a few suspects, who were facilitators in some way or the other, [were arrested] and the interrogation is moving ahead in a very positive manner," said Khan.
He also added that intelligence indicated that “the militants are getting ready for another savage and inhuman counter-attack," but declined to provide details.
Security has been tightened across Pakistan, with police, paramilitary and military troops put on red alert as the executions take place and the army intensifies its operations against the Pakistani Taliban in the tribal border regions.