Though the Nawaz government claims that it has reversed its earlier cancellation of the moratorium on death sentences, because the President wished to discuss the matter, it is generally known that it was putting off the cancellation of the moratorium because of the threats that the Tehrik Taliban Pakistan had made against the Prime Minister and the Punjab Chief Minister, if any of their terorist stalwarts were executed.

Among the men the TTP is trying to protect is the militant guilty of the 2009 attack on GHQ. Had it not been for this reprieve, a number of TTP and Lashkar-i-Jhangvi commanders were due to be executed in Sindh and Punjab between August 25 and August 30.

According to the law of the land, if a convict receives the death sentence, which is duly upheld by the relevant courts, and his mercy petition is rejected by the President (who now merely asks the heirs of murder victims to forgive the murderer), the sentence must be upheld.

The death penalty can be opposed because of numerous excellent reasons, including: the inherent doubt in convictions because of the flaws in a system such as ours, the philosophical debate that no human must ever be able to send another to his/her death, the fact that there can be no guarantee that an innocent person is not hanged…but, thus far, it is the law of the land, a punishment handed down by the state. A moratorium on death sentences being carried out is neither here not there.

After announcing that the sentences would be carried out, and then backing away from its own decision because of a terrorist threat, the government has managed to create the impression that its decisions are taken not on principle, but at the point of a gun. The threat, by its very nature serves witness to the nature of the convictions on the accused in question, who are being lobbied for by their criminal colleagues.

This is not the impression that any government worth its salt wants to give. The government must establish the supremacy of the law by ensuring strict compliance with the law, or else be courageous and announce a repeal of the death penalty law. It must take the necessary precautions for the Prime Ministed and the Punjab Chief Minister, against whom the TTP threats are made, and not cave in to threats.