A subject that generates mass controversy and vociferous public debate, capital punishment again becomes a national topic as the Foreign Office cautions against lifting the moratorium on the death penalty, for fear of losing the possibility of access to European markets.

This friendly reminder has also been voiced by the Head of European Parliament Sub-Committee on Human Rights, Ana Gomes. Lifting the moratorium is to be taken as a setback Pakistan will potentially face in becoming the 28th member of the EU preferential trade status bloc. EU Ambassador to Pakistan Lars Wigemark maintained that while it had no direct links with the Generalized System of Preference, which Islamabad aspires to obtain for duty-free access, it would be a positive step for Pakistan to gain its aim without removing the moratorium.

At this stage, the moratorium becomes more than just a legal delay in sentence execution; it accrues significance as an asset working in the favor of Pakistan’s greater economic interests. Pakistan cannot afford to slip in this matter especially bearing in mind the fact that it is also a present member on the United Nations Human Rights council.

One can understand the confusion surrounding the death penalty in Pakistan, driven by a conflict between a punishment existing under the law, but never executed because of the overwhelming repercussions in the national context. Politically opposing parties will, no doubt, engage in some heated arguments concerning capital punishment, as one party accuses the other for being “less Islamic” about its stance.

Yet, even while pandering to voter wishes, all parties recognize that a pantheon of issues influence the subject, including Pakistan’s preferential trade objectives. These cannot be ignored while debating the lifting of the moratorium on death sentences in Pakistan. With constant scrutiny focused on Pakistan’s human rights record, internationally, even the change from President Zardari to President-elect Mamnoon Hussain is unlikely to herald any change in the policy of continuing the moratorium.

Political parties must act responsibly when debating the matter, to avoid creating the confusion that the death penalty is being abolished. A moratorium on the sentences is a pragmatic measure, not a reversal of law, and must be seen as such.