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December 18, 2014

GHQ attacker may be hanged first

 
December 18, 2014

ISLAMABAD: As Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has finally lifted the moratorium on death penalty in the aftermath of the Peshawar school carnage, the GHQ attacker Aqeel alias Dr Usman and 75 other hardened terrorists, who had already been handed down death sentences, will be sent to the gallows in the coming days and weeks in a tit-for-tat response to the barbaric actions of the Taliban.
According to well-informed government sources, ever since the operation Zarb-e-Azab was launched on June 15 this year, the country’s military leadership had been pressing the federal government hard not only to legislate new laws to tighten the prosecution of dreaded terrorists but also to lift the moratorium on death penalty which was in force since 2008.
Due to the moratorium, over 8,500 criminals, including hardened terrorists, target killers, murderers and those involved in heinous crimes, are dodging death for the last six years.But in the aftermath of the Peshawar school massacre, the country’s political leadership gave a go ahead to the prime minister at the All Parties Conference to lift the moratorium and give a tough message to terrorists that enough was enough and they will not be spared anymore.
According to the sources, while lifting the moratorium on death penalty, the federal government has asked all the four provincial governments to process the cases of those on death row so that their death warrants or black warrants could be issued on a priority basis.
And the cases of dreaded terrorists and hardened criminals would be processed on a priority basis. The moratorium on death sentence was invoked by the Zardari-led PPP government under tremendous pressure from international community. Consequently, over 8,500 convicted prisoners continue to defy death despite the fact that they have already exhausted their judicial appeals and their convictions have been endorsed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
When the Sharif government came to power after the

2013 polls, it had announced resumption of the death penalty but soon got it reversed.However, repeated warnings by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that the executions of jailed militants including the GHQ attacker Aqeel alias Dr Usman would compel the TTP to wage a war against the PML-N leadership had forced the federal government to take a U-turn on its previous declaration that it was determined to carry out the death sentences because it was key to deterring the militancy and terrorism engulfing Pakistan. It was in August 2013 that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had ordered to halt carrying out the death sentences in the country till further orders.
The general impression was that the Sharif government’s decision to halt the execution of death sentences was primarily meant to avoid a possible backlash from the Taliban who had threatened to shift the focus of their terrorist activities to the Punjab if the militants were hanged. After assuming power, Nawaz Sharif had initiated peace talks with the Taliban, which eventually failed, thus prompting a military operation in North Waziristan. As the moratorium has been lifted, Aqeel alias Dr Usman could be the first terrorist to be sent to the gallows for leading a 10-member fidayeen squad to attack the GHQ in Rawalpindi on October 10, 2009. The operation was codenamed as Operation Janbaz, which left 10 soldiers and two civilians dead. Aqeel was set to be executed in Faisalabad on August 23, 2013 but he was lucky to have survived in the wake of Sharif government’s decision to impose moratorium on death penalty.
A deserter from the Medical Corps of the Pakistan Army who later joined the Taliban ranks, Aqeel was sentenced to death in August 2011 by a Field General Court Martial (FGCM) in Rawalpindi for his lead role in the GHQ attack. Three civilians - Khaliqur Rehman, Mohammad Usman and Wajid Mehmood - were awarded life sentences while two others, Mohammad Adnan and Tahir Shafiq, were handed down eight and seven years jail sentences respectively. While Aqeel was caught alive following the assault, another ex-soldier and five civilians were arrested later and found guilty after trial of abetment in the brazen attack. The court martial proceedings against the accused were headed by a serving brigadier and the trial lasted over five months at an undisclosed location near Rawalpindi.
But Aqeel’s fate was effectively sealed on December 7, 2012 when an Army Appellate Court headed by a major general had rejected his appeal against the death sentence. As Aqeel attempted to challenge his sentence in the superior courts, he was told that the verdicts handed down by the military courts could not be challenged in a high court. As per the confessional statement of Aqeel, he had deserted the Army’s Medical Corps in 2006 to join the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM). He later joined hands with Commander Ilyas Kashmiri’s Harkatul Jehadul Islami (HuJI), finally becoming a significant leader of the Waziristan-based Punjabi Taliban. In the aftermath of 2007 Lal Masjid operation, Aqeel and several other hardcore jehadi elements had floated a new group — Tehrik-e-Taliban Punjab — which had carried out the GHQ attack.
As such, the GHQ assault was one of the first major terrorist attacks attributed to the Punjabi Taliban. Aqeel had disclosed during interrogations that the GHQ attack was conceived in the Miramshah headquarter of North Waziristan by the same militants who had attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore in March 2009. Shortly after the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team, Aqeel fled to Waziristan where he had met Ilyas Kashmiri. It was in this meeting that the idea of the attack on the General Headquarters was finalised by Kashmiri, who himself had deserted the armed forces to become a key al-Qaeda leader, before being killed in a US drone attack in June 2011.