Islamabad has wasted little time delivering on this promise. Unfortunately, its muscular response invites the sort of attacks it is intended to forestall.
One of Pakistan’s first decisions after the attack was to rescind the country’s four-year moratorium on the death penalty. Pakistan is planning to execute 55 death-row inmates over the next few days–none of whom have any connection to the Peshawar massacre. As of Monday, four men–convicted for an attack on military headquarters in 2009 and an attempted assassination of then-President Pervez Musharraf in 2003–have been executed.
These actions are meant to appease a population, and state, thirsting for any form of revenge. Yet it could prove highly destabilizing. The Pakistani Taliban has vowed to launch reprisal attacks for any executions of its people and threatened to stage jailbreaks to free its prisoners around the country.
This is a serious threat. The Pakistani Taliban pulled off jailbreaks in 2012 and 2013 that freed nearly 400 and 250 prisoners, respectively. In the latter incident, 30 “hardened” Taliban fighters and several commanders were freed.
The other element of Pakistan’s response has been to intensify its countermilitancy campaign in the tribal belt. Over the past few days, airstrikes and ground offensives have killed about 120 militants, according to Pakistani officials. While perhaps tactically effective, this assault is sure to galvanize jihadists and increase the likelihood of more retaliatory attacks. And more Pakistani military firepower–not known for avoiding collateral damage–is likely to displace communities and cause civilian casualties, providing the Taliban with fresh material to recruit new fighters.
This all raises the prospect of a brutal cycle of violence. Those caught in the crosshairs of any retaliatory attacks would be ordinary Pakistanis, many of whom have bravely, and unusually,taken to the streets in recent days to protest terrorism and its sympathizers. Public protests tied to such causes are exceedingly rare in that country.
If Pakistan wants to make real progress in its fight against militancy, it needs to go beyond executions and the use of force. It must revamp its legal system so that all militants are not only arrested (and many are not) but also robustly prosecuted; develop counter-narratives to weaken the powerful extremist ideologies that permeate Pakistan’s increasingly radicalized society; and target militant networks’ funding sources (which range from the drug and timber trade to financing streams from the Persian Gulf).
Above all, Pakistan must stop differentiating between “good” and “bad” militants. All Pakistan-based extremist factions–including the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network, which have links to the security establishment and do not target the Pakistani state–share the same murderous ideologies and tactics. Pakistan cannot defeat unrepentant jihadists by holding a gun in one hand and a flower in the other.