ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Authorities in Pakistan hanged seven prisoners on Tuesday, a move intended to demonstrate the country’s resolve to press its fight against Islamist militants.
The executions were simultaneously carried out in four prisons when Secretary of State John F. Kerry was in the capital, Islamabad, to pledge U.S. support and extra funding for Pakistan’s stepped-up counterterrorism offensive.
At a joint news conference with Sartaj Aziz, chief national security adviser to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Kerry said the Pakistani military had made serious gains in dislodging terrorist groups from North Waziristan.
“The operation is not yet complete, but already the results are significant, and Pakistani forces and their commanders deserve enormous credit,” Kerry told Aziz. “But make no mistake: The task is a difficult one, and it is not done.”
He also announced $250 million in additional U.S. aid for humanitarian and rebuilding efforts in the country’s restive northwestern tribal areas.
In another sign of enhanced U.S.-Pakistan cooperation, the State Department announced that it has designated Maulana Fazlullah, Pakistan’s most-wanted man, a “global terrorist.” This means the department now considers Fazlullah, head of the Pakistani Taliban, a threat to the United States.
The U.S. government has taken no formal stance on Pakistan’s decision last month to end a six-year moratorium on executions in the aftermath of a Dec. 16 Taliban attack at an army-run school in Peshawar that killed about 150 students and teachers.
The European Union and the United Nations have urged Pakistan’s leaders to reconsider their resumption of executions. Sharif, however, has rebuffed pleas that Pakistan slow down its plans to execute hundreds of prisoners accused of terrorism-related crimes.
Officials in Pakistan’s Interior and Foreign ministries said the Tuesday hangings marked the first time in decades that the country had executed so many people on the same day. Including the seven hanged Tuesday, Pakistan has executed 16 prisoners in three weeks.
Those executed Tuesday include three men accused of killing a Defense Ministry official in 2001. The men, part of a banned sectarian group, were hanged in Sukkur prison in southern Sindh province.
In Faisalabad, in eastern Punjab province, the two prisoners hanged Tuesday had been convicted of involvement in a 2003 attempt to assassinate Pervez Musharraf, then Pakistan’s military ruler.
In Karachi, also in Sindh province, prison officials executed a man suspected of killing a lawyer in 2003.
Zulfiqar Ali, an al-Qaeda militant convicted of killing two police officers during a 2003 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Karachi, also was hanged Tuesday.
Before 2008, executions were common in Pakistan for an array of offenses, including murder and rape. But the government, bowing to pressure from humanitarian groups and European countries, imposed a moratorium on the practice that year.
The Taliban school massacre, however, united the country in favor of lifting the moratorium.
“After the Peshawar incident, there is no room for ifs and buts. Firm action is needed,” said Abdul Waseem, a lawmaker from Karachi and member of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement. “We are at war, and in a war, if you don’t kill your enemy, he will eliminate you.”
Human Rights Watch has accused Pakistani leaders of using the executions to cover up the real challenges they face in combating Islamist extremism.
“Pakistan’s government has chosen to indulge in vengeful blood-lust instead of finding and prosecuting those responsible for the horrific Peshawar attack,” the group said in a recent statement.
According to Reprieve, a London-based organization that is against the death penalty, 8,261 people are on death row in Pakistan. Recently, though, Pakistani courts have issued temporary reprieves to at least a dozen of them.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Khan also has temporarily blocked the execution of Shafqat Hussain, who was convicted of kidnapping and murder.
Reprieve and other human rights groups had mounted a campaign to spare Hussain, noting that he was just 14 when convicted. Human rights officials allege that he was tortured into confessing to the crime and has since recanted his confession.
Human rights groups and some Pakistani progressives worry that opportunities to spare innocent prisoners will become even more difficult now that Pakistan has voted for new military courts to try suspects accused of terrorism or holding extremist views.
The courts are designed to quickly dispense of cases, and it remains unclear whether suspects will be eligible for appeal.
During Kerry’s visit, such concerns were largely overshadowed by what U.S. officials described as their increased optimism that Pakistan is finally getting serious about tackling terrorism.
Kerry pressed Pakistan’s leaders to do even more to combat groups such as the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Afghan Taliban that historically have not been viewed as a domestic threat to Pakistan but that operate inside the country.
However, he credited Pakistani forces for undertaking “a very extensive, costly . . . effort to break up the nest” of the Haqqani network in North Waziristan.
“It’s no secret that the United States and Pakistan have had disagreements here and there,” Kerry said. “But our relationship is a mature relationship. We’re able to work through these with an understanding that we have larger goals and larger interests that we need to stay focused on.”
Aziz said the money the United States pledged for North Waziristan will be part of an overall $1.5 billion to $2 billion rebuilding effort that will begin when the military completes its operations in the region.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the number of prisoners that Pakistan had executed in the past three weeks. Pakistan has executed 16 prisoners since it reinstated the death penalty last month.
Shaiq Hussain contributed to this report.