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Amid Grief, Warnings That Pakistan Gov't Retaliation Could Violate Human Rights

As Pakistan holds vigils and mass funerals, across the border, people in India stage moment of silence

People light candles in memory of victims of the Taliban attack on the Army Public School, during a rally in Peshawar, December 17, 2014. (Photo: Reuters/Khuram Parvez)

People light candles in memory of victims of the Taliban attack on the Army Public School, during a rally in Peshawar, December 17, 2014. (Photo: Reuters/Khuram Parvez)

As people across Pakistan and the world mourn the at least 148 people—most of them children—killed by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) fighters in the city of Peshawar on Tuesday, critics warn that retaliatory measures by the Pakistani government could lead to further human rights violations.

On Wednesday, Pakistan commenced three days of mourning with school closures and public vigils for the lives lost when TTP militants launched an attack on a military-run school. Meanwhile, families buried their loved ones in mass funerals in the area in or surrounding Peshawar.

Across the border, people in India—including within the government—held a two-minute moment of silence on Wednesday to honor the victims of the school massacre.

Other vigils are taking place or are planned around the world, with reports emerging that students in India will wear green blazers on Friday in homage to the Pakistani students who were killed.

The attack was widely condemned across the world, including by President Obama and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, as well as by the Afghanistan Taliban, which denounced the massacre as "un-Islamic."

Meanwhile, Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday removed the six-year moratorium on the death penalty for cases relating to "terrorism."

However, the UK-based charity Reprieve warns that the rapid resumption of executions will be a human rights disaster in a country that has the world's largest death row, with 40 per cent of the prisoners condemned to death tried in "terrorism" courts.

"Today’s announcement puts thousands of lives at risk," said Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at Reprieve. "The prospect of executions in the next 48 hours should be cause for immediate action from countries with strong links to Pakistan, such as the U.S. and the UK. Our research suggests that many of the individuals who would be first in line for execution are simply not terrorists, and that the law is being abused in a way that perverts justice and fails to keep anyone safe."

Pakistan's Army announced Tuesday, following the massacre, that it had launched air strikes in Khyber and North Waziristan, but it was not immediately clear whether the bombings were in retaliation for the school attack.

The TTP claimed that Tuesday's gruesome attacks were in response to the Pakistani army's military offensive in North Waziristan, which has been waged since June, abetted by U.S. drone strikes.

Speaking with Democracy Now! on Wednesday, Tariq Ali—historian, author, and editor of the New Left Review—said the U.S. has had a direct hand in sowing terrorism in Pakistan.

"At the time the United States went into Afghanistan, I remember writing in the Guardian that one consequence of this massive presence of western military troops is going to be the destabilization and the advancement of terror inside Pakistan itself," said Ali.

"It is a horrific attack," he continued, "and it can't be justified. But what the Taliban are saying is of course true: they are bombed and their kids die and no one says a word. That's absolutely true. But you cannot justify one crime by committing another."

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