A flurry of executions of "terrorists, murderers, kidnappers and rapists" by the Afghan government has drawn applause at home, concern abroad.
The week's executions of 16 prisoners distressed human rights groups and western societies, but many Afghan media and citizens hailed the move and asked the government to be tougher on criminals.
Two batches of executions were carried out on Tuesday and Wednesday. Eight of the men were accused of capital crimes, including murders, kidnapping and rape. Others hanged in Kabul's Pul-e-Charkhi jail were militants who had executed border police officers and carried out suicide attacks, authorities said.
"We can reduce crime if criminals see what is awaiting them." Rahela Nesar, schoolteacher.
The US-based Human Rights Watch called on Afghan government to “end its sudden surge of executions and institute a moratorium on further executions.”
“The Afghan government’s near total moratorium on the death penalty in recent years was a major departure from Taliban rule,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The eight hangings in a single day are a terrible step backwards for Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai should stop future executions and commit to a formal moratorium.”
The European Union said in a statement that the “perpetrators of such crimes should face a fair trial and prison sentences. However, the European Union is opposed to the use of capital punishment.”
"We call on the Afghan authorities to commute all further death sentences and to reintroduce the moratorium on executions as a first step toward definitive abolition of capital punishment,” it said.
Even the Taliban, whose government routinely executed “criminals” during their 1996-2001 rule of Afghanistan, condemned the killings and called on international rights groups to pressure Kabul to stop the executions. Militants on Friday carried out a suicide attack in eastern Afghanistan in retaliation, reportedly killing four and injuring scores.
However, many Afghan media outlets and ordinary citizens hailed the recent capital punishment, calling it critical to ending the culture of impunity and criminality.
Seroush Millat Daily newspaper praised the execution in its editorial and asked the president not to delay the punishment of convicts, because the delay could encourage more crime.
Echoing approval, Hashte Subh wrote in its editorial that government softness towards perpetrators of capital crimes has increased the crime rate and created a “culture of impunity".
The author believes that widespread corruption in the Afghan judicial system and release of “criminals” who have committed murder, rape and terrorist attacks has decreased people’s confidence in their government and created a gap between rulers and the public. The editorial said that for the sake of confidence building Karzai’s administration should release details about the prisoners executed.
Sar Nawisht, another daily newspaper in Kabul said in its editorial that there were major challenges and shortfalls in Afghanistan’s judicial system, which could cause injustice. The newspaper supported Karzai’s decision to take more time before signing on the death sentence and asked the judiciary to spend more time before passing judgment on capital punishments.
Kabul citizens also praised the capital punishment.
“We are Muslim and our religion orders that criminal should be punished in order for others to see his fate and avoid committing such crimes,” said government employee Ahmad Munir, 37. “After the arrival of western forces and their human rights groups such punishment was stopped for a while, but I am glad that the government has resumed execution. I am sure it will decrease crime immensely.”
“Karzai knows that the best way to win support among the people is to fight crime." Mohammad Ismail, student
Mohammad Younus Akbarzada, a 33-year-old businessman, said: “If the government had executed criminals in the past 10 years, we would not have witnessed such a high rate of crime in our country.” “I think it is not too late to do it now and it is a good way to make an example of such criminals.”
Rahela Nesar, a schoolteacher, said that kidnapping, murder and robbery are not news anymore in Kabul and other provinces. “I know you can not stop suicide bombing by hanging the people who want to carry them out, because they want to kill themselves anyway. But we can reduce crime if criminals see what is awaiting them,” she said.
Qais Marjan, a driver for an International NGO in Kabul said that President Karzai “did not dare to execute criminals, because he did not want to upset the US and NATO and lose his job. But now that he is not running for the president in the next elections and he has got nothing to lose, he wants to show to the people that he is not weak and he can make decisions.”
Mohammad Ismail, a university student agreed. “Karzai knows that the best way to win support among the people is to fight crime. So he will not run for the president, but he will appoint a candidate and he wants to garner enough support for the candidate of his choice from now.”
“I don’t know what the Westerners think when they criticize the Afghan government for executing criminals. Afghanistan is a different place; we don’t have 24-hour electricity, we don’t have paved roads, even we don’t have enough food for our children, so why they want us to be like them?” asked Abdul Karim, a 50-year-old shopkeeper.
“In Europe in every 10 people, nine of them are well-educated. Here in my country, only three out of 10 can just read and write," he said. "So when we are different, then we need different methods to stop crime. I think, if bad people are not scared by bad consequences, then they will keep killing us, robbing us and kidnapping us."
The government executions ended a lull in Afghanistan’s use of death penalty. According to Human Rights Watch, a total of 28 prisoners have been executed under Karzai’s watch since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.
Prior to the recent executions, Attorney General Mohammad Eshaq Aloko told the BBC's Farsi service that 270 prisoners are currently on death row awaiting Karzai's decision on their fate.