Pakistan will begin executing convicts on death row whose appeals have been exhausted, an interior ministry spokesman has said, reversing an earlier announcement that only those convicted of terrorism would be executed.

"It applies to all [on death row], irrespective of the nature of the crime," said the spokesman, who said the order was given late on Friday but not publicised until Tuesday.

There are more than 8,000 Pakistanis on death row. But the country had a de facto moratorium on executions in place from 2008 until December, when Taliban gunmen massacred 134 children and 19 adults in the worst attack in the country's history.

Politicians say fast-track executions are vital to reigning in armed group attacks in the nuclear-armed nation of 180 million people.

So lawmakers voted in sweeping powers allowing the military to try and execute civilians, arguing that the country's civilian courts were too intimidated and inept to convict militants and murderers.

Human rights groups warned that convictions were highly unreliable and the Pakistan criminal justice system barely functioned.

"With this dangerous, sweeping decision, the Pakistani government has put thousands of people at risk - including those who received death sentences for such 'crimes' as apostasy and adultery," Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at Reprive, said.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies