The government has hinted at a further tightening of anti-terror laws and the ceding of more power to intelligence and law enforcement agencies. The decision comes ahead of a crucial meeting to hammer out new strategy for combating a fresh wave of urban militancy.
“We will update laws to put more effective controls on banned sectarian outfits,” a top official said as Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani prepares to chair a high-level inter-provincial meeting on law and order today (Monday).
The meeting comes in the wake of twin suicide blasts at Data Darbar in Lahore on Thursday night that killed more than 40 devotees and injured close to 200.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik told the media on Sunday evening that the government would “plug loopholes” in existing laws dealing with terrorism. However, he did not give any details.
The Anti-terrorism Act was introduced in 1997 and was updated once after the current government took over two-and-a-half-years ago. Security experts say new dimensions of the militancy necessitate a further tweaking of the legislation.
All four chief ministers, provincial home ministers, chief secretaries, heads of police and intelligence outfits are scheduled to gather at Gilani’s secretariat for a day-long brainstorming session. Officials at the secretariat expect Malik and the intelligence chiefs to brief the participants.
Officials say a proposal to establish a new authority to coordinate between various intelligence and law enforcement agencies will come under discussion at the meeting. The proposed body is to act as a bridge between the federal and provincial agencies. “The main objective of such a body will be to make sure that law enforcers like the police, the Frontier Constabulary and Rangers respond swiftly to tips from intelligence outfits,” explains one official.
Of late, there have been complaints by federal authorities – including the interior minister himself – that provincial home departments often ignore intelligence reports. On the other hand, after the Data Darbar attack, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif accused Malik of trying to block the flow of intelligence from the center to the provincial authorities. Malik, however, denied the charge.
“The new authority is being designed to avoid such issues,” says the official, who expects the composition of the body to be deliberated at the meeting.
Further, the schedule for a national conference of country’s political leadership to discuss ways of combating terrorism will be decided in the Monday meeting. Gilani announced the conference last week after a suggestion by PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif. Officials say religious scholars from different schools of thought, the top brass of the military and civilian intelligence agencies as well as members of a parliamentary committee on the national security will be invited to the conference.
Punjab govt mulls over situation
Meanwhile, in Lahore on Sunday evening, former premier Nawaz Sharif met senior leaders of his party to determine a future course of action for the Punjab government. The days since the Lahore attacks have seen elements within the federal and the Punjab government hurling accusations and counter allegations at each other.
There have been calls from across the country that the provincial authorities must agree to suggestions for launching a crackdown on sectarian outfits said to be based in particularly southern Punjab.
However, the Punjab government is still denying the existence of “Punjabi militants” and has snubbed a demand for a crackdown on banned sectarian outfits that intelligence agencies say are now in collaboration with al Qaeda as well as the local Taliban.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 5th, 2010.