The Senate on Tuesday passed the Anti-Terrorism Amendment Bill, 2013, amidst opposition from Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam members.
The sitting was also overshadowed by verbal sparring between PPP stalwart Senator Raza Rabbani and Law Minister Farooq Naek over whether the government had granted a US agency permission to set up a customs centre at Karachi airport.
The bill was moved by Naek and amended the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997, which was passed by the National Assembly on February 20. At this point, it needs to be signed by President Asif Ali Zardari to become an act.
Under the new law, action can now be taken against elements involved in financing terrorism. The provisions on freezing, seizing and forfeiture of property or capital involved in the terrorism financing offence have been strengthened to ensure that funding of terrorism is detected and halted after due process.
JUI-F Senator Abdul Ghafoor Haideri contended that the law would allow the police and other law enforcement agencies to unnecessarily harass innocent citizens.
He suggested the draft bill be first referred to the law and justice committee for further amendments rather than being passed in a hurry. Conversely, Interior Minister Rehman Malik complained that lawmakers were responsible for the delay in key legislation.
“The members [have] remained unable to pass the anti-terrorism legislation even though it has been pending in Parliament for two long years,” he said.
According to Malik, the new bill paves the way for law enforcers to take action against the financiers of terrorism, and the terrorists themselves.
Senators at odds
The permission granted to the US Army Engineering Corps for building a Custom Tactical Command and Operations Centre at the Jinnah International Airport in Karachi became a bone of contention amongst the PPP senators during the proceedings.
The issue echoed in the upper house when Senator Raza Rabbani drew attention to the fact that the government had given special permission to the US Army Engineering Corps to build the centre and exchange information with the Pakistan Drug Enforcement Cell.
If drug regulation was what the US is interested in, then why was their drug enforcement agency not involved, he asked. Furthermore, what was the reason behind the US defence ministry’s involvement with the project, he questioned.
The issue gathered steam and led to a heated exchange between Rabbani and Law Minister Naek.
Apparently, Naek provided misinformation to the house, on behalf of the finance minister, that no such centre had been established.
“How can you say that the US has not established the centre at the Karachi airport when the embassy’s spokesperson himself confirmed reacting over the recent news reports regarding the Army Engineering Corps assistance?” asked Rabbani while presenting newspaper clippings.
Rabbani further pressed Naek to clarify the position when Senate Chairman Nayyar Bokhari interjected.
“You can just put forth questions, not debate on calling attention to things,” said Bokhari. Seemingly, this comment infuriated senator Rabbani even more.
“Don’t scuttle the issue as it has national importance. Are you bailing out the government as the minister is misguiding the house?” he said.
Responding to this, Bokhari warned him not to shout at or accuse the chair of proceedings. Bokhari told him to bring an adjournment motion if he wanted to debate the issue.
At this, Rabbani walked out of the house, protesting against the chair’s attitude.
After Rabbani’s outburst, other senators backed his point of view. Dar also reiterated the fact that this was, indeed, a national issue and must be dealt with carefully.
Pakistan Muslim League-Q senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed pointed out that there seemed to be a contradiction between the government’s standpoint and the ground realities concerning the centre.
The Awami National Party also staged a walkout during the house proceedings, in protest against the abduction of Balochistan Assembly member Malik Sultan Tareen.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 6th, 2013.