Militancy in the north: Terror prosecution hit by policy snags

Counter-terror experts say provincial authorities do not have the will to try the suspected militants.


Qaiser Butt February 06, 2011

ISLAMABAD: As deadly militancy continues to plague the tribal belts and parts of the neighbouring Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), the provincial government has failed to prosecute thousands of terror suspects arrested during and after the military operation in Malakand division.

Counter-terror experts say that the provincial authorities do not have the will to try the suspected militants languishing in different jails of the province.

“Those who are responsible for the prosecution of such people in anti-terrorism courts don’t have either the will or the sense of responsibility,” a retired army officer told The Express Tribune, requesting anonymity. “The officials responsible for the task are dilly-dallying,” he added. “They are scared of reprisal from the militants.

“Interestingly, they disown the ongoing ‘war against terrorism’ saying that it’s the United States’ war. Dozens of innocent people rounded up by the security forces have been languishing in jails for the past three years as there is no clear-cut policy for their trial,” he said.

The absence of a comprehensive policy by the provincial chief minister and governor is another reason for this delay in the prosecution of terror suspects.  Almost all prisons in the province are overcrowded and the number of inmates is fast multiplying, but the government seems least concerned about their trial.

Provincial Home Secretary Arbab Muhammad Arif disagreed with the assertion that the prosecution was being delayed due to the alleged incompetence of the administration.

“We have put 75 militants on trial by anti-terrorism courts in Timergarha,” he told The Express Tribune. “Who says terrorists are not being prosecuted?” he asked.

According to official sources, over 300 militants in Timergarha prison have been awaiting trial for the past three years. The situation is not different in prisons elsewhere in the province, including Kohat, Dera Ismail Khan, Mardan and Peshawar.

Counter-terror experts believe that the trial of suspected militants is very essential for the success of the ‘war against terror’.

“We cannot establish our sincerity to the ‘war on terror’ unless arrested terrorists are sentenced accordingly,” an expert told The Express Tribune.

The provincial government has opposed a proposal from the security forces to shift all suspected militants to the Haripur Central jail for their trial.

However, Arif refused to comment on the proposal. “I have no knowledge of any such proposal. You better ask Interior Minister Rehman Malik this question because he had attended a meeting on this issue at the GHQ last month,” he said.

“In the absence of an anti-terror law, the trial courts have no option but to free the people arrested on charges of terrorism,” Barrister Bacha said. “The other option available to the courts is to prolong the trial till the enactment of such a law,” he added.

The federal government has so far not been able to enact a law for the trial of terror suspects. It had introduced a bill in parliament after the expiry of a presidential ordinance about five months ago which is still pending before a standing committee of the National Assembly.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 6th, 2011.

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