Powers enhanced: Apex committees can now call in army, paramilitary directly

Punjab committee calls Rangers to assist in anti-terror crackdown

Sardar Sikander February 22, 2017
Paramilitary soldiers patrol near the site of a suicide bomb attack at Wagah border on November 2, 2014. PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD: In a bid to overcome the current tide of terrorism, the federal government has moved to expand the scope of powers of the apex committees.

The move implies that the committees – functional in all the four provinces, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir – have been mandated to directly call armed forces, paramilitary forces and security agencies in any area identified as a ‘conflict zone’.

Using the same powers, Punjab’s apex committee decided to engage the Rangers in the province for 60 days to assist in taking on terrorist networks in the province.

Constitutionally, provincial governments are already empowered to call security forces with the approval of the federal government. The enhanced scope of powers means that the apex committees would be authorised to seek the assistance of security forces without seeking the federal government’s approval, sources privy to the matter told The Express Tribune.

“In such a scenario, the decision to engage the security forces from the forum of an apex committee completely rests with the provincial government concerned. The role of federal government in this regard would be to simply notify the decision,” a Punjab government functionary said while requesting anonymity.

The insider said the decision to engage Rangers in Punjab was taken keeping in view the input of the security brass that suggested the need for the paramilitary force’s direct involvement in the province. Reportedly, some powerful ministers in Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s cabinet opposed calling in Rangers.

However, during a recent meeting between the chief minister and top security officials, Shehbaz was told that political pressures were hindering the smooth functioning of law enforcement agencies against terrorist outfits.

“After hearing the other side of the story, the CM decided to ignore the advice of his aides and put his weight behind the security command,” the source said.

Speaking to The Express Tribune, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah denied he was opposed to engaging Rangers in Punjab. “I have made my stance clear a number of times and I say it again; I believed the fresh deployment of Rangers was not required in Punjab because the Rangers along with Counter Terrorism Department (CTD), police and intelligence agencies have already conducted joint operations in the province. This did not mean I opposed deploying afresh the Rangers in Punjab.”

Prime Minister’s Adviser Ameer Muqam confirmed that apex committees were given additional powers. The decision, he said was taken by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in consultation with his close confidantes and the security brass. “We are faced with extraordinary situation and have to take extraordinary steps to defeat the challenges. Tackling terrorism is not the sole responsibility of the Centre. It’s the collective responsibility of federal and provincial governments.”

Political analyst and constitutional expert Kanwar Dilshad said article 147 of the constitution allowed the provincial governments to engage federal officials with the approval of the federal government. Giving the apex committees the power not to seek the federal government’s approval would allow speedy decisions ensuring effective counterterrorism operations.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 22nd, 2017.