With known terrorists running scot-free, the government has received much flak for its weak anti-terrorism legislation, at home and abroad.
However, it has finally decided to tighten the noose.
The federal cabinet will take up the draft of amendments in the anti-terrorism laws today (Wednesday), and is likely to approve it before presenting the amended bill in parliament.
Critics say weakness in the prosecution process allows for known terrorists to remain free.
The purpose of amending the existing anti-terrorism laws is to purge them of the loopholes that benefit those arrested on suspicion of terrorism, sources said.
The government had earlier proposed amendments in the laws and a draft bill has been pending before the Senate Committee on Interior for a while.
The committee is headed by Senator Talha Mehmood whose party, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) has reportedly been against the proposed changes.
The government is also reportedly introducing a Fair Trial Act in parliament that would allow for admission of electronic evidence in the court of law.
The untouchable law
While it plans to plough through a host of laws, including those on anti-terrorism, minority seats and power theft, the government has decided not to touch the blasphemy laws, fearing not just a strong backlash from right-wing circles, but also general fallout from voters in the election year.
The ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), at a parliamentary party meeting on Tuesday, decided to go ahead with other legislation but dropped the idea of touching the blasphemy laws entirely.
“Majority of the members were of the view that this is a very sensitive issue and touching it at this point could have serious ramifications for the party,” said a PPP legislator.
Meanwhile, the minister in charge of national harmony, Dr Paul Bhatti, said the government’s allies have already assured their support to a bill calling for an increase in minority seats in the national and provincial assemblies.
The bill would need a constitutional amendment, and thus required two-thirds vote from both houses of parliament. Dr Bhatti said he was also talking to opposition parties to garner their support for this amendment.
Talks on interim setup delayed
Scheduled talks between the government and opposition parties to discuss political transition were put off on Tuesday after the PPP sought more time to consult its allies on its choice for caretaker prime minister.
Top negotiators from the ruling PPP and the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) were due to hold first overt talks to discuss the interim setup after several weeks of back-channel contacts.
The composition and scope of a parliamentary commission to create new provinces was also at the agenda of the meeting that would kick start formal negotiations on an interim administration.
But the PPP informed the PML-N that it could not hold the meeting because one of the delegates — Religious Affairs Minister Khursheed Shah — had been called to Karachi by President Asif Ali Zardari to look into the prospects of holding local government elections in Sindh.
Insiders, however, told The Express Tribune that talks were postponed because the PPP wanted to consult its allies — the Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Awami National Party (ANP) — before opening negotiations with the main opposition party.
A PML-N official said its team was ready to receive PPP leaders at the Punjab House in Islamabad but was informed about the postponement at the last moment. Both sides were hopeful of holding the meeting again in a couple of days but no new date has been announced so far.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 5th, 2012.