A legal framework for fighting terrorism

Published: February 28, 2013
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The writer is a Karachi-based journalist who has previously worked at The Express Tribune and Newsline

The writer is a Karachi-based journalist who has previously worked at The Express Tribune and Newsline

Everyone can agree that in the legal realm, the fight against militancy has been failing. Too many cases against alleged terrorists end up with acquittals. In recent months, the government has tried to come up with legislative fixes for this problem, first by passing and signing the Investigation for Fair Trial Bill and then voting on the National Counterterrorism Authority Bill. Now parliament has approved an amendment to the Anti-Terrorism Bill.

First, the positives. Setting up the National Counterterrorism Authority, which includes the prime minister, chief ministers and intelligence and police chiefs, finally creates a centralised body that will be able to ensure that all measures relating to terrorism are implemented. It should also allow for better coordination between factions that ought to be working together but are often engaged in turf wars. Intelligence-sharing, one of the keys to counterterrorism, should become more common if this agency exists. And with so much terrorism now transcending borders, it will be helpful to have a body that is not exclusively military in nature and which can coordinate with international intelligence agencies.

The Investigation for Fair Trial Bill has been slightly more controversial since it deals with the issue of the government spying on its own citizens. There are even some who see the name of the bill as an ironic commentary — like the Patriot Act in the US — on its distinctly unfair nature. The criticism has been overblown. The government, in theory, has a right to spy on the electronic communications of suspected terrorists and this bill lays down a process, involving judicial warrants and time limits, for doing so. This bill on its own won’t end illegal government surveillance but at least now there will be a legal mechanism, which should reduce the need for resorting to spying without judicial oversight.

This doesn’t mean that the bill is perfect. There was no need to provide indemnity to the government and private companies that conduct the surveillance so long as they comply with the bill’s provisions. Citizens who feel they have unfairly been spied on should always have the right to confront their government in court. It is also a bit rich that parliamentarians, both at the federal and provincial levels, cannot be spied on without approval from the speaker, especially at a time when there are indications that the PML-N may be forming an alliance with the ASWJ.

The amendment to the Anti-Terrorism Act is the most disappointing in how limited its scope is. It deals with the financial dealings of terrorist organisations and while most of the changes are sensible, one can’t help but feel that this amendment exists only to mollify the intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering, which had blacklisted Pakistan.

There has been no legislative effort to improve the functioning of the anti-terrorism courts which, thanks to the expansive definition of terrorism under the act, very rarely deal with cases that involve terrorism as we have come to understand it. Instead, the courts are bogged down with kidnapping, murder and even celebratory firing cases that are better handled by regular courts.

There has also been no effort to create a witness protection programme although it is briefly mentioned in the original act. Right now, only Sindh has allocated money for witness protection, despite the fact that most acquittals are caused by a lack of witnesses. Judges and lawyers, too, need protection since they are also threatened, sometimes in open court, by accused terrorists.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 1st, 2013.

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Reader Comments (3)

  • SKChadha
    Mar 1, 2013 - 8:52AM

    Is CrPC not a framework … ?

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  • andy fr dc
    Mar 1, 2013 - 9:40PM

    Pakistan is a country where the lawyers greeted the assassin of a Government minister By his own bodyguard , with cheers and rose petals.
    Pakistan jumped off the cliff 12 years ago when it decided to back the terrorists and hide OBL, Mullah Omar and regenerate the Taliban. The only question now is when it will hit the bottom of the cliff and go ” SPLAT”.

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  • gp65
    Mar 1, 2013 - 9:54PM

    “Everyone can agree that in the legal realm, the fight against militancy has been failing. Too many cases against alleged terrorists end up with acquittals”.

    Everyone especially people outside US also noticed that in a country that no terrorist has ever been convicted, Shakeel AFridi was convicted of supporting a terror group LeI very expeditiously and sentenced to 33 years in prioson. Regardless of the reasons people hate him – he wasn’t tried for those reasons – not for spying and not for running an unauthorized vaccine program’.

    The world also notices the caste of characters in the establishment activated DPC and figure the problem with controlling terror is not just judicial, many terrorists are indeed supported by the state.

    The world also notices that one PPP and ANP politician after another is killed by the politician and of course many soldiers gruesomely beheaded but no army leader has ever been killed by these terrorists who supposedly exist only because the army is fighting the US war.

    The world notices that there was an all party conference where right wing political leaders who anyway covert with known terrorists and left wing parties who have been intimidated into silence asked for negotiations with a group that is neither willing to lay down arms nor willing to recognize Pakistani constitution.

    The world notices that thousands of people come out in the streets protesting violently against a movie made housands of miles away and yet not even a hundred people protest when polioworkers are killed and recognize that extremism which gives birth to terrorism is fairly mainstream in Pakistani polity.

    YEs the laws need to be improved to facilitate sentencing of terrorists but until the factories of hate (the discrimnatory laws, the school textbooks celebrating jihad and shahadat, the hate filed Friday sermons, the wall chalkings are not addressed the menace f terror will not be controlled.

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