Fair Trial Bill: Enhancing homeland security

Fair Trial BillPosted by Faheem Belharvi

In the midst of a decline in suicide attacks in the heartlands, the democratic dispensation is determined to exercise a complete control in the restive Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), by passing ‘Investigation for Fair Trial Bill 2012’ authorizing the law enforcing agencies to actually track down the electronic chain of communication used by suspects in cases of terrorism and crime.

It allows the government to tap phones and use e-mails and text messages as the proof in trials. The US-led GWOT in Afghanistan has radicalized tens of thousands of Pakistanis, allowing a new crop of Islamist militant groups sympathetic to al-Qaeda and Taliban. The reorganization of some militant groups into an umbrella organization, the Pakistan Taliban Movement (TTP) under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud (died in August, 2009), boosted Taliban activity in Swat and in remaining seven tribal agencies. The more extremist outfits have sought to extract their revenge by undertaking lethal suicide attacks against Pakistan security forces within FATA and deep inside the nation’s heartland in an effort to compel Pakistan to terminate its counterterrorism operations conclusively.

The terrorists, who conduct suicide attacks in Pakistan to kill innocent people, constitute not only a threat to the fragile democracy but also to the country’s sovereignty. Attacks of the kind conducted on the Marriott Hotel, GHQ Rawalpindi, naval base PNS Mehran Karachi, police training academy Minawah, Lahore, PAF base Kamra, etc. challenged the writ of the Government. If such acts are not countered with stern action, it would lead to destabilize the country.
Therefore, it is the prime responsibility of Pakistan to protect the lives of citizens from the handful of miscreants. It is Pakistan’s war and Pakistan’s army is fighting homegrown war for its homeland security.

The Fair Trial Bill 2012 that plans to tackle violent extremism and religious hatred have been welcomed by many Pakistanis – but there is considerable concern that their country will remain tarnished with the brush of terrorism because of a combination of sloppy police work, widespread abuse of powers under fair trial bill and media stereotyping. Some observers view that the “Fair Trial Bill 2012”’ will grant the government unlimited access to barge and violate the privacy of citizens, especially in their homes (given that it would collect video recordings, telephonic conversations, e-mails and text messages), which is clearly in violation of Article 14 and in conflict with Article 8, of the Constitution of Pakistan. The bill is not in contradiction with the best practices in the UK, the US and other developed countries.

The western societies being the campaigner of liberal values and open societies, believe that all people have the right to be treated equally and fairly, with dignity and respect. Britain’s anti-terrorism act-2000 gives sweeping powers to the police to make arrests and detain anyone on suspicion of terrorism. The British police can use all available tools to prevent terrorism. Similarly, the US Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001 allows for the detention, without charge or trial, of foreign nationals suspected of involvement in terrorism.

The extremism and militancy remains biggest challenge for the South Asian states even after 12 years of counter-insurgency operations by the US/NATO forces. This faceless and multifaceted sans geographical boundaries menace, emanates from tribal belt adjoining Afghanistan, and in turn, has a key impact on the political and security landscape of Pakistan. Most of the terrorist’s attacks inside Pakistan cities have their footprints in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

The situation in Swat, Malakand, South & North Waziristan, Mohmand and Bajaur Agencies, Dara Adam Khel evolved into a full blown insurgency when Taliban operating in the areas wanted to enforce their own brand of laws in the region and started challenging the writ of the Government by attacking government buildings, girls’ schools and security forces.

In order to quell the insurgency, Pakistan Army carried out successful operations in Swat, Malakand, South Waziristan, Mohmand and Bajaur Agencies, restive Khyber agency, Hangu, Dara Adem Khel, and South & North Waziristan against terrorists and militants, with full support of the nation articulated by the parliament of Pakistan. Still, the TTP has shown great resilience. It continued to operate in North and South Waziristan as well as Dir, Chitral, and adjacent safe havens in Afghanistan. The militant sanctuaries remained a major challenge for Pakistani state. With a host of militant groups under the umbrella of TTP, the lawless territory is often described by the US, as the centre of gravity as far as militancy is concerned.
The dreadful attack on 15-year-old Swati school girl Malala Yousafzai was a reminder that militancy creeping back into Swat district.

The most recent attacks like, killing of 21 levies officials by the Pakistani Taliban, targeting of a bus carrying pilgrims in Mastung which claimed another 20 lives, raid on Bannu jail by Taliban and got freed 400 of inmates, attack by some 300 gunmen on a police station outside Peshawar, killing of several police officers in October, further demonstrated the growing stridency of the Taliban coupled with the signs of state fast losing its authority. A strong links has emerged between the sectarian groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.

Gaining strength by forming alliances with other extremist groups, the militant groups continued to operate with impunity by launching terrorist attacks and suicide-bombings against civilians. A number of factors hinder Pakistan’s fight against terrorism, including a justice system ill-equipped to handle terrorism cases, poor prison security, support to militants from a powerful Deobandi religious network, public antipathy toward military operations, and the absence of a clear-cut anti-jihadist strategy.

As the public opinion seems to have turned against militancy and extremism, there is a strong need to chalk out a comprehensive strategy to flush out terrorists from the country once and for all. In the eyes of court of law, the electronic evidence against the accused was not considered plausible enough to nab the incumbent. In the backdrop of growing extremism and sectarianism, the security agencies of Pakistan have been apprehensive that the ‘suspected terrorists’ (hauled after lot of time & effort) invariably escape the judicial process due to the want of credible evidence.

Had the fair trial bill been introduced earlier, then many terrorists could have been apprehended on the basis of the evidence in the form of tapped telephones, intercepted wireless and cell phone and brought before justice. The fair trial bill of 2012 is a step in right direction and will surely be instrumental in enhancing the homeland security so important for the progress and prosperity of Pakistan.

(Khalid Khokhar)

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