Strengthening Counter Terrorism Laws

pakistan-constitution-islamicBy Iftikhar Hussain Jazib

Currently, numerous debates are made on the deficiencies of the existing criminal code and anti-terror laws of Pakistan, criticizing that conviction of terrorists rarely takes place in conditions where there is lack of evidences against an offender. Unsophisticated investigation techniques, outdated methods of collection of evidences and prosecution are main reasons of failure to deal with technically advance and sophisticated terrorists trained and aided by hostile agencies.

Pakistan’s security and law enforcing agencies conduct operations with utmost care to avoid collateral damages. They try to apprehend terrorists rather than killing them in order to spare innocent and meet legal requirements to maintain law and order. Unfortunately, the arrested terrorists exploit lacunas in the laws and threaten judges and eyewitnesses and eventually walk free from courts. The irony of the fact is that only 6% convictions take place in the trials of militants. In many instances these terrorists rejoin their groups after acquittal from courts, appear in videos boasting about their role in the attacks, making the mockery of the law and security forces. These facts highlight the urgency of advance stringent laws to make counter terrorism operations a success. Existing laws are not sufficient to deal with militants who are bent on destroying everything. The terrorist attacks, specially suicide bombings spare no traces:  firearms, eyewitnesses and other circumstantial evidence admissible in the court under current laws.

To meet the similar challenges, the Federal Government strengthened its anti-terrorism laws by introducing a stringent legislation which proposes longer detention for suspects, accepts electronic evidence and offers trials via video link. The ordinance 2013, which further amends the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997, has empowered government, armed forces and civil armed forces to issue orders for the preventive detention of persons involved in any offence related to the security of Pakistan, target killing, kidnapping for ransom and extortion. This fresh amendment provides a foolproof mechanism for the protection of witnesses / prosecutors and allows the electronic device related evidences such as emails and SMSs in such cases. It also provides more effective techniques to law enforcement agencies to investigate the terror offences. This legislation would ensure that no culprit manage to get release from the courts because of lack of evidence or through intimidation of witnesses and even judges. The special law is particularly enacted to deal with terrorism-related cases and ensure that culprits involved in terrorism do not escape the law.

One of the government’s main justifications for promulgating this ordinance is that existing laws did not adequately provide for, and regulate the use of advanced investigative technology. Permitting electronic evidence and technically advance forensics to be used in trials is inevitable to update our legal code in general and our anti terrorism laws in particular. This effort will bring Pakistan’s laws parallel to many advanced countries such as Britain which laid the foundations of our legal system during colonial times. This would also help to reduce international criticism against Pakistan for lacking a comprehensive law against terrorists.

The government had already enacted “The Investigation for Fair Trial Act”, which provides to make judicial proceedings fairer by granting law-enforcement agencies the means through which they can collect evidence in a timely and lawful manner; and it keeps a check on the arbitrary powers of surveillance to prevent it’s misuse and violation of privacy of citizens. The Anti Terrorism (amendment) ordinance 2013, along with The Investigation for Fair Trial Act regularises, legalises and makes admissible in the court of law evidence collected by modern techniques, including audio and video recordings, still photography, documents, papers, emails, text messages and phone call records.

It is also pertinent to mention that many jurists are expressing view that allowing more types of evidence to become admissible may actually reduce the number of convictions even further, given that it could increase the length and complexity of trials. To avoid such fallouts of this law, government needs the advice of expert lawyers to guide and train its human resource, specially, Police and prosecution department.

These legislations are cornerstones of modernizing our legal system which should not be hampered by political means. Any such development will be disastrous for the efforts of maintaining law and order and counter terrorism in the country. This ordinance will become invalid after constitutionally stipulated duration of 120 days if not approved by the parliament. The ruling party does not have simple majority in the Senate to make it an act of the parliament alone. The treasury, opposition and other parties, who have representation in the Parliament must work for the approval of this ordinance. We must strengthen our security forces by stringent anti terrorism laws and these ordinance are positive steps in this regard. Striking down of this legislation by any means must be avoided as this will strengthen the hands of terrorists in deteriorating the law and order in the country.

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