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New legislation aims to strengthen government’s reach
By Sohail Ahmed
ISLAMABAD – Pakistan has drafted a series of laws to address the causes of terrorism and keep people away from extremism, Interior Minister Rehman Malik told Central Asia Online in an exclusive interview September 12.
“Terrorism is a crime that has its own dimensions used by the terrorists with different manifestoes,” Malik said, adding that religious and ethnic terrorism is a prime concern for Pakistan.
The National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) has been established to help work out the strategy, he said, emphasising that Pakistan remains a committed partner in the war on terror and thus must counter terrorism within its borders.
Bills head to parliament
The government plans to upgrade its anti-terror policy with three bills: the Fair Trial Bill 2012, the Terrorists Financing Bill 2012, and the Amendment in Evidence Act including Act of Terrorism.
The ruling Pakistan Peoples Party has approved of the anti-terrorism amendment bill and the fair trial bill. Their introduction is expected during the current session of the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament.
The anti-terrorism amendment bill would allow the sentencing of individuals and groups providing financial assistance to terrorists for criminal activity.
The Fair Trial Bill 2012 aims to equip security agencies to better collect evidence and to conduct surveillance to better ensure that no culprit escapes punishment for lack of proof, said Farooq H. Naik, federal law minister.
“The bank accounts and assets of individuals and groups who are in contact with banned organisations can also be seized,” he told Central Asia Online.
The proposed legislation will have extra-territorial applications, meaning it will apply to any Pakistani citizen wherever he or she may be and to anybody within the borders of Pakistan or aboard a Pakistani ship or aircraft, Naik said.
It will allow action to be taken not only against banned outfits but also against those in contact with such groups, he said.
The bills were needed because existing laws are not comprehensive enough, he said. Current laws also do not specifically regulate modern investigative techniques, such as covert surveillance, human intelligence, property interference, wire-tapping and communication interception that are used extensively in other countries, Naik said.
Ravages of terrorism
Recent attacks at military bases show that terrorists want to destroy assets the government uses to hunt down extremists, Malik said.
In May 2011, terrorists attacked the Pakistan Naval Station Mehran in Karachi, setting off seven high-intensity explosives. They killed four people, injured several others and destroyed a P-3C Orion aircraft, a maritime patrol plane.
“The survey plane destroyed was being used in monitoring the activities of the terrorists,” Malik said.
Similarly on August 16, militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons attacked the Minhas base of the Pakistani air force at Kamra. All nine attackers and one service member were killed during the hour-long gun battle.
Is new legislation enough?
Although the new legislation would allow Pakistan to more aggressively pursue militants, military observers say greater public support is vital to the cause.
“To defeat militancy and develop counter-terrorism measures, the first requirement is to gain the support of the people,” said Talat Masood, a retired lieutenant general and military analyst. “For that we need ideological and political clarity that the political (and military) leadership has failed to provide so far.”
“Application of military force alone is not enough to combat militancy, but an integrated and comprehensive approach is needed wherein application of military force is combined with economic development and better governance,” he told Central Asia Online.
Better intelligence and the clearing of terrorist sanctuaries in Federally Administered Tribal Areas will also greatly contribute in combating militancy, he said.
Pakistan’s counter-terror efforts, while not as far-reaching as some would like, have still been successful, Malik countered.
“As per the available record, the suicide bombing where improvised devices are put in use has decreased drastically,” he said. “The government is taking stern action against it.”
The website Pakistan Body Count issued a study earlier this year showing that deaths due to suicide bombings fell to only 143 during the first quarter of 2012, compared to 1,090 for all of 2009, and 1,153 for 2010. The number of suicide bombings fell from 90 for all of 2009 to only 19 through the first quarter of 2012.