Pakistan counter-terrorism efforts need a comprehensive approach

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Dec 29, 2012.

Islamabad – Pakistan needs to clearly categorize its internal conflicts and reform the civil services to move forward in terms of the rule of law and democracy in the country in 2013.

These were the recommendations of experts at a consultation in Islamabad on Friday. The consultation was organised by the Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) to reflect on Pakistan’s performance during 2012 in the areas of economy, energy, law and democratization.

Ahmer Bilal Soofi, advocate of the Supreme Court and an expert in international law, said the country’s Anti Terrorism Act of 1997 was established for issues such as sectarian violence. But, in present-day Pakistan, some of the newer conflicts are caused by people who are trying to subvert the constitution of Pakistan.

“This a very different context and this is where the 1997 Anti Terrorism Act becomes obsolete,” Soofi said.

He said the government has failed to categorise its internal conflicts. The conflicts in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Balochistan and Karachi have different legal features but the government is tackling them with the same stick, he said.

Soofi said the current government has also failed to clearly label the enemy. They are labelled anything from ‘miscreants’ to ‘terrorists’ and ‘nonstate actors,’ he said.

“There is no clear description of the adversary,” Soofi said.

Soofi termed this “inability” of the state to describe its enemies a “serious failure” of the policymakers.

He said the government could use Article 5 (obedience to Pakistan’s constitution) and Article 256 (no one can raise a private army) of the constitution to justify military action against militants trying to gain control of the state’s territory. Then, under Article 245, the fundamental rights of the citizens are muted during the military action, he said.

But the federal government has not made this argument when the judiciary asks it about the arrests and detentions of suspected terrorists.

“This lack of clarity is creating problems and it is the basis of the standoff between the judiciary and the executive and also between the judiciary and the military,” he said.

Soofi, however, appreciated the government for passing the Fair Trial Bill 2012, which, he said will enable law enforcement to move from the responsive to the interceptive stage.

In terms of the judiciary’s role in 2012, he said the legal community might nitpick against the Supreme Court’s suo moto notices, but the masses have welcomed the apex court’s judicial activism.

Soofi also talked about Pakistan’s over 8,000 international treaty commitments. He said the current draft of the Accountability Bill, under discussion in the national assembly, falls short of following the United Nations convention on corruption, which Pakistan has ratified.

“If the bill is adopted in its current form, it will be evidence of our noncompliance,” he said.

The future of devolution

Daniyal Aziz, the former chairman of the National Reconstruction Bureau, spoke at the consultation about Pakistan’s performance during 2012 regarding democratization.

He said the 18th Amendment is a major achievement of the present setup, but without civil service reforms and restructuring of the provinces the benefits of devolution cannot translate to the local level.

Aziz said that technically the provinces should have shed their duties to the local governments and adopted the federal level functions and duties. But, despite the 18th Amendments, the lack of fresh local government elections have

Furthermore, the unitary civil service setup in Pakistan is an impediment to the federation’s devolved structure and its must be devolved as well.

The CRSS is an Islamabad-based research and advocacy organisation focused on security, radicalization and governance issues.

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