Thursday, December 25, 2014

Daily Times Editorial Dec 25, 2014

Committee proposals The experts working group of the Anti-Terrorism National Action Plan (ATNAP) Committee has presented its report after due deliberation. The group has forwarded 17 recommendations to ATNAP, which was discussing them in Islamabad within the fold of the All Parties Conference (APC) at the time of writing these lines. The APC has representation of all the political parties, the military, and intelligence agencies. The gist of the recommendations revolves around ensuring a strong military, a raft of administrative and legal measures ranging from the setting up of military courts in FATA to reforms in religious seminaries, banning hate material, setting up an anti-terrorism council to be chaired by the prime minister and having representation from the interior ministry, army, intelligence agencies and other organisations. The National Counter-Terrorism Authority (NACTA) should be made effective. A special task force should be set up for the fight against terrorism. It is proposed that it number 5,000 strong, including retired military personnel, 1,000 to be deployed in Islamabad and 1,000 each in all the provinces. The Internet and social media should be monitored for terrorist propaganda. The media should be restrained from offering the terrorists the oxygen of publicity. Any violation should be declared a criminal offence. The religious minorities should be protected. Explosive licences should be cancelled. Last but not least, the intelligence system should be reinvigorated. If these proposals and the thought process behind them seem familiar, this should not surprise us. Counterinsurgency and counterterrorism does not involve reinventing the wheel. Rather it must rely on past experience, domestic and global, and address the areas locally that are found wanting. This is more or less what the proposals recommend. From the latest reports, the APC session is ongoing, which indicates some degree of differences. Reports say the APC has found agreement on 16 of the experts working group’s recommendations. Reportedly, the contentious issue of military courts seems to have invited differences and controversy. The initial recommendation of the experts working group that military courts be set up in FATA alone aroused the ire of the FATA representatives as to why FATA alone was being considered for this step and not the rest of the country. The Jamaat-e-Islami was opposed to military courts per se and more or less echoed the PPP’s Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan’s (fond?) hope that some way could be found to keep the setting up of military courts within the confines of the constitution and law. The proposal seems to be informed by the current knee-jerk impulse to hang anyone considered a terrorist, and if due process be hanged along with this, so much the worse for due process. Military courts by their very nature are summary courts that fail to satisfy the requisite of due process. The other day, the Lahore High Court and Sindh High Court suspended executions of civilians on the grounds of their not being triable by military courts and questioning whether the proceedings of such courts satisfy the requirements of due process and the right of the accused to a sound legal defence. If military courts are agreed to by the APC and set up throughout the country, such controversies (and perhaps conflict between the civilian judicial system and the military one may be unavoidable) could arise often, defeating the purpose (presumably) of quick ‘disposal’ of terrorism cases. It may be recalled that the anti-terrorism courts were set up for the express purpose of fast tracking terrorism cases and ensuring quick disposal. So much so such courts were required to conduct hearings on a day-to-day basis. If that has not occurred or has lapsed over time, the judicial system has failed to correct this flaw. Now the Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Nasirul Mulk has ordered the anti-terrorism courts to conduct day-to-day hearings. This should have happened much earlier rather than as a response to the December 16 tragedy. It would be jumping the gun to pronounce judgement on whether the deliberations of the APC will yield fruit in the shape of a determined and well thought through strategy against terrorism. However, given the mood in the country and the focus of minds after December 16, one must remain optimistic that the seeming show of unanimity (differences notwithstanding) of the political forces and security establishment will lead to a holistic and comprehensive approach to the cancer of terrorism.

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