Saturday, January 3, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Jan 4, 2015

Holistic strategy The 22nd Constitutional Amendment has been presented in the National Assembly yesterday. It is expected to be passed on Monday and be presented in the Senate on Tuesday. While the draft of the amendment reiterates the challenge faced by the country from terrorism and underlines the political consensus on the issue, it proposes to amend Article 175 and add the Army Act 1952, Pakistan Air Force Act 1953, Pakistan Navy Ordinance 1961 and the Protection of Pakistan Act 2014 to the First Schedule of the constitution so as to exempt the trials of terrorists in military courts from the provisions of Article 8 (1) and (2) (related to fundamental rights). This was only made possible by the consensus that emerged from the All Parties Conference (APC) called by Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif on Friday. All the reservations and qualms of the political parties were put aside on the argument that the country faced an existential threat from terrorism and required extraordinary measures to defeat the evil. The PM emphasised the decisive moment in the country’s life, requiring decisive steps. Some with a heavy heart, others more lightly, finally overcame their concerns, an outcome that is reported to have been facilitated by former president Asif Zardari adding his voice to the argument of necessity in the current dire circumstances. In fact some reports say it was his role that tipped the balance in favour of the government. This is hugely important since without the PPP’s 41 out of a total 104 seats in the Senate, the amendment may not be able to muster the requisite two-thirds majority in the upper house. It has now been revealed that Fazlur Rehman’s objections revolved around a possible witch-hunt against religious seminaries and welfare organisations, the former for producing terrorists, the latter for providing clandestine terror funding channels. Only after receiving assurances from the government to keep a close eye on these matters was he sufficiently reassured to go along with the measure. ‘Go along’ aptly describes the attitude of most parties in the APC. The most difficult decisions in life revolve around the recognition of necessity. This the parties have achieved, although it cannot be taken for granted that the 22nd constitutional amendment will not be challenged on legal grounds. One reported safeguard against any miscarriage of justice is said to be the right of terrorist accused convicted by the military courts of an appeal to the Supreme Court. The apex court has already set up a three-member bench to hear terrorism-related cases and appeals against death sentences under the anti-terrorism laws. In other developments on Friday, the PM has advised the President to reject the mercy appeals of five convicts on death row in what is emerging as a pattern of disposing of such cases. The Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan has asked all NGOs to get their licences renewed, the first step, it is thought, in investigating their sources of finance with a view to blocking any channels that may be proved to be funnelling funds to the terrorists. While all this is a case of so far, so good, the holistic strategy to tackle terrorism in all its shades and layers still seems to be incubating, and all too slowly considering the urgency of taking well considered but effective action as soon as possible. The sweeps and dragnets being conducted in different parts of the country since the December 16 attack on schoolchildren in Peshawar and which seem to be netting a crop of terrorist suspects does not quite fit the bill. The weakest link still appears to be a well-integrated and coordinated intelligence architecture that not only shares data amongst the plethora of intelligence agencies dotting the country’s landscape, but also brings to life the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) to compile a centralised data base and become the coordinating centre amongst all the intelligence organisations, civil and military. While we await such steps with bated breath, no one should assume that the sunset clause of two years for the 22nd constitutional amendment will necessarily neatly fit into the timeframe required to quell terrorism. All the more reason therefore to fix the civilian judicial system in the intervening period so that if by the time the sunset clause kicks in terrorism is still around (a likely prospect), the normal judicial system can take up the remainder of the task of punishing terrorists efficaciously.

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