Few days ago, the Pakistani law makers of major political parties agreed on two years’ extension of military courts, after deliberation for more than a month amidst blaring by media analysts and civil society activists. After the notorious attack at APS Peshawar on December 16, 2014, the National Action Plan (NAP) was formulated, and in tandem mandated with the military courts trial for terrorists for the period of two years. As the Pakistan Army Act, 1952, dictates that military trials could be held at “any place whatever”, so there were roughly 11 military courts that have been setup across Pakistan at unknown locations. According to ISPR, a total of 274 individuals have been found guilty in military courts and so far, the army has sentenced 161 individuals to death, 12 of whom have been executed and 113 have been given jail terms, mostly life imprisonment. From human rights violations to secretive procedures, there can be countless reasons against establishing military courts in Pakistan but the ground realities in Pakistan for counter terrorism still provide the foundation for establishing military courts.
Before the military courts, Pakistan has done several experiments while devising anti-terror legislations in past. One of the earliest versions was the Suppression of Terrorist Activities Ordinance, 1975, passed by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto government which remained in force in Sindh and Punjab until 1997, where as in KPK and Balochistan until August 2001. In 1997, Nawaz Sharif government approved a bill titled Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997, to replace the Terrorism Act of 1975; it did face some amendments in coming years, but still it is the only functioning anti-terrorism legislation in Pakistani court of law. Meanwhile, the Pakistan Armed Forces Ordinance of 1998 was brought in action to curb the violent activities mainly in Sindh, and after few months extended to the rest of Pakistan. Some months later, the Supreme Court of Pakistan declared the Ordinance as “unconstitutional, without legal authority, and with no legal effect”.
Terrorism in Pakistan in the late 1990s is primarily of sectarian nature, and its culling was a major success of the PML-N government. Broadly speaking, terrorism in Pakistan can be divided into two phases, pre-Red Mosque phase and post-Red Mosque. Most of the violence that emanated in Pakistan before the Red Mosque incident was on sectarian grounds, whereas after the neutralization of armed militants in Red Mosque debacle, it reshaped into violence in the name of Islam. In the second year of the third term of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, a bill named Protection of Pakistan Ordinance, 2014, was approved by the National Assembly. The bill provided special powers to law enforcement agencies against terrorists, but unfortunately the same bill could not survive long, and the government decided not to re-enact the same, after two years of action.
Despite the number of terror attacks on high profile installments in Pakistan in the past decade, unfortunately the legislators in Pakistan are still unable to come up with powerful legislation to fight against terrorism. Military courts are not the permanent solution of the problem; it may help for certain time period but there is dire need of a permanent, pertinent, powerful legislation to fight against the complex problems of terrorism. It will be more appreciable, if the parliamentarians instead of mere opposition to the military courts, come up with an alternative legal frame work. Even though the tactics and technology of terrorists’ attacks have changed drastically but to prosecute them, the State of Pakistan is still following the two decades old Anti-Terrorism Act. The parliament of Pakistan is more focused on petty issues and its priorities are very different from the needs of the law enforcement agencies struggling against terrorists.
Pakistan needs a clear and diverse policy on terrorism, combined with legal framework against any armed violence in the name of identity, religion or nationalism. It is important to mention that this drive against terrorism should not directly or indirectly affect the Kashmiris fighting for their right of self-determination on any scale. Equipping the law enforcement agencies with special powers under legislation to nab terrorists is the primary requisite of the anti-terrorism law. The current laws in Pakistan need amendments to address modern technological issues such as communication via VoIP or Dark Net. More legislation is required to fix the extremist literature published both in print and online. For better prosecution in terrorism cases, investigation officers from the law enforcement departments need to be well trained and equipped with up-to-date tools. Judiciary is the core of the anti-terrorism drive, both bar and bench should be provided ample security and protection through legislation, so that the fear of terrorism may not affect the legal cases.