Category Archives: ISLAMABAD

Terror cases fate uncertain as key law lapses

ISLAMABAD: With the expiry of a key anti-terror law last month, the fate of several high-profile cases, including the assassination of Punjab Home Minister retired Colonel Shuja Khanzada, has become uncertain, as there has been no headway in efforts to give the law a new lease of life.

The Protection of Pakistan Act (PoPA), which was promulgated in July 2014 with a sunset clause of two years, expired on July 15. ‘Special courts’ set up under the law remained non-functional for several months because of a lack of staff and other facilities.

But so far, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government seems undecided over reviving the law, which mainly dealt with terrorism-related offences.

The law ministry had forwarded a summary to the prime minister for the revival of PoPA a couple of months ago, but the prime minister did not have the time to look at it as he was undergoing cardiac treatment at the time.

Defence counsel claims accused being tried under the law will have to be released; prosecutors say offences can still be tried under PPC, ATA

On July 14, the prime minister constituted a four-member team, consisting of Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Law Minister Zahid Hamid and special assistants Barrister Zafarullah Khan and Khawaja Zaheer, to rally opposition support for PoPA’s revival.

The committee was supposed to start a series of meetings with the leaders of opposition parties, but it neither met opposition parties nor could it secure their support for PoPA’s revival, opposition lawmakers told Dawn.

According to Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) MNA Dr Arif Alvi, the government had nothing that could make the opposition support PoPA.

The government had failed to get results from the legislation and only began thinking about reviving the law after it expired. “This only shows the lethargy of the government’s legal team,” he commented.

Had the government’s legal team used the law efficiently, they would have success stories to rally behind, which would mean nobody could even think of opposing the law’s renewal, he said.

Dr Alvi added that the law was hastily promulgated to begin with and it was the opposition parties that had brought amendments to it to make it practical.

Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Senator Saeed Ghani confirmed the government had not yet engaged with the opposition over PoPA’s renewal. “The government’s response on this issue shows that PoPA was not their own brainchild, but someone else’s,” he mused.

A security official told Dawn on condition of anonymity that the government was not serious about extending the law that was supposed to help counter terrorism, but was adopting cosmetic measures to demonstrate that it is serious in eliminating terrorism.

Under-utilised law

Only a handful cases — around 30 — were registered under the law, which are still pending before the courts, the Shuja Khanzada assassination being one of the most high-profile. After PoPA’s expiry, a government law officer said, the cases may be transferred to other courts i.e. anti-terrorism courts, sessions courts or even military courts.

The prosecutor further said that the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) 1997 covers some of the scheduled offences that fall under PoPA, including attacks on religious, political, ethnic or minorities; murder; kidnapping; sabotage of public buildings and the use of firearms. He said that the accused who committed such acts could be tried under the ATA.

He added that the ATA also empowered law enforcers to use preventive detention for suspects, so the expiry of PoPA would not necessarily affect that power. In addition, offences such as attacks on mediapersons would be dealt with in accordance with routine procedures laid out in the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), he said.

But senior lawyer Ilyas Siddiqui, who is the defence counsel in a PoPA case registered against the kidnappers of MPA Rana Jamil, however, differs with this viewpoint.

“Since the law has expired, any person booked under the scheduled offences of the expired law can neither be tried, nor can PoPA provisions be invoked against any suspect,” he claimed.

PoPA didn’t specify what the fate of pending cases would be after the law’s expiry, which was a mistake by those who drafted the law — since this means that the accused may not be punished, he pointed out.

“The accused has to be released if the law is not revived”, he said.

Teething problems

Initially, the PML-N promulgated the law through an ordinance a few months after it took over the reins of government in 2013. However, the law was converted into an act of parliament when it was tabled before the National Assembly and the Senate. Although PoPA required a simple majority to become law, the PML-N government managed to secure the opposition’s support in passing it from parliament.

The law allows for prolonged preventive and administrative detention and gives law enforcement agencies broad powers to shoot at sight. Offences that fall under PoPA include: crimes against ethnic, religious and political groups; use of nuclear arms; suicide bomb attacks; killing, kidnapping, extortion or attacks on members of parliament, the judiciary, executive, media, armed forces and aid workers.

The law also covers attacks on energy facilities, airports, gas pipelines and grid stations, educational institutions and mass transport system and violence against foreign nationals. It also makes illegally crossing national boundaries a crime.

The law has been criticised for its inefficiency and because it was not used for the purpose for which it was promulgated. Legal experts believe that after its expiry, scheduled offences under PoPA would also perish and cannot be invoked.

The government, on the other hand, seems in no mood to re-promulgate the law through a presidential ordinance. When asked whether it may resort to the promulgation of an ordinance to give PoPA a new lease on life, Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Law and Justice Barrister Zafarullah Khan said, “Not to my knowledge”.

Though Barrister Zafarullah was on the four-member committee tasked with ensuring PoPA’s renewal, he insisted that the matter was the domain of the interior ministry.

In a recent press talk, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had underscored the need to extend lapsed anti-terror laws, an obvious reference to PoPA.

PPP came close to PTI after rejection of demands: Nisar

ISLAMABAD: Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on Friday triggered a new war of words between the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Pakistan Peoples Party by saying that rejection by the ruling party of conditions set by the latter to support the government had prompted it to get close to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf.

Speaking at a press conference, the minister said the PPP wanted withdrawal of a case against model Ayyan Ali, who had been caught attempting to smuggle Rs50 million out of the country, and help in securing bail for former president Asif Ali Zardari’s aide Dr Asim Hussain, who is facing charges of terror financing and corruption.

Without disclosing the name of a PPP leader who he claimed had proposed the ‘confidence-building measures’ (CBMs), Chaudhry Nisar said he had been told that Dr Hussain’s case was with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), but it was pointed out that the prosecutor general had been appointed during the present government’s term.

He asked the PPP leadership to reveal the nature of its link with Ms Ali and said the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had evidence of money going from the same bank account for purchase of air tickets for her and PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari.

In Karachi, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khurshid Shah reacted strongly over the minister’s remarks.

Talking to reporters, he said that Chaudhry Nisar’s words reflected a “mental sickness” and called upon the prime minister to take notice of the statement of his key man in the cabinet to prove his impartiality in the growing tense relations between the government and the opposition.

“The irony is that whenever there is a terrorist incident, you would never find Chaudhry Nisar around as he goes missing somewhere. But when it comes to levelling allegations and sabotaging the political atmosphere you would find him leading from the front. I think the prime minister should take notice of his remarks. This is so unfortunate.”

The interior minister also talked about the $60 million frozen by Swiss banks and released after a letter written to the European country’s authorities by the then attorney general, wondering where the money had gone. He raised the issue of ownership of the Surrey mansion in the United Kingdom, three palaces in Dubai and a precious diamond necklace.

Without naming senior PPP leader Aitzaz Ahsan, he also talked about the issuance of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) quota.

Chaudhry Nisar held the opposition leaders in both houses of parliament responsible for the acrimony between the PML-N and PPP. “I have never said how a meter reader has prospered so much,” he said in the the most blistering attack against Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khurshid Shah.

He said an opposition leader was supposed to be against the government, but the one in the National Assembly had chosen him as a target, calling that this was because of his statements about the country’s security, remarks against India and point-blank refusal to become a “part or tool of corruption”.

National Action Plan

Chaudhry Nisar said work on four points of the National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism had been progressing at a fast pace from the very beginning. He said 10 of the plan’s points related to the provinces and the rest were in the domain of the ministries of finance, defence, religious affairs and states and frontier regions.

He said the graph of terrorism had gone down to below one-fourth and terrorists were on the run.

The minister said about 20,000 intelligence-based operations had been carried out during the past two years and thousands of terrorist attacks had been pre-empted.

He said 2,000 terrorist attacks took place across the country in 2009-10, while this year the number was below 200.

Saarc meeting

He said his recent retort to the visiting Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh who had levelled allegations against Pakistan had been hailed by almost all the opposition parties, but “one party had remained silent “. He said the Indian minister could have responded to his remarks again but he chose not to do so. He left, skipping the lunch and the last session of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation’s interior ministers’ conference.

Mr Singh, however, spoke in his country’s upper house of parliament, the Rajya Sabha, where he said that Pakistan was not ready to learn a lesson, he said.

Chaudhry Nisar said Mr Singh had not explained the nature of the lesson India wanted to teach Pakistan, but if it wanted Pakistan to accept its hegemony and continued brutalities against the innocent Kashmiris, it was unacceptable.

Rejecting claims that every Indian prime minister had talked about peace, he recalled that a premier of the country had attacked Pakistan in 1965, another had broken it up in 1971 and the incumbent took credit for Pakistan’s dismemberment.

He said the decision to set aside United Nations resolutions and forcibly occupy a bulk of Kashmir had also been taken by an Indian prime minister in 1948.

“You are the one who launch attacks, hurl threats and close the doors for talks,” he said.

Chaudhry Nisar said the solution to the problems lay in talks and he had offered dialogue to India even during the Saarc meeting.

He said the Indian minister had stated that he did not want to see his Pakistani counterpart.

He justified protest by Kashmiris the day Mr Singh arrived here, saying that it was a civilised protest against Indian oppression in India-held Kashmir, staged in a democratic country where nobody’s face had been blackened.

He said he was not the host of the lunch during the Saarc conference that he had to skip because of an important meeting at the Prime Minister House. He said he was the host of the dinner that evening, which he had attended.

US national

About a blacklisted United States national, Matthew Barrett, Chaudhry Nisar said he had been informed by the Prime Minister’s Special of Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatemi that the visa had been issued to him because of a computer mistake.

He said he had been asking for three days for the visa application form and had received the reply on Thursday. The applicant had not replied to many questions and other mistakes in the form had also been overlooked by a senior officer, showing gross irregularity in issuing the visa.

The minister said the report of a joint investigation team (JIT) suggested that there was no evidence available to prove that he was a spy but he had been deported five years back on the charge of involvement in dubious activities.

In the light of the JIT report, Mr Barrett would be deported, he said.

He said he had sought a report from the Federal Investigation Agency within a week, proposing measures to stop recurrence of immigration clearance of any blacklisted individual.

Chaudhry Nisar said 31.2 million computerised national identity cards had been verified in 40 days. He said 30,000 intruders registered in the family trees of others had been detected. He said 58,000 calls had been made by citizens, leading to blocking of 5,000 CNICs.

He disclosed that over a dozen foreign nationals had surrendered their fake Pakistani identity cards.

Answering a question, he said there are no groups within the PML-N, but there were some people trying to poison the party’s leadership against him and they were being watched by him.

He also said that some important arrests had been made two days ago in connection with the recent bomb attack in Quetta. He said the Balochistan government had sent fingerprints for identification, but they were of a victim from Pishin.

Our Staff Reporter in Karachi adds: Opposition leader Khurshid Shah reacted strongly over the minister’s remarks, calling his words reflection of a “mental sickness” and demanding that the prime minister take notice of the statement of his key man in the cabinet to prove his impartiality in the recent growing tense relations between the government and the opposition.

“These are reflective of a sick mind,” the PPP leader said while talking to reporters.

“The irony is that whenever there is a terrorist incident, you would never find Chaudhry Nisar as he goes missing somewhere. But when it comes to levelling false allegations and sabotaging the political atmosphere you would find him leading from the front. I think the prime minister should take notice of his remarks. This is so unfortunate.”

COAS expresses dismay over slow NAP execution

ISLAMABAD: As the military launched its first combing operations in Punjab targeting the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan’s splinter group Jamaatul Ahrar, Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif publicly vented frustration on Friday over the government’s poor progress on the National Action Plan against terrorism. He said the military’s gains during Operation Zarb-i-Azb were being lost.

“The National Action Plan is central to achievements of our objectives and its lack of progress is affecting the consolidation phase of Operation Zarb-i-Azb,” he said at a special security meeting at the General Headquarters. The meeting was attended by Inter-Services Intelligence Director General Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar, 10 Corps Commander Lt Gen Malik Zafar Iqbal and principal staff officers.

The army chief’s blunt criticism, which came a day after civilian and military leaders held two-day deliberations on NAP’s sluggish performance, reflected the disappointment within the armed forces over the government’s response to their reservations over the plan’s implementation.

Combing operations launched in Rawalpindi district

The military’s dissatisfaction with the government’s performance in combating terrorism and extremism is no secret, but it is the second time that the army chief has publicly expressed his discontentment over the state of affairs since NAP was initiated in December 2014. The last time he did so was at a corps commanders conference in November last year, where he reminded the government of the need for “matching governance initiatives” and cautioned that without them the effects of the military’s ‘kinetic operations’ could be undermined.

His remarks had riled the political leadership and both the government and opposition angrily reacted.

The message this time was no different.

“Unless all prongs deliver meaningfully and all inadequacies are addressed, remnants of terrorism would continue to simmer and long-term peace and stability would remain a distant dream,” the general warned.

The military’s concerns, according to an insider, relate to uncertain future of the Protection of Pakistan Act under which special courts had been established, a major counterterrorism legislation that expired last month; the political leadership’s reluctance to allow special powers for Rangers in both Punjab and Sindh; issues concerning preventive detention of suspects for inquiry; poor prosecution of cases of terrorism; lack of progress on Fata (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) and madressah (seminary) reforms; problems with raising of new Frontier Corps wings in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; lack of focus on capacity building of civilian law enforcement agencies; and allocation of required funds for countering terrorism.

The army chief briefed the meeting about the discussions he had held with the civilian leaders during the two-day-long review session.

The upshot of the civil-military deliberations was a decision to set up a task force for overseeing the implementation of NAP. But the military seems dissatisfied with the decision because of an unclear hierarchy and timeline for action by the new body.

“Time is of the essence. We cannot afford to wait,” an officer aware of the sense in the military said.

The military has further been upset over critical comments by some politicians after the recent Quetta bomb attack and an unending controversy over the future of the army chief, who is set to retire in November.

“Any distracting and inciting comments and theories by some quarters are unhelpful and undermining the overall national effort,” Gen Sharif told the generals.

The resentment within the military’s top brass over the criticism by politicians, particularly by the Pakhtun­khwa Milli Awami Party’s chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai and the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl’s leader Maulana Mohammad Khan Sherani, was forcefully conveyed to the government during the review meeting. The government then defended the performance of the military and intelligence agencies in the National Assembly and this was also included in a statement issued by the Prime Minister Office at the conclusion of the NAP meeting.

But that seemingly has not been enough to pacify the military, which believes that it is being unjustly criticised.

Combing operations

The military, meanwhile, for the first time started combing operations in Punjab by raiding terrorist hideouts in Rawalpindi district’s Kallar Sayedan and Gujar Khan areas.

The TTP’s splinter group Jamaatul Ahrar, which has been behind some of the most gruesome attacks in the country and claimed this week’s Quetta bombing, was targeted in the raids.

According to the ISPR, the military’s public relations wing, six terrorists, including two ‘important militant commanders’, were held and a cache of arms and ammunition, including prepared improvised explosive devices, seized.

The countrywide combing operations, involving large-scale troop deployment, were approved by the military in May after the completion of kinetic operations in North Waziristan.

The new operations are aimed at busting terrorist sleeper cells and eliminating hiding terrorists.

The Punjab government has, however, apparently remained averse to special military-led operations in the province. In that respect the start of the operations in Punjab are being seen as significant by analysts.

Gen Sharif had ordered at a corps commanders meeting this week intensification of the combing operations by expanding their scope and spread. Troops were allowed to go after the terrorists everywhere in the country.

Sartaj invites Arab League’s attention to Indian atrocities in IHK

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz has written a letter to the secretary general of Arab League highlighting the horrific Indian brutalities in held Kashmir.

The adviser underscored that India has unleashed a reign of terror against the innocent and defenceless civilians since the extrajudicial killing of a young Kashmiri leader Burhan Wani on July 8, 2016, a press release issued by the foreign affairs ministry said here on Thursday. The adviser also emphasised that the current situation in held Kashmir was the result of continued denial by India of the right to self-determination of the people of Jammu and Kashmir that was promised to them by the UN resolutions.

It was emphasised that the current uprising was not an isolated incident but a manifestation of continued, deep, widespread and long-held alienation of the oppressed people of the Valley from the Indian occupation.

The adviser said the spontaneous and massive uprising was a manifestation that the Kashmir struggle was totally indigenous which cannot be equated with terrorism.

The Arab League countries were urged to call upon India to immediately stop the bloodshed and massacre in IHK and implement the pending UN resolutions on Kashmir.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif decided to resolutely move against proscribed organizations

ISLAMABAD: A high-level meeting presided over by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif decided to resolutely move against proscribed organizations, which keep floating under changed names, it is reliably learnt.

“Because of the planned action, the phenomenon of outlawed outfits, regardless of the names under which they are operating, will evaporate,” a credible source that did not want to be named told The News, citing these deliberations, which spanned ten hours over the past two days.

He said that the agencies have the precise information that some banned outfits were still engaged in illegal activities under different nomenclatures. “When evidence is available, it will not be difficult to proceed against them in a result-oriented manner.”

The source said this was a long-awaited action under the counterterrorism National Action Plan (NAP) and a decision was called for, which has now been taken. “There will be no dilly-dallying whatsoever from now on.”

He said that the prime minister will preside over another similar meeting, to be also attended by top military leadership, early next week in which ‘tasking’ will be done to different arms. The areas will be allocated in which they will operate, he said.

The source said that the task force will comprise representatives of the interior ministry, all premier civilian and military intelligence agencies, police and provincial home departments to monitor the progress in the implementation of the NAP.

He said that at least once in a month, the prime minister will chair the meetings of the task force to review the progress made and will issue necessary directions when required.

The source expected that since the representatives of all the key agencies, which were engaged in the anti-terrorism fight, were part of the task force, there would be much more coordination among the intelligence agencies that has been lacking especially between civilian and military outfits.

Already, he said, there is no problem of coordination between the civilian agency, the Intelligence Bureau, and provincial police particularly the Counter Terrorism Departments of the provinces.

“The operations would now be on a fast track under the NAP,” the source said and added that the Quetta carnage infused urgency in all the relevant quarters. He was of the view that everyone agreed that the campaign must be intensified.

He said that all aspects of the NAP came under discussion in the lengthy meetings. It was decided to elaborately move in the areas where action is immediately needed, he said. “The loopholes will now be plugged completely.”

The source said that the task force would frequently meet to deliberate upon the activities being undertaken across Pakistan against terrorists.

He said that provincial governments would be fully involved in these actions because it was difficult to achieve the desired success without their absolute cooperation and association.

The source said that high-level intensive discussions, attended by the chiefs of all key intelligence agencies and presided by the prime minister, were required since long to review flaws and shortcomings in the implementation of the NAP.

He said a proactive approach would be visible in various fields in the days to come for strict implementation of the NAP. However, he said there were no quick fixes and the fight against terrorists was a long haul to be continued with vigour and force at the time.