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Pakistan Creates Its Own Patriot Act to Deal with Terrorists

Pakistan on 12 November 2013
Location : Islamabad | Source : The International News. Image Source: Flickr user Basetrack

After a decade of terrorist attacks, Pakistan is implementing a new legal framework to deal with its growing militant threat — what some are calling a local version of the USA Patriot Act.
 
The government says the measure will improve an anti-terrorism effort plagued by inefficiency and abuses. At times, security forces have swept up thousands of suspected militants without charge, outraging human rights activists. When terrorism suspects do go before a judge, however, they are often freed, dismaying Western officials, said a report published in the Washington Post.
 
“This law is war, declared war, against those who challenge the state,” said Khawaja Zaheer, the senior justice adviser to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. “This law is intended to do what should have been done in 2001 or 2002,” in the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
 
But in a debate that mirrors the controversy over the USA Patriot Act, activists argue that the new measure will lead to widespread abuses.
 
“People are already being detained, people are already being kept in internment camps, people are already involuntarily disappeared,” said I.A. Rehman, secretary general of Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission, an independent Lahore-based body. “The only thing they want to do with this is give even more special powers to security forces to detain.”
 
For years, Pakistan’s leaders have lurched between tough talk on terrorism and sympathetic outreach to some militant groups. This week Sharif condemned a U.S. drone strike that killed the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud days before planned talks between the group and the Pakistani government.
 
Still, with Sharif facing pressure from Western governments to act, he has been quietly building a legal framework that could underpin a potential military offensive against the Taliban should talks fail.
 
The new ordinance — handed down in mid-October and effective immediately pending a review by Parliament — may first be put to the test in the economic hub of Karachi, where an offensive against criminal gangs and militant groups has netted about 5,000 arrests in the past three months.
 
The ordinance formally defines an enemy combatant, clarifies the powers of the army to intervene in internal security, establishes new federal courts, offers additional protections to judges, and codifies the use of extended detention.
 
The measure draws on previous laws, but government officials say it is broader, legalizing detention tactics and other practices that military and intelligence officials have been suspected of using for years. By doing so, Sharif’s government hopes to avoid clashes with an increasingly independent court system.
 
“The organized mafia is roaming free due to [a] legal vacuum,” Sharif wrote in a letter asking lawmakers to support the plan.
 
Last year, there were more than 1,577 terrorist attacks in Pakistan, resulting in 2,050 deaths, according to the Pak Institute for Peace Studies. Another group, the South Asia Terrorism Portal, reported 3,007 civilian deaths in Pakistan last year linked to terrorism, and 2,745 through October of this year.

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