n Ummar Ziauddin The two episodes: One at Kharotabad and the other in Karachi have greatly perturbed all of us. The anger at the law enforcing agencies is understandable if not legitimate. The devil however, is not in the security agencies but in our laws. It is the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997 that requires our due attention. With this act, we have created a monster and now we call it one. I will not bother the readers with rather exhaustive details of the problems with our criminal justice system. This piece is an attempt to bring to your attention the pre-trial lacunas that have surfaced after the enactment of Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997. The Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997 was intended to provide for the prevention of terrorism and sectarian violence. It was signed by the President on August 17 and came into force immediately. A terrorist act in it is defined as follows, as amended by the 1999 Anti-Terrorism Ordinance: 6. Terrorist Act - A person is said to commit a terrorist act if he, (a) in order to, or if the effect of his actions will be to, strike terror or create a sense of fear and insecurity in the people...or threatens with the use of force public servants in order to prevent them from discharging their lawful duties. Its scope was further widened with the inclusion of Section 7A that provided for civil commotion. It reads: 7A. Creation of civil commotion - Civil commotion means creation of internal disturbances in violation of law or intended to violate law. So the adoption of these anti-terrorism laws have, as a consequence, included a large number of criminal acts covered under the Pakistan Penal Code as terrorist offences. Along with the broadened ambit of the terrorism offences, we also enhanced the police powers. An individual on duty has been given far too much discretion to exercise his powers. The right to shoot and kill under Section 5(2)(1): ...an officer of the police, armed forces and civil armed forces may: (i) after giving prior warning use such force as may be deemed necessary or appropriate, bearing in mind all the facts and circumstances of the situation, against any person who is committing, or in all probability is likely to commit a terrorist act, and it shall be lawful for any such officer, or any superior officer, to fire.... However, we can appreciate that this law allows for the subjective assessment of the situation by an officer. The element of the likelihood of a terrorist act also boils down to the subjective foresight of the officer on duty. In the UK, after the Terrorism Act of 2000 was enacted many injustices were recorded by law reports due to an increase in the police powers. These powers allowed early intervention for public security, detention on suspicion and extensive increase in powers to stop and search. There were reports that suggested enhanced police powers have institutionalised racism and societal prejudices. An analysis by The Guardian found that people of Asian origin - normally people from the South Asian countries such as India and Pakistan - were up to 42 times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched. Even a country like UK with blanket increase in police powers could not control a monster they had created. Our institutions are not as well equipped and sophisticated as theirs. At the same time, there has been no training of the individuals after the Act of 1997 to execute the powers responsibly. At any rate, this leads to misuses of police powers. Section 39 of the Act says: No suit, prosecution or other legal proceedings shall lie against any person in respect of anything which is in good faith done or intended to be done under this Act. This has provided a licence for abuses, including extrajudicial killings, to the security forces. The consequence of which is even the cold blooded murders that we saw images of can be justified on account of acts being done in good faith. These draconian laws have been criticised by the Amnesty International as well. According to it: The broad powers given to the police - and consequently, to the military and civil armed forces - contravene major international standards of human right. It is almost certain that these laws have a far greater impact on human rights than on crime control. In the wake of recent killings removal of DG Rangers Major General Ejaz is cosmetic. It will not change in the way our security agencies discharge their duties. If we are serious about the security of our people, we need to revisit the laws. The point is very clear. While police powers are increased for the protection of the citizens, they need to be employed even more carefully to ensure that the citizens do not become as vulnerable to the state as they do to the terrorist attack. n The writer is a freelance columnist and student at GCU. Email: ummar.zia@gmail.com