ISLAMABAD, Sept 20: The federal cabinet approved a proposal on Friday to allow the Rangers to shoot at, or issue orders to shoot at, terrorists in Karachi after giving a warning. The existing rules allow law enforcement agencies to open fire only after they are fired upon.
The proposal drew an intense debate, with some members counselling exhaustive deliberations before vesting the paramilitary forces with such sweeping powers.
The recommendation, which is to be included in the Anti-Terrorism (Third Amendment) Bill, 2013 that the government intends to table in the ongoing session of the National Assembly, also increased the preventive detention period from 30 to 90 days for people caught under the anti-terrorism act.
Under the proposed bill, crimes like extortion, target killings and kidnappings for ransom have been made part of the list of offences covered under the anti-terrorism act.
The recommendations have been formulated by a four-member committee, headed by PML-N’s legal wizard Zahid Hamid and comprising Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Zaheer Ahmed, the prosecutor general of Sindh and Senator Farogh Naseem of the MQM.
The committee was formed as a result of a special cabinet meeting held on Sept 4 in Karachi which decided to go for a targeted operation in the city against criminals.
According to an official handout issued after the cabinet meeting, the law and order situation, with special focus on Karachi, was the top agenda item of the huddle.
It said the cabinet had approved the Anti-Terrorism (Third Amendment) Bill, 2013. “The draft bill provides for law-enforcement agencies powers of preventive detention up to three months for any person concerned in any offence under the anti-terrorism act relating to security or defence of Pakistan, public order relating to target killing, kidnapping for ransom and extortion,” it said.
About the shooting order, the committee recommended: “Rangers, after prior warning as considered necessary against persons committing a terrorist or scheduled offence, would be authorised to shoot or order to shoot before they are fired upon as provided under the existing law.” Earlier, law enforcers were only allowed to respond in case they are fired upon.
According to a participant of the meeting, Khawaja Saad Rafique said the recommendation allowing Rangers to use force against suspects could be misused and, therefore, it should be thoroughly discussed before making it part of the act.
But a committee member argued that the recommendation aimed at deterring trigger-happy criminals in Karachi.
Although approved at the cabinet level, the prime minister asked the committee to review the draft before it was presented in parliament.
The committee called for special measures to protect judges, prosecutors and witnesses. These include “using screens to shield witnesses, judges and prosecutors from public view; trial in jail premises or through video link; investigation and trial in another province and ensuring that prisoners have no access to mobile phones”.
The proposed bill seeks measures for expeditious disposal of cases.
Veteran lawmaker and Supreme Court lawyer S.M. Zafar said that under extraordinary circumstances, democratic governments all over the world had swallowed bitter pills of such legislation. He referred to the Patriot Act of the US and new home security regulations introduced by the UK.
“In a situation where people are robbed, kidnapped and even killed in broad daylight, we (parliament and judiciary) would have to live with such laws,” Mr Zafar said. But he was quick to add that judicial oversight was a must to ensure that these special measures were not misused.
Barrister Zafarullah Khan, a constitutional expert who is also associated with the PML-N, said that considering the overall law and order situation in the country, particularly Karachi, there was nothing wrong with the recommendations. But he also called for a strict judicial oversight of the proposed measures.
Prime Minister Sharif said at the cabinet meeting that it was a responsibility of the government to protect the life and property of people. He said the situation in Karachi demanded strict measures to restore peace and order.
He said the Karachi operation had produced good results and the common man expressed satisfaction over the improvement in law and order.
NEELUM-JHELUM PROJECT: The cabinet approved co-financing of the Neelum-Jhelum hydropower project and negotiations for an additional loan of $100 million. The loan will reduce the funding gap of $375 million for the under-construction project which will generate 969MW. Terms of the loan are soft because there is only a two per cent annual charge and its maturity period is 20 years, including a grace period of five years.
The cabinet considered the Islamabad Capital Territory Local Government Act 2013 and formed a committee, headed by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, to further deliberate on the issue and submit a report. Other members of the committee are Khawaja Zaheer Ahmed and secretaries of the Cabinet Division and interior ministry.
The cabinet approved the prime minister’s programme for the youth which would provide incentives in business and education.