ISLAMABAD, Jan 31: In a major move to plan and execute the national effort against terrorism and extremism, the government introduced a bill in the National Assembly on Thursday to create a National Counter Terrorism Authority, which could receive both foreign funds and advice.

On a day the government-allied Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) walked out of the chamber to protest against growing terrorism in Karachi, the house also received a report of its Standing Committee on Interior recommending adoption of an earlier government bill seeking to strengthen the existing Anti-Terrorism Act’s provisions to check terrorism financing.

The new National Counter Terrorism Bill, introduced by Defence Minister Naveed Qamar in the absence of Interior Minister Rehman Malik, will now go to the same standing committee, which must approve it soon so that the draft is passed by the house and then by Senate in time for the present government to set up the authority before it runs out its five-year term in mid-March.

The proposed authority, which a bill statement said would be “at par with best international standards”, would have an overseeing board of governors headed by the prime minister — and including key ministers, provincial chief ministers, intelligence and provincial police chiefs — to provide a strategic vision and an executive committee of government secretaries to ensure implementation of board decisions.

But the most focal official in the structure will be a national coordinator, which the bill said must be an “eminent professional of known integrity and competence” in the top government pay scale of 22, tasked with, besides other things, executing board-approved policies and plans and government instructions and establishing administrative structure at the field level.

The 23-clause statement of objects and reasons said the draft “reflects Pakistan’s resolve to take all possible measures to counter terrorism and extremism” and that the authority would “play a pivotal role by coordinating with all law-enforcement agencies in taking effective actions against those who carry out acts of terrorism and extremism”.

Among the authority’s functions would be to “receive and collate information or intelligence and coordinate between all relevant stakeholders to formulate threat assessment”, coordinate and prepare comprehensive counter-terrorism and counter-extremist strategies, develop action plans, carry out research and “liaison with international entities for facilitating cooperation in areas relating to terrorism and extremism”.    The sources of authority’s funds, according to the bill, will include federal government budget amounts, “grants made by the international bodies, organisations and entities in accordance with procedures laid down by the federal government”.

ELECTION COMMISSION TAKEN ON: In another significant development of the day, a declaration came from the chair that the Election Commission could not stop the present government from granting funds or making recruitments before the announcement of a schedule for the next elections.

Nadeem Afzal Gondal of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, who is chairman of the house Public Accounts Committee, said the Election Commission had “practically suspended” the government by ordering against allocation of funds which he said could be done only after the election schedule had been announced.

He said if the Election Commission’s order, already contested by a team of federal ministers that met the commission, were to prevail, the government better announce the election schedule right away without waiting for the expiry of its term.    The outspoken lawmaker from Punjab also complained of a judicial “trespass” on parliament’s domain as he referred to a ruling given earlier in the day by a judge of the Islamabad High Court that declared the Gas Infrastructure Development Cess Act of 2011 about a levy on industrial sector as illegal, saying only parliament could impose taxes and it should not surrender its powers.

Riaz Fatyana of the government-allied Pakistan Muslim League-Q, who was then chairing the house, responded to Mr Gondal by declaring: “So long as the assembly and government exist, no work can be suspended, whether it is recruitments or funds.”

He did not explain whether it was an enforceable ruling or a mere observation.

COMPROMISE BILL: In what could be an arrangement with the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N behind the scenes, the defence minister also introduced a new bill to give a statutory cover to an existing Defence Housing Authority (DHA) in Islamabad functioning under an expired presidential ordinance, replacing a long-pending controversial bill that the PML-N had vowed to resist.

The PML-N had been opposing the previous draft, based on a 2005 ordinance re-promulgated for the seventh time in April 2010, saying it gave a preferential treatment to what opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan once called the “country’s biggest land mafia” that could grab lands falling in Punjab province’s territory adjoining the capital.

But after the introduction of the new bill, Chaudhry Nisar told reporters that the draft would be acceptable if the authority functioned as any other housing society. The bill says its provisions would be “in addition to and not in derogation of any law for the time being in force” and its statement of objects and reasons says the DHA Islamabad will conduct its activities in accordance with the new law and “all existing laws applicable within” the Islamabad Capital Territory.

Before being adjourned until 11am on Friday, the house heard several lawmakers from both sides of aisle speaking on points of order for and against creating a new province in south Punjab while it was yet to receive the report made by a parliamentary commission set up in August. Some members from non-Muslim minority communities complained of inaction by authorities in Sindh against frequent abductions of Hindus there for ransom.

Anusha Rahman Khan of the PML-N called for a treason trial of generals responsible for the Oct 1999 coup by then army chief Gen Pervez Musharraf that toppled her party’s prime minister Nawaz Sharif as reportedly cited in a new book of Lt-Gen (retd) Shahid Aziz, which has yet to hit the bookshops.

PPP’s Shazia Marri, speaking on the same issue, said her party was awaiting a Supreme Court verdict on a reference sent by President Asif Ali Zardari about the “judicial murder” of party founder and former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was toppled in a 1977 coup by then army chief Gen Zia-ul-Haq and later hanged after a controversial conspiracy-to-murder trial.

PML-Q’s Kashamala Tariq, the last speaker of the day, was furious over what she called refusal of the Pakistan Television managing director to appear before a house committee on human rights hearing a complaint of a woman claiming his parentage of her child.


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