ISLAMABAD: Declaring “no to violence against women”, the National Assembly marked the International Women’s Day on Friday by passing a key anti-terror law that seeks to establish a National Counter Terrorism Authority as a focal institution to integrate the country’s effort against terrorism and extremism.
Just a week before it runs out its five-year term, the house suspended all other business on the day’s agenda to mark the day and take up only the National Counter Terrorism Authority Bill and then hold a debate on the achievements of the present parliament and future ideals for the women’s cause.
The bill, the latest in a series of anti-terror laws authored by the PPP-led coalition government, must be passed also by the Senate to become law, under which the authority will function through a board of governors to be chaired by the prime minister and assisted by an executive committee headed by the interior minister, with a national coordinator and a deputy to execute the board’s policies and plans and government instructions.
The legislation, according to its statement of objects and reasons, aims at establishing an authority “which is at par with best international standards to unify and orchestrate national counter-terrorism and counter-extremism measures and to provide for their more effective and efficient enforcement”.
“It 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, besides preparing comprehensive national counter-terrorism and counter-extremism strategies,” it said.
Functions of the authority, which must be established within 90 days after the bill becomes an act with a presidential assent, are:
Receive and coordinate data/information/intelligence, and disseminate and coordinate between all relevant stakeholders to formulate threat assessments with periodical reviews to be presented to the federal government for making adequate and timely efforts to counter terrorism and extremism.
Coordinate and prepare comprehensive national counter-terrorism and counter-extremism strategies, and review them on periodical basis.
Develop action plans and to report to the federal government about their implementation on a periodical basis.
Carry out research on topics relevant to terrorism and extremism and to prepare and circulate documents.
Liaise with international entities to facilitate cooperation.
Review relevant laws and suggest amendments.
Appoint committees of experts from government and non-government organisations to deliberate in areas related to the authority’s functions and mandate.
Female lawmakers from all parties as well as a joint resolution of all parties that the house passed spoke about several laws passed by the present parliament for women’s empowerment and role played by Dr Fehmida Mirza as the Islamic world’s first parliamentary speaker, particularly in establishing an all-parties women’s parliamentary caucus, though it was noted that a long-pending private bill against domestic violence, opposed by JUI-F of Maulana Fazlur Rahman, could not make it as it became the victim of what Bushra Gohar of the government-allied ANP called “expediences”.
Following PPP’s Azara Fazal Pechuho, PML-N’s Shirin Arshad, PML-Q’s Bushra Rahman, MQM’s Kishwar Zehra, and JUI-F’s Asiya Nasir, Information and Broadcasting Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira of the PPP, as the sole speaker from male parliamentarians, reiterated his party’s commitment to women’s empowerment and recalled its sacrifices like the December, 2007, assassination of its leader Benazir Bhutto as “a symbol of courage for women” before the house was adjourned until 4pm on Monday.