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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Policing extremism and terrorism in Pakistan

According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, Pakistan saw 319 terrorism-related incidents in 2020 and 169 associated deaths of civilians. For want of systemic singular response to counter-terrorism in Pakistan, one has to refer to foreign material of comparable jurisdictions. Rethinking enforcement and regulatory strategies for extremism is a must as presently, only criminal prosecution is the default stratagem.

In February 2021, the UK Commission for Countering Terrorism unveiled its report titled ‘Operating with Impunity-Hateful extremism: The need for a legal framework’. The report came up with many interesting ideas that looked at Counter-Terrorism Policing (CT Policing), hate crime policing and regulation of charities and educational institutions through the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) as interconnected response mechanisms against terrorism.

The multidimensional response, therefore, is the sine qua non for any meaningful response to terrorism. Within this multidimensional environment, the role of police becomes leading owing to the fact that police can under the law use the coercive legal power of the state. This legal coercive power, however, remains abstract, and it is only concretized through the robust legal and administrative framework. The following points may be considered for shaping law enforcement and policing response to extremism and terrorism.

Read more: Rethinking the criminal justice system in Pakistan

The points include

  1. Terrorism-related legislation i.e., the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997 is expected to curb extremism: the expectation is based on the assumption that terrorism is synonymous with extremism. The fact of the matter is that whereas terrorism-related activities have been criminalized, the acts that constitute extremism have generally not been done so. The result is that police confine themselves to criminalized activities covered under the anti-terrorism law. The activities that are anti-social and affect public order are rarely captured, but these activities provide the breeding ground for extremism, leading ultimately to terrorism.

2. The law of terrorism is a federal subject, but its enforcement is largely provincial. The mainstream enforcement of terrorism laws is undertaken by provincial Counter Terrorism Departments (CTDs) with some specialized roles for the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in cases of extraterritorial jurisdiction, cyber terrorism, and money laundering. It must be noted that terrorism is a subset of criminal law that is constitutionally treated as a shared responsibility of federation and provinces. Mutual exclusion between federating and provincial units is not an option under the constitutional scheme.

3. The Global Rule of Law Index, 2021 ranks Pakistan at 130 out of 139 countries. Without respecting the rule of law and in the absence of criminal justice reforms, any coercive legal power through law enforcement may not yield the required results. Many a time, accusations are made, and cases are registered only to discover later that due to lack of evidence, the accused got acquitted. Every technically secured acquittal of perpetrators of extremism and terrorism emboldens them to re-launch in a more aggressive manner as the deterrent value of law enforcement is neutralized and the ‘path dependence’ is perpetuated.

Read more: Analyzing IT-based policing: A case of maintaining digital daily diary

The security model of prosecutions has only failed its advocates

It presents the perpetrators as victims and enables them to fuel hatred and justify their actions more brazenly. Contrarily, professional policing and the rule of law model to deal with extremism and terrorism enhance the systemic strength, emphasize evidence-based policing and result in sentences having dissuading effects.

4. All actions that qualify to be categorized as extremism may not qualify to be treated as terrorism. This distinction between extremism and terrorism must be reflected in substantive and procedural laws. At the moment, the distinction is hardly maintained, and much is left to the imagination of the observer. The government may like to consider that cases of terrorism be formalized after a thorough process as most often than not, categorization of extremism as terrorism leads to excessive and wrongful counting of acts of terrorism that are then used by international financial organizations like the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to argue against Pakistan.

The extant system of counting crimes is faulty essentially, and it must be rethought. It counts crimes on the basis of reporting and not on the basis of the outcome of an investigation. From the viewpoint of police, crime counted on reporting is based on ‘information’ whereas crime counted on the outcome of the investigation is based on ‘evidence’. World over, governments use evidence-based measurement in preference to information-based measurement insofar as terrorism and extremism are concerned. This helps in critical decision-making that involves the allocation of resources and managing perception both inward and outward.

Read more: What does international law say about the Taliban government?

There is a need to revisit the sources of extremism 

  1. Rethinking enforcement and regulatory strategies for extremism is a must. Presently, only criminal prosecution is the default stratagem. Other options like administrative measures of limiting legal rights (on the pattern on non-filer of tax) may be considered to create disincentives for perpetrators of extremism. The proliferation of options in enforcement and regulatory strategies can result in cascading a response that may result in incentivizing or disincentivizing an accused, especially the juveniles that often fell prey to extremist propensities and with little goaded approach can be brought back to normalcy.
  2. Most extremism is being bred through social media nowadays. Subject to privacy and data protection standards worldwide, the police must be equipped with the capacity and technology to monitor trends and active protagonists. Depending on the intensity and scale, the police may be allowed, through a law, options that may range from criminal prosecution to non-issuance of character certificates and driving licenses to delinquent elements. Beating all with a big stick might not work as one size may not fit all.

This is easier said than done but it is still achievable by constituting inter-departmental synergies that may not leave decisions in the hands of a single individual. At the moment, the provincial police do not have the legal authority to deal with this subject at all; some police organizations, however, might be doing it on their own by risking their reputations and by breaching privacy and data protocols. This must be streamlined, and digital policing must be mainstreamed and properly regulated with inbuilt mechanisms for accountability for abuse of fiduciary power of monitoring trends.

Read more: Justice system’s response to crimes against women

The aforementioned points are by no means exhaustive and very much fallible. The only purpose of stating these points is to initiate discourse that can think of policing as a ‘service’ to the society and not as an ‘instrument’ as envisaged by the Police Act, 1861. Approaching criminal justice in the rule of law framework has the potential to bring about, in the words of Lord Denning, a ‘legal revolution’ as compared to much touted ‘social revolution’ that may set the turf for a more peaceful and thoughtful society in Pakistan.


Kamran Adil is currently serving as Deputy Inspector General of Islamabad police. He studied law at Oxford University and writes and lectures on international law. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.