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Legal Challenges of Insurgency and Terrorism in Pakistan.

Byline: Ahmer Bilal Soofi

International Law and Terrorism

The Bar and the Bench need to be clear that counterterrorism legal efforts in Pakistan are actually linked to its obligations under international law and thus should be tailored within the broader context of Pakistan's international law commitments. Pakistan has ratified hundreds of treaties and its sovereignty is subject to its treaty obligations. Under the UN Charter, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has issued several binding laws on terrorism primarily laid down in UNSC Resolutions 1373, 1267 and 1540. This UN law creates obligations on all states including Pakistan to enforce counterterrorism measures, implement effective legislation, criminalise specific conduct, and take administrative measures to bring perpetrators of terrorism to justice. Pakistan is under an obligation to file annual compliance reports to the UNSC.

Therefore, judgments of the courts, rate of acquittal, amendments in the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), law of internment, de-radicalisation programme etc, all constitute material that needs to be submitted to the UNSC as evidence of Pakistan's compliance. Similar reports are also required to be filed by all other member states of the UN.

This international context is fraught with implications. A decade ago, international community faithfully adhered to the principle of non-intervention but recent developments in international law of state responsibility have created exceptions to this once inviolable principle. One such exception is that if a state is 'unable' or 'unwilling' to handle or eliminate the threat of terrorism or fails to suppress human rights violation or is unable to secure weapons of mass destruction including nuclear weapons, then the international community may resort to intervention as a countermeasure. An instance of one such intervention was the flash raid by the United States (U.S.) on Pakistan's territory to eliminate Osama bin Laden (OBL). Likewise, the U.S. justifies its drone strikes in Pakistan as an anticipatory form of self-defence. In the words of John Brennan, the White House Counterterrorism Advisor:

"There is nothing in international law that bans the use of remotely piloted aircraft ........ or that prohibits us from using lethal force against our enemies outside of an active battlefield."

In terrorism's context, it is routinely posited that as a state, Pakistan cannot protect itself against those who attack it and lacks the necessary legal framework to effectively combat terrorism through necessary and proper laws. Despite being aware of these issues, the criminal justice system is not efficient and robust. Hence, it is advanced that Pakistan is 'unable' to counter the threat of terrorism within its boundaries and this has serious ramifications.

An urgent need to upgrade Pakistan's Criminal Justice System

In order to resist future foreign intervention inside its territory, Pakistan must upgrade its existing terrorism related legislation, develop new legal tools, and make its criminal justice system as efficient as possible. Pakistan faces unique and exceptional circumstances which justify developing creative legal solutions. The Government of Pakistan (GOP) has only recently introduced the draft law for surveillance and interception. Under the proposed law, a judicial authority shall issue the warrants to authorise the intelligence and law enforcement agencies to collect evidence which will not only be admissible in courts but also prevent the occurrence of an act of crime.

This law ought to have been introduced several years ago as presently, the Police have to wait for the occurrence of crime before registering an FIR and triggering its investigating mechanism. Deficient lawmaking in this area is inexcusable considering that far more advanced jurisdictions, much more sensitive to privacy concerns, have developed laws strengthening their investigating agencies such as Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) in the United Kingdom and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA) in the United States.

Likewise, the President of Pakistan issued the FATA/PATA Action (in Aid of Civil Power) Internment Regulations, 2011 (AACP Regulations) which allow insurgents to be retained in custody during a conflict. Article 245 of the Constitution, which bars the High Courts from enforcing fundamental rights during operation in aid of civil power, provides the legal space necessary to issue AACP Regulations.

Law of Peace and Law of Conflict in Pakistan

When action in aid of civil power commences, it signals the breakdown of the constitutional machinery to a degree that it is no longer functioning. Although it goes without saying that calling the Armed Forces implies the paralysis of civilian administration, the problem is compounded when the insurgents are attacking the state itself with brute force and thus need to be confronted with a powerful and effective state apparatus. Such conflict or war-like situations have particularised rules of conduct, which are globally recognised and accepted. For example, there are guidelines issued by the UN on the nature of force to be used by the Army or Police personnel in such circumstances. The courts can direct the GOP to incorporate and implement these rules of international conflict either in provincial legislation or in federal law.

AACP regulations contain law only applicable during conflict and whenever the Armed Forces are called in aid of civil power. AACP regulations provide internment regulations allowing internees to meet families, receive medical treatment, and file an appeal. In certain cases, KPK's judiciary is correctly implementing the provisions of AACP Regulations as it represents the law of conflict and while fundamental rights may not be enforceable during conflict due to Article 245 (4) of the Constitution, an existing law specific to the conflict is enforceable.

The courts can even direct the issuance of rules for the use of force proportionality etc. under the Pakistan Army Act 1952. There may well be several Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) issued by the General Headquarters, the Corps Headquarters, Rangers and other forces like the Frontier Corps (FC) on how to conduct themselves during conflict. For both the judiciary and the legal community, it is extremely important to always bear in mind and retain the distinction between the law of conflict and law applicable during peace.

Pakistan does not have a statute to regulate use of force during armed actions. For international armed conflicts, Pakistan relies on the obsolete 1936 Geneva Convention Implementing Act, and for internal conflicts, the only relevant law is AACP Regulations, which have limited application. This is reflected in the mindset noticeable in the condemnable practice of 'police muqabalas' (encounter killings) where frustrated law enforcement officials eliminate suspects out of their sheer frustrations with the existing legal system.

For an ordinary law and order situation, provisions related to unlawful assembly and occasional riots exist in the Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.P.C.), and the ATA. However, significantly, there are no corresponding applicable or relevant provisions when the Armed Forces are called in aid of civil power during a conflict.

Legal differences in KPK's, Balochistan's and Karachi's conflict-related issues

Aggrieved victims in KPK, Balochistan and even Karachi are bringing conflict-related legal issues to judicial doorsteps. The judiciary needs to re-adjust its paradigm in all three cases as they are not alike cases and therefore must be treated differently and in this regard, the members of the Bar need to render necessary assistance to the Courts.

Despite the fact that in Balochistan case, the Supreme Court Bar is present and assisting the court, it has not rendered specific assistance to the Supreme Court on the several aspects of applicable conflict law.

In Balochistan, the Armed Forces have not been called in aid of civil power. Therefore, as Article 245 of the Constitution is not triggered, the Supreme Court and the High Courts are not constitutionally barred from entertaining cases of victims under Article 184 or Article 199 of the

Constitution. Although conflict in Balochistan may not be an all out conflict similar to Swat, there is unrest manifested via individual terrorist acts. In Balochistan, the conduct of the deployed FC and Police is under scrutiny. In this context, the Court needs to evaluate the existing circumstances to ascertain whether the threshold of insurgency has been achieved or if it is still a political issue masquerading as self-determination.

Although Baloch nationalists make a legal argument for self-determination, such argument only holds merit where the conflict over title of the territory coexists with the global recognition of a certain ethnic or political group possessing the right of self-determination. Balochistan is a part of Pakistan. The principal of equal rights and self-determination of people cannot be construed or interpreted in a manner that would result in a violation of the territorial integrity of Pakistan. The principle of state sovereignty is a peremptory norm; territorial boundaries cannot be changed through use of force. The right of self-determination is not available to people living in a state not classified as a colony. Hence, proclaimed support from third party states to Baloch nationalists would be classified as intervention violating international law.

In Balochistan, both the above stated requirements are absent. The title of the territories of Balochistan is not in dispute. Accession instruments of territories of Balochistan and its subsequent integration in the Federation have never been successfully challenged. An initiative taken by the Khan of Kalat to take up the issue at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) never materialised. Moreover, the "struggle of the Baloch nationalists" has failed to receive universal recognition as movement for self-determination. Although there have been isolated instances of individual initiatives like hearings on "Balochistan issue" in U.S. Congress or grant of asylum to Baloch nationalist by some governments, such postures and gestures do not reflect the official stance of any state in the international community.

Thus, in Balochistan's case, the Court would be correct to enforce fundamental rights and if the law enforcement agencies want to retain people for prolonged custody, they must do so under various statutes including Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance, 1960 or Security of Pakistan Act, 1952. In such cases, the detention can be for longer durations as Article 10 of the Constitution allows even unlimited detention of miscreants who are taking instructions from the enemy. This is precisely the argument of the GOP. However, what the GOP needs to do further is to present the material demonstrating that instructions are being taken from enemy before the Review Board comprising of Judges of the Supreme Court, and obtain legitimate orders for detentions of longer duration. This would possibly provide a solution to the missing persons' issue and the security agencies would be able to satisfy their security concerns within the parameters of law.

What is legally common in KPK and Balochistan is that those who are attacking the state have ended up withdrawing their loyalty from the state even if for different reasons - - Baloch nationalists out of retaliation for Federation's indifference and KPK's insurgents for setting up their own state by asserting unlawful control over Pakistan's sovereign territory. Whereas the Supreme Court has emphasised on adherence to article 5 of the Constitution in some of its recent judgments which is being violated in both the cases although for different reasons. Insurgents in KPK want to assert unlawful control over the sovereign territory of Pakistan, fly their own flags and impose their own way of life. On the other hand, Baloch nationalists do not allow the hoisting of Pakistan's flag, have largely abandoned the national anthem of Pakistan and openly challenge the Constitution of Pakistan.

In several media statements, Akhtar Mengal has termed the unrest in Balochistan as war-like situation where elections cannot be held. Balochistan's and KPK's cases are similar to the extent of withdrawal of loyalties under Article 5 of the Constitution and distinct in sofar as invocation of Article 245 is concerned, which is applicable only in KPK and not in Balochistan where only the FC is active.

In Karachi, terrorism is closer to conventional terrorism that can be treated under existing legal regime because terrorists are targeting a party or a person and not rebelling against the state. The issue relates to counter-terrorism for which the appropriate legal vehicle is Section 5 of the ATA or the law regulating Rangers. However, such laws are only enabling in nature and not sufficiently regulatory of the conduct. The courts can direct the Federal Government to make rules on the conduct of armed personnel while performing watch and ward and other duties in densely populated areas in order to avoid tragic incidents like the Rangers' shootings of an unarmed civilian.

Another important legal commonality between the situation in KPK and Balochistan is that in both the territories, private armed groups have been raised in violation of Article 256 of the Constitution that expressly prohibits raising and maintaining private armies.

Thus, in this context, the Federal Government must plead before the people of Pakistan that its Armed Forces and intelligence agencies are fighting its own war against those violating Article 5 or Article 256 of its Constitution, which must be enforced using all appropriate and necessary means including political options. This should also effectively blunt the highly charged and self-destructive political argument centered on Pakistan essentially fighting the U.S' proxy war. Plainly, it is a matter of enforcing the Constitution akin to enforcing rule of law through political means first, and if necessary, through proper military measures. In his address to a conference, the Honourable Chief Justice stated that the judiciary shall not budge an inch from the Constitution of Pakistan, which clearly prohibits private armies and demands loyalty to the state. Therefore, let us enforce these provisions and uphold the Constitution as highlighted by the Honourable Chief Justice.

International implications of Domestic Judgments

Judiciary is absolutely independent only within the state but not from the state. For the international community, judiciary is only a subset of the state and its pronouncement and findings are viewed as acts of state under international law. In this context, I advise my fellow colleagues and the Honourable members of subordinate and superior judiciary to exercise caution when seized of a proposition with an international dimension to it.

For instance, although Balochistan's missing persons' case remains commendable from the standpoint of individual victims, if its final judgment ends up documenting instability of any region of Pakistan, it will have grave repercussions for national security. I had brought this to the notice of the Supreme Court during one of its hearings, and I am grateful to the Honourable Chief Justice for appreciating my intervention in this regard.

In the past too, judgments of the Superior Courts have had international repercussions and effectively considered official positions of state since judiciary is a subordinate organ of the state of Pakistan. The case reported as PLD 1995 SC AJ&K 1 is usually brought up in the context of the legal status of Northern Areas of Pakistan. Similarly, the Supreme Court's authentication of Durand Line as an international border in Zewar Khan Case 1969 represents the official position of the state in this matter. Likewise, any interpretation vis-a-vis territorial waters, exclusive economic zone or jurisdiction over continental shelves by Sindh's Higher Judiciary would be treated as state of Pakistan's de facto position in relation to Law of the Sea Convention. Moreover, judgments of acquittal by the High Courts or the Supreme Court are internationally perceived as evidence of weakness of Pakistan's criminal justice system, and further reinforce Pakistan's inability to bring terrorists to justice.

With regard to issues and cases with international dimensions and repercussions, the independence of judiciary is not absolute and judicial authorities must be mindful of Pakistan's international obligations under hundreds of treaties. Decisions contrary to Pakistan's treaty commitments must not and cannot be passed and orders inconsistent with Pakistan's international law obligations must not and cannot be issued. This limitation is sometimes ignored by the judiciary on the basis of over simplified and that until the treaty is incorporated, there is no obligation to recognise it.


The bar and the bench need to consciously readjust their legal paradigms. What Pakistan faces today is not terrorism as it is conventionally understood but war waged against the state by anti-state insurgents. Unfortunately, as the conflict may well be prolonged, it ought to be managed operationally and well regulated legally. Currently, Pakistan lacks an effective and robust legal framework regulating the conduct of its military personnel during such conflict. Members of the bar have a duty and responsibility to think creatively about these challenges. In the context of Pakistan's international law obligations, judicial independence is not absolute and the bench ought to interpret laws in a manner that balances Pakistan's national security and foreign policy imperatives against civil liberties and fundamental rights of its citizens.

The writer is an advocate Supreme Court of Pakistan, president Research Society of International Law Pakistan and member Advisory Committee of United Nations Human Rights Council. He can be reached at
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Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Nov 30, 2012
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