I WAS surprised to read a recent editorial in this newspaper highlighting the sporadic implementation of the Fourth Schedule, which stated that out of the some 8,000 people on it, 20 per cent are now deceased while 5pc may have left the country. If true — concerned parties have not denied it — this is inexcusable. I am reminded of the saying: the more things change, the more they stay the same. How can we even begin to address terrorism without monitoring confirmed and suspected terrorists?
At the time of the 9/11 events, I was interior secretary in Islamabad. Initially, it felt like a distant event, in a far-off land, perpetuated by nationals of another country. But then, when the world’s attention turned to Afghanistan, the Taliban and Al Qaeda, we increasingly found ourselves caught in the crossfire. And, when the US began air strikes in Afghanistan, Islamabad saw an unprecedented influx of foreign media outlets. The Marriott’s rooftop became one large news studio for Western news networks, and the interior minister and secretary became their most sought-after interviewees.
We were also discovering, for the first time, the presence of Al Qaeda and their supporters in this country. Fugitives like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh were found and arrested in Pakistan. It was around this time we decided to spruce up our anti-terrorism laws to tackle the developing situation.
While there was no shortage of laws, one knew from field experience that the local police rarely bothered potential extremists or sympathisers until they committed an offence serious enough to be non-bailable under the law. Also, SHOs do not normally like to ruffle the feathers of extremists who aren’t active within their jurisdictions. The conditions for sleeper cells were ideal. When a serious incident of terrorism did occur, the police would literally pick up anyone with a beard. Their performance reports would be judged by the number of suspects apprehended, rather than on the merit of each case.
We at the interior ministry sat down to fix the situation, in view of new paradigm shifts in the scale and methodology of terrorism. I asked my team why we couldn’t evolve something along the lines of the age-old police rule of monitoring criminal elements in an area through their listing in a register number 10, colloquially called ‘basta bay badmash / duss nambria’. We then devised a system in which the police in all provinces, along with the intelligence agencies, were directed to make the time to compile a comprehensive list of people who either had terrorist inclinations or had a past record in this regard, their financiers and facilitators. These lists were then to be thoroughly vetted by the respective home departments to ensure that no person was incorrectly placed on the list.
Accordingly, the existing Anti-Terrorism Act, 1999 was amended by having the Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Ordinance approved in November 2002. Included in the amendment was the Fourth Schedule, and anyone listed on the schedule(based on the aforementioned list) could be asked to report their movement to the police, and the police in turn could tell them to stay away from institutions such as schools, colleges, restaurants, etc where terrorist attacks might occur.
In addition, the police was empowered to question their finances if they had suspicions. In short, all possible powers were given to the police to keep dangerous or potential extremists from undertaking sinister acts.
The solution devised through the Fourth Schedule was so manageable that rather than looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack, one would have ample time to identify potential criminals (with input from all intelligence agencies and anyone else one would want to consult) and then have unbridled powers to monitor them.
To watch, prevent and expose these 8,000 or so dangerous ideologues, financiers, hit-men, etc we have around 1,500 police stations across the country — which means that, on average, each SHO has to watch only five people or a DPO about 80, give or take a few. Now, is that not a manageable task?
I hear one province is planning to purchase tracking devices to clip onto individuals. Even so, tracking is only useful if one is tracking the right people.
The only explanation for the apathetic use of the Fourth Schedule seems to be that our rulers are tasking the police with matters that detract from tackling terrorism. This is confirmed by the government’s cavalier attitude in allowing persons on the terrorist list to compete in parliamentary elections. Like NAP, the casual neglect of the Fourth Schedule reflects the government’s misplaced priorities.
The writer is a former federal secretary.
Published in Dawn December 15th, 2016