This is new even for Pakistan. The sectarian attack in a predominantly Shia neighbourhood in Karachi, which left 48 dead and several more injured, deliberately targeted the homes of Shias.
In the past, mostly Shias and others were attacked on roads or at places of worship. They had felt safe at least in their homes. Not so much anymore. The latest attack opens a new chapter in the sectarian warfare where the religious fanatics have started to target homes. Among the dead in Karachi were several children playing in the safety of their homes. The bomb robbed the children of their lives, and the community of its sense of safety and security.
A campaign to kill Shia professionals, including lawyers and doctors, has been on for years in urban Pakistan. Several Shia doctors have been shot dead in Karachi in the past. A renowned eye surgeon and his son were shot dead only last month in Lahore. Now Shia members of armed forces have also become targets. The same Sunday when 48 died in a car bomb attack in Karachi, Lieutenant Commander Azeem Haider Kazmi of the Pakistan Navy also succumbed to his injuries. The Shia officer was injured on February 27 most likely in a targeted attack motivated by sectarian hatred.
While the State and the society continued to collapse under sectarian violence in Pakistan, the legislators were in no hurry to act against the new incarnation of religiously motivated genocide, primarily orchestrated by the followers of a particular faction of the Sunni Islam. Only yesterday, the Senate passed a watered down version of the Anti-Terrorism Bill.
The new law finally allows the government to move against those responsible for financing terrorist activities. The State could now freeze, seize and forfeit property of those convicted of facilitating terrorist activities. As expected, the Jamiat-e-Ulama Islam (JUI-F), a Deobandi religo-political outfit, opposed the bill. Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, JUI-F’s senator, suddenly become a libertarian fearing that the new law may unnecessarily subject ‘innocent citizens’ to harassment by law enforcement agencies. He wanted the Bill to be reviewed further instead of being passed in a ‘hurry’!
Funny, that the JUI-F Senator felt that the Bill was being rushed by the government. The Bill has beenpending in the Parliament for over three years. While thousands of Shias and other religious minorities were killed in cold blood in Pakistan in the past three years, the Parliament felt no urgency to act on the Bill. And finally when there is an attempt to pass the Bill, the Deobandi senators felt this was being done in haste.
With a few days left in the constitutional life of the Parliament, the Deobandi Senators made one last ditch effort to have the Bill die an unnatural death.
The poorly documented and mostly informal economy in Pakistan makes it easy to fund terrorist activities. Most charitable donations are not tracked by the government or by the philanthropists, thus making it easy for the funds to reach unintended destinations. In fact, estimates have suggested that billions are donated by well-meaning citizens to mosques and religious outfits with the intention to help the needy. While some of that money does reach the intended, most of it is siphoned off without a trace. It is not difficult to imagine how funds collected from mosques or from millions of charity boxes scattered around the country can make their way to the accounts of militant and terrorist outfits in Pakistan.
The Bill further allows law enforcement agencies to collect evidence in the form of audio and video recordings, wiretapping, and emails. Remember that in the absence of these provisions most accused of terrorism have been acquitted by the courts in the past because the law did not permit the use of circumstantial evidence in the courts.
Another important aspect of the legislation allows the law enforcement agencies to target banned organisations that re-emerge under a different name, but with no change in actions or strategy. The law states that if “any or all office-bearers of a proscribed organisation form a new organisation under a different name, upon suspicion about their involvement in similar activities, the said organisation shall also be deemed to be a proscribed organisation and the government may issue a formal notification of its proscription.”
The Bill also allows the government to deny passports to those suspected of terrorism, and the banks could be asked to refuse loans to such individuals. At the same time, the government can cancel weapon licenses issued to the accused in the past. And more importantly, the courts will be prevented from bailing out such accused.
Incensed by the fact that the Senate finally decided to act on the Anti-Terrorism Bill, the JUI-F senators staged a walkout in protest. I believe that the likes of JUI-F had walked out on Pakistan decades ago.
Murtaza Haider, Ph.D. is the Associate Dean of research and graduate programs at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org