Slip-Ups of ATC
March 18, 2011
Pakistan is suffering from the menace of terrorism and extremism in the aftermath of 9/11 when former President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf took a U-turn on our decades’ old Afghan policy.
Mushrooming militant groups also started their vicious activities under the banner of Tahreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) across the country, and people of Pakistan have witnessed and are still experiencing the worst ever form of terrorism in which thousands of innocent citizens and security forces’ personnel have been killed. It is an irony that despite extensive operations, security forces are still far behind to control the terrorists, and those who had been captured, dodged the law and got free by Anti-Terrorism Courts.
The sudden shift of Musharraf regime somehow infuriated the Taliban who were considered as strategic assets of the country, and ultimately the friends turned into a bitter enemy.
Mushrooming militant groups also started their vicious activities under the banner of Tahreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) across the country, and people of Pakistan have witnessed and are still experiencing the worst ever form of terrorism in which thousands of innocent citizens and security forces’ personnel have been killed.
It is an irony that despite extensive operations, security forces are still far behind to control the terrorists, and those who had been captured, dodged the law and got free by Anti-Terrorism Courts.
For instance, ATC Rawalpindi could not convict even a single terrorist during the last three years in at least two dozen high-profile cases of suicide bombings in and around the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad between 2007 and 2010, primarily targeting the security forces and killing over 200 people.
Those acquitted in 2010 alone by the Rawalpindi-based Anti-Terrorism Court No I and No II were accused of planning and facilitating suicide attacks targeting the staff members of the Pakistan Army, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan Air Force, Frontier Constabulary, Special Branch, Police etc.
The conviction ratio by ATCs in important cases of terrorism is really low. In the majority of cases, many under-trial prisoners who could otherwise be convicted of terrorism go scot-free due to lack of evidence. Individuals involved in cases such as those related to attempts on the lives of Gen Pervez Musharraf and Shaukat Aziz, Marriot Hotel attack and the Aabpara bomb blast were acquitted because of lack of direct evidence, on which the courts rightly insist.
It is an irony that out of the two dozen cases of suicide attacks targeting the security and law-enforcement agencies within twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad during last three years, the conviction rate so far remains zero, which not only affects the resolve of the security forces to fight terrorism, but also the respect gained by the judiciary.
The law-enforcement agencies had reportedly arrested 2,100 terrorists during operation Rah-e-Haq, including around 150 key militants of Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammad and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. But the trials of most of these terrorists have not yet been initiated due to multiple factors, thus causing apprehensions that the ATCs, which are supposed to try and convict hardened terrorists, are most likely to acquit a majority of them, keeping in view their track record.
Some high profile cases in which the accused got acquittal include the case of seven terrorists accused of involvement in a car suicide bombing targeting a 72-seater bus of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), parked in front of the Hamza Camp (Ojhari Camp) near Faizabad in Rawalpindi on November 24, 2007, that killed 32 people. Those acquitted due to lack of evidence included Dr Niaz Ahmed, Mazharul Haq, Shafiqur Rehman, Syed Abdul Saboor, Syed Abdul Majid, Syed Abdul Basit and Mohammed Amir. Justice Raja Ikhlaq Hussain of Rawalpindi ATC No II heard the case and ordered their acquittal on April 9, 2010.
Likewise, on May 5, 2010, Malik Akram Awan of ATC No I in Rawalpindi acquitted four men who had been accused of planning and abetting a deadly suicide attack on Marriott Hotel in Islamabad on September 20, 2008 that killed 63 persons including foreigners. They were exonerated because of the failure of the prosecution to produce any of the 83 witnesses who were supposed to testify against them before the trial court. Those acquitted included Dr Muhammad Usman, Rana Ilyas, Muhammad Hameed Afzal and Tehseen Ullah Jan.
Ghulam Farooq Awan, Additional Attorney General, blames poor investigation resulted in acquittal of terrorists. He said the scared and untrained policemen could not make a well-versed prosecution, therefore it would be very difficult for a public prosecutor to defend an ill-knitted case.
The terrorists are now using sophisticated methodologies for conducting heinous crimes, but on the other hand, the investigators are still working on an outdated pattern and the gap between both the methodologies gives enough chance to a terrorist to slip away easily from the hands of law.
According to Mr. Awan, police must train the investigators on a modern pattern and they must be aware of the techniques of terrorists.
Hashmat Habib, who had managed to get acquittal in more than 450 cases from ATC Rawalpindi, said the police always created false characters after any act of terrorism.
He said in most of the cases, police arrested those who were running to save their lives after a bomb blast or other acts of terrorism. According to him, police managed their forced confession and later produced them in courts as terrorists.
In some cases, police registered a case against those who were already being kept under their illegal confinement, and soon after the terror activity, in order to avoid pressure, they falsely framed them, he added.
Hashmat also expressed doubts on eyewitness. He said generally police brought their own trustworthy fake witness, who, in the later stages, could not continue to deceive the courts, and, ultimately, those arrested on terrorism charges got the benefit of doubt.
Saleem Ullah Khan, former Additional Inspector General of Police, is of the view that it is a fright of an accused that forced the policemen to treat him in a dignified way. He said terrorists were so powerful and they threatened not only the police officials but also their family members, and no one wants to put the lives of their loved ones in danger.
Khan also expressed a possibility that the judges of these court could not perform their duties freely and openly as they also work under the shadow of fear. A judge knows that after a jail sentence, he (convict) would come out, and terrorists know where he lives, and where he goes, Khan added.
He suggested that in order to get more fruitful prosecution, there is a dire need to hide the identity, not only of the investigator, but also of the judge, the witnesses, security guards, and even driver of the vehicle engaged in the logistics.
According to him, instead of trial in ATC or jail, a mechanism of trial through video conferencing should be adopted, in which the judge may randomly be selected through out the country.
For instance, an accused in Karachi may be tried by a judge of Peshawar court through video conferencing, he added. He said this might need a change in Qanoon-e-Shahadat (Evidence Act), but he insisted that the same law is of centuries old and ‘we must need to bring improvement in this law’.
Khan said in most of the cases, the accused got acquitted due to insufficient evidence, and, in some cases, the eyewitnesses took back their statements; therefore, we need to amend this law as well. He stressed the need for a law in which minimum evidence would be admissible and acceptable for the court.