Pakistan passed the Anti-Terrorism Act in 1997 in response to the rising threat of terrorism within its borders. The law was designed to help law enforcement combat terrorism. Instead, conceptual difficulties within the law and procedural problems in implementing it have led to an alarmingly high number of acquittals. This report examines the weaknesses in the Anti-Terrorism Act and suggests ways to improve the law and its application to better fight terrorism in Pakistan.

Summary

  • The Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997 lays down the basic legal framework for counterterrorism prosecutions in Pakistan. Despite the law’s passage, the criminal justice system has seen low conviction rates and delayed cases, and it offers a very weak deterrence against terrorism.
  • The lengthy delays and high number of acquittals in terrorism cases are due to a number of factors. The definition of terrorism under the act is too broad. Procedural issues, among law enforcement officers and among police and intelligence agencies, also contribute to the law’s ineffectiveness.
  • Unless urgent measures are taken, public confidence in the law is likely to further erode, opening the possibility of greater reliance on military instead of civilian institutions to control terrorism.
  • A holistic approach is needed to improve the ATA, based on four equally important dimensions: amending the language of the law, streamlining its application, sensitizing the courts to the provisions of the law, and strengthening the infrastructure responsible for its implementation.

About the Report

This report assesses Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), the country’s main legislation governing the prosecution of terrorism. The law’s loose definition of terrorism has resulted in an overly broad application of the ATA to a host of criminal cases, clogging up the special court system the ATA set up. At the same time, resources and training to implement the ATA’s provisions are limited. This report is based on discussions in round table conferences, two with senior Pakistani police officers and one with lawyers, former judges, and academia; a study of the judgments of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and ATCs having a bearing on the ATA; and research carried out on the subject in Pakistan.

About the Authors

Tariq Parvez is a former police officer who retired as director general of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and later served as national coordinator of Pakistan’s National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) Pakistan. Mehwish Rani has done her M.Phil in psychology and is involved in research on counterterrorism and countering violent extremism.

Related Publications

The Current Situation in Pakistan

The Current Situation in Pakistan

Monday, April 1, 2019

Pakistan continues to face multiple sources of internal and external conflict. While incidences of domestic terrorism have reduced, in part due to measures taken by the Pakistani state, extremism and intolerance of diversity has grown.

India-Pakistan Tensions Test China’s Relationships, Crisis Management Role

India-Pakistan Tensions Test China’s Relationships, Crisis Management Role

Thursday, March 7, 2019

By: Jacob Stokes; Jennifer Staats

The latest India-Pakistan crisis has put China in a difficult position, as it tries to balance its relationships with both countries, while helping to stave off a conflict and demonstrate its ability to manage and resolve crises. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi spoke to leaders in both Pakistan and India last week, urging them to practice restraint and find a way to deescalate the situation. Despite Pakistan’s request for China to play a more active role, competing priorities constrained the degree to which Beijing could lead—highlighting a chronic challenge for Chinese diplomacy in South Asia. China’s decision to keep a low profile is likely deliberate and in keeping with longstanding practice, but it is inconsistent with Beijing’s aspirations to lead in Asian crisis diplomacy.

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

Amb. Richard Olson on the India-Pakistan Crisis

Amb. Richard Olson on the India-Pakistan Crisis

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

By: Richard Olson

Last week, tensions between India and Pakistan—sparked by a suicide attack claimed by a Pakistan-based terrorist group—put the world on notice. “The United States has reached a point where it believes that the militants operating out of Pakistan are … a threat, not just to India and to Afghanistan and our forces in Afghanistan, but … a threat to the long-term stability of the Pakistani state,” says Richard Olson, a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan.

Conflict Analysis & Prevention

View All Publications