We must commend our police and paramilitary forces for their role in the remarkable reduction of crime in Sindh, with Karachi reportedly falling from number 6 in the world crime index in 2013 to 52 in 2017. While terrorism attacks have been reduced, street crime still remains a pervasive problem, with incidents of bike snatching and petty theft increasing last year.

In response to this, the Sindh government has set up a committee of legal experts to seek suggestions for speedy trial and quick convictions of suspected street criminals, who are often arrested but released without any serious consequences. Police authorities have put forward to the committee the suggestion of applying the anti-terror law against street crime suspects, saying that armed men in fact cause panic and fear in society.

The committee has advised it legally unsound and it is easy to see why since doing so would be problematic for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the anti-terror legislation in Pakistan, mainly the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) 1997, has already been criticized for being inept, since it has too vague a definition of terrorism. Instead of carefully deliberating contextually what definition of terrorism to put in, lawmakers simply borrowed the British definition, which includes “the use or threat of use of any action stated in (2) which involves the use of fire-arms, explosives or any other weapon, is terrorism”. In Pakistan, there is rampant use of illegal weapons, and to apply such a definition then leads to inclusion of several crimes, causing the anti-terror courts to become over-burdened. To go ahead to further specify street crimes as terrorism would nullify the purpose of anti-terror courts and trivialize the meaning of terrorism.

Moreover, Sindh government or police is not even authorized to pass this action, as anti-terrorism law comes under the Federal government, and without the parliament’s approval, the provincial governments cannot pass a law on it.

Lastly, this will not even achieve the purpose of lessening street crimes or ensuring speedy trials, since the anti-terrorism courts are themselves burdened with too many cases. To include the hefty number of street crimes cases too will turn the Anti-terror courts into something akin to ordinary trial courts.

A better solution would be to improve the police procedures, investigation and evidence-collecting systems. A more modern and technological process of the system, which includes more knowledge of forensic and scientific evidence, would be better for speedy trials.