Apprehending terrorists and combating extremism is an exigent objective as well as a top government priority, but the pursuit of this objective does not mean that all maxims of legal justice can be trodden over. Our government has often strayed beyond the acceptable degree – the secretive and arbitrary military courts being the latest transgression – but the steps taken by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government clearly exceed the margin and that too by a mile. The government has issued a advertisement in the print media saying that under the Criminal Procedure Code and other anti terrorism laws, the relatives and guardians of people involved in terrorism or affiliated with militant outfits are required to submit all information they know about their whereabouts to the authorities. Failure to do so can lead to legal punishment, which includes life imprisonment and seizure of properties. Following the inevitable criticism the advertisement has faced, in true government fashion, the police officials have denied having any knowledge of such a provision and government officials have declined to comment
The provision is so laced with legal inaccuracies and policy pitfalls that one wonders how a government department can approved it. Firstly, no such law exists under which the government can take this action, the closest a law comes to this is the legal sanction against withholding information relevant to a investigation. Yet, that is only applicable in very limited scenarios and the maximum penalty is six-month imprisonment. If the parliament passes such a law to back up this pronouncement, it cannot act retroactively to make those actions illegal which were legal when they were committed, doing so would break key principles of law and justice. Furthermore, it is against the constitution to criminalise mere association with a criminal; the parents or relatives font have enough control over the actions of the alleged militants for the state to hold them liable – if we allow this should we also punish relatives of common criminals too?
Even if we ignore these fatal mistakes and assume the government has legal basis to carry out this provision; it fails to justify tests of pragmatic social policy. The militancy in the tribal region is perpetuated by perceived state oppression; if the government targets the innocent relatives of militants it only fuels hatred – just as the drone campaign did.
The government’s objective of seeking information is a valid one, but it needs to be carried out through motivation and incentives.