Legislations should be carefully drafted and enforced. Broad terms of the legislation lead to broader interpretations and misapplication when enforced. This is true to Anti-Terrorism legislation in Pakistan, especially when penal charges like cow theft are being registered under it. Terrorism as defined in the legislation is so broadly drafted that every act falls within its ambit.

A more recent exploitatively used phenomenon is that of murder charges. Merely charging murderer under Penal Code, Anti-Terrorism Act is applied – often in conjunction with the general law. The case of Kanju can be used as an example. He is a murderer who has before the court of law confessed murdering a youngster. Now the offence he is charged of is that of ATA alongside PPC. The point being why ATA when PPC suffices the purpose. The words of the terrorism legislation include causing death as act of terrorism, but how it instigates terror in the society is debatable. Terror must embedded in the society and the act must be to terrorize the population at large rather than committed against an individual. Murder is charged with capital punishment under PPC and if investigation and confession have sufficed that he is a murderer then penal punishments should become his fate.

ATA till date has very low conviction rate. The courts adjudge the accused on the basis of question of fact and question of law. Facts are usually not concrete enough and misapplication of law further gives margin to the accused to be set free. When the accused is set free, the courts are being blamed for factitious decisions, often complemented with conspiracy theories of misjudgment and corruption.

Is it just the draconian nature of the anti-terrorism legislation in comparison to other laws or government’s stringent stance against terrorism, or the law enforcement agencies are illiterate to determine what charges to be put on the accused, or that under ATA state is made a party to the case so the accused cannot escape easily of the charges, that attract ATA application. These all are measures to entrap the accused rather than means of giving justice to the aggrieved party. Charging accused is not justice achieved, the order of the court on the basis of the charges levied is justice.  

As far as it may seem PPC and ATA are the only laws that law enforcement agencies are all aware of. Even within these two the police officials seem confused and inappropriately overuse the law. People accused of penal offences, having no relation with terrorism, are also being charged under ATA. Stats prove that approximately 10 percent of the cases registered under ATA are either cancelled or deleted by police itself during investigation.

This situation in general provides flexibility to the court to charge a person under one or the other – especially when justice is to be served under threat and coercive elements. Mumtaz Qadri case may be used here as reference. The court lifted the charges of ATA and adjudged him to death under PPC. However, it was a difficult context for the judges to decide considering our society’s emotional religious values that outrun legal jurisprudence.

Moreover, ATA is a special law to be applied in cases of special natured offences, i.e. strictly terrorism related offences. It should not be exploitatively used for general criminal offences. Does charging of ATA amount to official machinery being activated and penalization of harsh provision a relief to the aggrieved party? No. The official machinery is already functional but aggrieved party may assume stricter liability of the accused that is usually turned down in judgment.

Law enforcement agencies need to have a sound understanding of law to charge a person with the correct provisions of law. Constant caution is required to ensure that adequate laws are put to charge against an accused. Even the Supreme Court has raised concern that the ATA needs to be reexamined in a manner that the special law be read meticulously and thoroughly examined for effective implementation. Low conviction rate under ATA is something the police should consider when framing charges against the accused. Our general laws adequately suffice for criminal offences; hence special laws being put to accused do not complement the situation but raises legal concerns.