The Punjab apex committee established by the NAP has woken from its slumber, perhaps in response to the mob violence against minorities in Jhelum. It recommended several changes to the law to better deal with terrorism and extremism, and the Chief Minister has forwarded the recommendations to the federal government. The recommendations are mainly focused at making punishments more severe as well as making the process of prosecution easier by updating the law of permissible evidence – something that should have been done long ago.

The committee’s thought process is simple; stronger punishments equal stronger deterrence. On a strictly theoretical level such an analysis is true, but practically it has been proven that increasing sentences has a negligible level on crime control – especially for religiously motivated criminals. What really deters potential criminals is the possibility of being caught. It is here, in the implementation of laws by the Law Enforcement Agencies (LEA), that improvement is needed, especially since Pakistan already has quite strict laws to deal with issues of terrorism.

The recommendations include more stringent laws on loudspeaker use, mob violence and hate speech – but the fact is even if these laws had been in place, incidents like Jhelum riots, the Kasur lynching and Joseph colony fire would still have happened in exactly the same way.

Laws become meaningless when LEAs stand by and let angry mobs do their worst, be it through cowardice or sympathy with the crowd. LEA standard operating procedures dealing with religious mobs need to be updated – they need to be given the authority to use force to deter the crowd. If laws are needed then they are needed to prosecute policeman who let mobs torture and destroy in dereliction of their duties.

Present laws on hate speech, battery and murder in the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) are sufficient to deal with incidents like these, if only the government prosecutes with real intent. Known, unapologetic and self-proclaimed terrorist have gotten a free pass because the prosecution and the judiciary feel intimidated. Stricter laws won’t change any of that, a more secure legal profession will.

Not all recommendations made were ineffective, but making laws stricter – just like reciting a list of numerous arrests – is eyewash that projects an image of pro-activism but proves very little on the ground. The apex committee and Shahbaz Sharif must do more to prevent religiously motivated crimes from happening in Punjab. Reportedly the committee concluded that students and teachers from 54 seminaries, of the total 13,782 religious seminaries in the province, were actively involved in terrorism and sectarian activities while people at 244 madrassas were identified as terrorists’ facilitators. Why are they still allowed to function? The Punjab government needs to do some actual legwork, not take the easy way out by announcing a stricter penalty and hoping the criminals stay their hands.