A Rawalpindi anti-terrorism court acquitted outlawed Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) chief, Mr Malik Ishaq, in three cases relating to terrorism and hate speech, on Thursday. As it often happens in cases involving terrorism and powerful individuals, the charges were dismissed due to “insufficient evidence”. The low prosecution rate across the country, despite a steady rise in terrorist activities, points towards the system’s failure to cope with the situation at hand. Which factors may be responsible for this?

As far as evidence is concerned, it usually comprises of forensic proof and witnesses. How capable are the relevant authorities in gathering such evidence? And how much of it is admissible in a court of law? When confronted with cases related to terrorist organisations, investigation officers feel extremely vulnerable and for good reason. Some have been made to pay the ultimate price for not backing off. Just how much does this reasonable sense of insecurity affect the results of investigations? There is also the issue of witness intimidation. Is there a witness protection programme in place which allows individuals to testify without putting themselves at serious risk? When witnesses are killed with impunity, as they are in Pakistan, it sends a very clear message; do not co-operate or you will be killed. The entire criminal justice system begins to appear weak in the face of the threats. The public, seeing this, loses its confidence. People do not believe that their guardians are capable of offering protection, so it shouldn’t surprise why so few are willing to come forward. On the other hand, the terrorists are encouraged since the system doesn’t offer any serious deterrence against them. When escaping accountability becomes easily achievable, they grow bold and strike with more force. 

Moreover, how much truth is there in the allegations that suggest collusion between elements within law enforcement agencies and non-state actors? Are there any checks and balances employed by the Police and other authorities to prevent infiltration? Certain reports suggest that terrorists are able to communicate and give out instructions while serving their sentences in heavily guarded prisons. How do mobile phones reach prisoners and remain hidden from the eyes of the law? A reform, on all levels, including laws, judiciary and law enforcement agencies, is necessary to fight the menace of terrorism, sectarian or otherwise.