Zainab Alert Bill
ON Friday, the National Assembly passed the Zainab Alert, Recovery and Response Bill. While recognising the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution, lawmakers felt it necessary to create a new law for “missing and abducted children” given the “high risk of violence, exploitation, abuse, trafficking, rape or death”. Tabled by the Human Rights Ministry, the bill is named after Zainab Ansari, who was brutally raped and killed in Kasur three years ago. The child’s murder sparked protests across the country, demanding her killer be brought to justice. In 2015, the presence of a large, well-connected paedophile ring in the city made headlines after hundreds of videos depicting the sexual abuse of children surfaced. While the sexual abuse and exploitation of children is not something new in our society — or indeed, any society — it has come to the forefront of public discourse through greater frequency in reporting in recent years. In Pakistan, Kasur has remained at the centre of the storm. In 2018, the police arrested four people for purchasing minor girls for prostitution. In 2019, protests erupted once again when the tortured bodies of three abducted boys were recovered. And just last week, the mother of a 12-year-old girl filed a complaint against her husband for allowing another man to sexually abuse the child for Rs500.
There are countless other examples which never make the headlines, and those that do are often quickly forgotten. If the bill is passed by the Senate, offenders will be handed life imprisonment, along with a fine of Rs1m, as maximum punishment. Additionally, a helpline for missing children will be established; a Child Protection Advisory Board set up; and action taken against police officials who delay investigations, as seen in the case of 10-year-old Farishta, when Islamabad police dismissed her family’s cries to register an FIR for several days since she went missing. Since the bill only covers the Islamabad Capital Territory, it is of critical importance that the provinces now take up the issue.
BALOCHISTAN is, unfortunately, no stranger to violence, though various acts of terrorism perpetrated by a variety of militant actors in the province have dipped in frequency over the past few years. But as Friday evening’s tragic bombing in a Quetta mosque has shown, the calm in Balochistan is tenuous.
Unless the security forces continue to keep a keen eye on militants in the province, a return to the bad old days cannot be ruled out.
At least 15 people lost their lives in the blast, including senior police officer DSP Amanullah Ishaqzai; the tragedy for his family was compounded as he had recently lost a young son in an apparent targeted killing. This is the second major act of terrorism in Balochistan over the past several days, as on Tuesday, Hizbul Ahrar, a proscribed offshoot of the TTP, claimed responsibility for a bombing that targeted a Frontier Corps vehicle in Quetta’s Mecongi Road area. As for Friday’s attack, the militant Islamic State group has claimed responsibility.
Though the motive of the mosque bombing is not yet clear — the targeting of a senior police officer is a possibility — other factors may also be involved.
For example, the violence could be a spillover of the struggle between two major Afghan militant actors, the Taliban and the local chapter of IS.
As reported in this paper, an investigator has said Friday’s incident bore resemblances to the bombing in Kuchlak last year, in which a brother of Afghan Taliban chief Haibatullah was killed.
Both the Taliban and the IS Khorasan outfit are locked in a battle for influence within Afghanistan, and it would not be unusual for their sparring to cross into Pakistan, as both have ideological comrades on this side of the border.
In order to preserve the relatively peaceful atmosphere in Balochistan, better intelligence is needed to shield Pakistan from violence originating in Afghanistan.
Balochistan in the past has seen waves of bloodshed carried out by militants — the massacre of the province’s Hazaras by Lashkar-i-Jhangvi should not be forgotten — while the Baloch separatist insurgency is also largely quiet at present.
Therefore, with the state saying that calm has been restored in the country, Balochistan cannot be allowed to slip back into chaos.
Solid intelligence-based operations are needed to trace out local facilitators of Afghan militant groups and neutralise them before they can use Pakistani soil as a battlefield in their proxy war.
CII’s objections to NAB law
WHEN the government overhauled the NAB law last month through a presidential ordinance, it could have scarcely foreseen objections to it from a more unexpected quarter. At a press conference on Thursday, the Council of Islamic Ideology Chairman Dr Qibla Ayaz said that the body had arrived at the conclusion that certain parts of the legislation were “not compatible with Islamic laws on crime and punishment”. Among these is the section pertaining to presumption of guilt against an individual accused of accepting illegal gratification. According to the CII, the onus of proving innocence does not lie on the alleged perpetrator, and that keeping a suspect in custody for extended periods of time without a case violates religious principles. Further, handcuffing suspects and airing footage of the arrest on media is objectionable on similar grounds.
The presumption of innocence is part of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is critical to ensuring the right to due process which entails respecting the dignity of the accused and a trial held without undue delay so that he is not unnecessarily deprived of his liberty or subjected to the uncertainty that a protracted legal battle would entail. A few days ago, the Supreme Court, while hearing a bail application in a fraud case, asked NAB why it took suspects into custody before having found prosecutable evidence against them. On several occasions, senior officials of the accountability body have also made statements about ongoing proceedings and publicly humiliated individuals yet to be found guilty in a court of law. Some suspects have been produced in handcuffs before an accountability court.
These are serious violations of the universal principles of justice; and in a parliamentary democracy, it should not take the CII to point them out. The duty to protect the citizens’ fundamental rights falls on the elected representatives of the people, and they have been remiss on this front. Now the government and the opposition have a chance to address the NAB law’s shortcomings in their ongoing effort to forge a consensus on the legislation. The CII’s observations also put the PTI government in an awkward position. The party has often passed the buck to the constitutional body when it comes to legislation on social issues such as domestic violence. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the PTI has been in power since 2013, still does not have a law on domestic violence, mainly because of CII’s objections to the bill sent to it for consideration by the provincial government. Will the PTI now claim that the council should limit itself to social issues? That said, and notwithstanding CII’s objections to the NAB law, there is no need for such a body in a parliamentary democracy when the Constitution already states that no law can be made against the Quran and Sunnah.