IT has been two years since parliament passed an amendment to the Anti Terrorism Act of 1997 that vested extraordinary powers in the Rangers in Sindh to detain people on suspicion of involvement in terrorist activity, or of facilitating terrorism.
The amendment is called Section 11EEEE, and it was passed to put some teeth into the Karachi operation that had begun only a few weeks earlier.
Since then, the amendment has been used widely to detain all manner of people, from members of political parties to extortionist gangs and individuals belonging to banned outfits, as well as officers of a state-owned gas company.
Originally, the Rangers were the sole agency vested with the powers under this extraordinary amendment, but as of this summer, the Counter Terrorism Department of Sindh Police and the FIA have also been notified to exercise the same extraordinary powers of detention contained in this law.
The powers empower the notified law-enforcement agency to detain for up to 90 days on ground of suspicion alone, and without any judicial oversight.
Dr Asim Hussain is probably the most high-profile individual detained under this law, and the scope and depth of the investigation carried out against him is quite possibly unprecedented.
But the charges levelled against him in the FIR contain no reference to terror financing, showing that whatever else he might be guilty of, not a shred of evidence appears to have been found implicating him in the original charge under which he was detained.
The case — and many other cases that have a similar pattern — illustrates the dire need for a review of Section 11EEEE of the ATA to ensure that the extraordinary powers granted to law enforcement through it are not being misused.
Thus far no data exists of the number of people detained under this law, yet we know from observing court activity that most of those detained are either released without any charges, or are charged with criminal activity that has little or nothing to do with terrorism.
This apparent pattern makes it important to conduct a review of how well this law has served to advance the fight against terrorism and militancy specifically, for which it was designed.
The review should aim to provide us with answers to three specific questions: how many people have been detained under this law thus far?
How many of them have been charged with an offence? And how many convictions have been obtained?
If the federal government proves reticent in initiating such a review, an MNA should raise these questions as part of question hour in the National Assembly and demand a response from the government.
It is crucial to determine whether the tools designed to fight militancy and terrorism are not being used for purposes other than those they were specifically meant for.