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In Pakistan A Provincial Court Strips Security Forces Of Sweeping Powers

FILE: Pakistani army soldiers enforce curfew in the northwestern Swat Valley in 2009.
FILE: Pakistani army soldiers enforce curfew in the northwestern Swat Valley in 2009.

A provincial high court in Pakistan has struck down a tough security law that granted sweeping powers to the security forces in a northwestern province.

Lawyers say that in a landmark decision on October 17 the Peshawar High Court, the apex court in Pakistan's northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, struck down the Actions in Aid of Civil Power Ordinance 2019. They say that a bench comprising two high court justices determined that the law infringed on the constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights of the region’s estimated 35 million residents.

“Today, justice and the just cause has won. People had ensured injustice because of this law, but finally they have seen justice,” Shabir Hussain Gigiani, a lawyer who had challenged the law, told VOA’s Radio Deewa.

The latest reiteration of the Action in Aid of Civil Power was promulgated on August 5. But the law has been extensively used in the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA) since 2011, when it was first adopted as a “stopgap” measure to deal with the Taliban insurgency in those regions. FATA and PATA became a main hideout for the Taliban and allied militants after the demise of the Taliban regime in neighboring Afghanistan in late 2001.

In 2011, two nearly identical versions of the Action in Aid of Civil Power were retroactively implemented in FATA and PATA from 2008. That year, large-scale military operations began to roll back Taliban control in the two regions. In 2018, FATA and PATA were merged into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Human rights campaigners, however, opposed the law and accused the security forces of detaining thousands under the extensive powers granted to them under the law. Pakistani courts have been hearing various cases against the Actions in Aid of Civil Power law for years but have only struck down the law now.

Gigiani says the court decision will have an immediate impact on thousands of detainees in various military detention centers across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

“The court decision has ordered all the [security] organizations to hand over control of all their internment centers to the inspector general of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police,” he said. “The police have been ordered to look into cases and set free those who are not facing any charges and move the cases of other detainees before the courts.”

Meanwhile, a separate constitutional petition in the Pakistani Supreme Court challenged the Action In Aid of Civil Power Ordinance 2019 on October 17. It was not immediately clear whether the provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and federal government in Islamabad will appeal the Peshawar High Court’s decision or take steps to implement its ruling.