Publication by Muhammad Amir Rana

Defining Terrorism in Pakistan

The Supreme Court’s Judgment – A way forward for Parliament

In democratic countries the Parliament occupies the key role in politics. It is established by democratic elections, and is the most important instrument of a society to politically define its own rules and laws. Therefore, it is quite obvious that a Parliament (in the case of Pakistan the National Assembly jointly with the Senate) should be in control of the most important political decision making, and should faithfully fulfil its constitutional role of defining the political and social norms. Good Governance requires that the parliament will actually fulfil this role. Therefore, it was very positive and important that the Pakistani Supreme Court in the autumn of 2019 decided that the Parliament has to clarify the legal definition of "terrorism" in the legal code. This was a historic decision for at least three reasons: 

(1) In many countries and internationally the legal definition of the term "terrorism" is either unclear, ambiguous, or politically charged. There is no consensus on the definition of "terrorism" in academic research, in criminal law, nor internationally in politics or international law. Defining terrorism is extremely difficult because of its complex relationship to other forms of violence, because of the moral outrage it produces, and because of its political instrumentalization.

(2) If academics cannot agree on a common definition of terrorism, how can lawyers, policemen, journalists, politicians, human rights activists, and the civil society agree on it? And if the term "terrorism" is not clearly defined in law, how can the courts and the security organizations enforce the laws on terrorism? Obviously, the fight against terrorism depends on knowing what terrorism actually is, and what it is not. Any vagueness or confusion will weaken the fight against terrorism.

(3) On the other hand, in many countries the term "terrorism" has been broadened beyond any reason, and has been used to attack any political enemy or competitor. It too often has become a verbal weapon, instead a legal or intellectual category. The danger is that mixing up security analysis, law, and political rhetoric will open the door to the political instrumentalization of the term "terrorism", much beyond its proper meaning. 

The Supreme Court of Pakistan has very wisely decided to insist on clarity in regard to defining terrorism in the Pakistani legal context. And it has very properly tasked the Pakistani Parliament with defining it, noting that the current situation of vagueness opens the door to several negative effects. 

Defining terrorism in Pakistan

Rana, Muhammad Amir

Defining terrorism in Pakistan

The Supreme Courtʿs judgment - a way forward for Parliament
Islamabad, 2021

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