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Pak courts fail to convict terrorists

world Updated: Aug 21, 2010 00:46 IST

Pakistani courts have yet to convict a single person in any of the country's biggest terrorist attacks of the past three years, a symptom of a dysfunctional legal system that's hurting the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaida at a critical time.

Police without basic investigative skills such as the ability to lift fingerprints, and prosecutors who lack training to try terror cases, are some of the main reasons cited. Another daunting challenge: Judges and witnesses often are subject to intimidation that affects the ability to convict.

The legal system's failure to attack terrorism is critical because it robs Pakistan of a chance to enforce a sense of law and order, which militants have set out to destroy.

It has "caused a sense of terror and insecurity amongst the members of society," said one of the country's top judges,
Lahore High Court Chief Justice Khawaja Mohammad Sharif.

The legal failures also call into question the government's ability to fight terrorism in any way except by using the army in military offensives or human rights groups alleged through targeted extra-judicial killings.

The United States has said repeatedly that its success in Afghanistan and throughout the troubled region depends on
strong help from Pakistan against militants.

Pakistani army offensives and US missile strikes have killed some suspected terrorist suspects in recent years in
the rugged northwest near the Afghan border, where militant leaders and senior operatives are based. The head of the
Pakistani Taliban, the group blamed for many of the 20 biggest attacks, was killed in a drone strike last August, for example.

Indeed, human rights groups have accused security forces of carrying out hundreds of assassinations of suspected
extremists or sympathisers in the Swat Valley, which the army reclaimed from the Taliban last year, rather than even trying to prosecute suspects in court.

Authorities deny the allegations, saying they do try to use the legal courts. But their record is dismal.