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Pakistan Tightens Terror Laws as Opposition Protests Continue - 2004-10-19


Pakistan is again tightening laws against religious terrorism. The latest legislation comes amid a boycott by the political opposition against President Pervez Musharraf.

Under the new bill, those convicted of terrorism in the name of religion or against religious targets will face life in prison. The measure also allows authorities to seize passports of those suspected of religious terrorism.

The bill passed the lower house of Parliament Monday. Its approval in the upper house is seen as a mere formality.

Pakistan has seen a recent resurgence in sectarian violence between extremists of the Sunni and Shi'ite sects of Islam.

But senior Supreme Court attorney and former Bar Association president, Akram Sheikh, says he doubts a law stiffening prison sentences will ease the problem.

"A person who is embarking on a suicidal mission would not bother with 15 years, 20 years, 25 years," he said. "The effective way which the world has adopted is to track down these people before they strike."

He says the government should instead focus on upgrading its law enforcement and intelligence capabilities.

The bill passed amid a walkout by opposition members of Parliament. They instituted the boycott last week after the passage of a bill allowing President Pervez Musharraf to retain his second job as military chief.

General Musharraf, who took power in a bloodless coup in 1999, had promised to give up the post by the end of the year.

Opposition parties say Mr. Musharraf's dual roles give him too much power and result in a de-facto military government. Members of the opposition have announced they are looking to form a united front to challenge the president on this.

The pro-Musharraf ruling party has defended the president, saying he needs the power of the military behind him to finish his war against terrorism and poverty.

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