Amid heated debate from the opposition in the National Assembly (NA) session on Thursday, the government extended three controversial ordinances related to national security for three months. These ordinances include the Anti-terrorism (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013 (VII of 2013), the Anti-terrorism (Amendment) Ordinance 2013 (VIII of 2013), and the Protection of Pakistan Ordinance (PPO) 201. The house also passed the first two ordinances.
Prior to the extensions, the ordinances were set to lapse 120 days after their promulgation in October last year as they have yet to be passed in parliament. The government lacks the majority in the Senate and the amendments could be blocked there even after their passage in the NA. The extensions give them legal cover for another 120 days.
The PTI, MQM and the JUI-F argued that the ordinances stipulate unlimited powers for security agencies to detain citizens and curtail their democratic rights on mere suspicion.
The resolution to extend the ordinances was tabled by Minister for Science and Technology Zahid Hamid and passed with majority votes.
Opposition leader Syed Khurshid Shah said the government had failed to create consensus on the laws among the opposition and knows it will be unable to pass the laws in the Senate. He opposed a 120-day extension, saying the government should instead meet with the opposition to include amendments in the laws.
“We should have comprehensive and consensus legislations to make these ordinances long lasting,” he said, citing the example of the 1973 Constitution.
Chief of the Qaumi Wattan Party Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao added that ‘extending the ordinance for three months is a wrong decision as the government has plenty of time to build consensus among opposition parties’.
Hamid, the former law minister, defended the extensions saying the government has held many meetings of the intra-party committee in order to create consensus over many clauses in the ordinances. He said many amendments suggested by the opposition were also incorporated.
He added that the ordinances were promulgated in view of the Karachi operation, as security agencies needed legal cover as many criminals are taking advantages of ‘weak anti-terror laws’.
Meanwhile, PkMAP MNA Mehmood Khan Achakzai, who belongs to the government’s coalition parties, supported the extension. “Even the US could suspend some laws if its national security is in danger and Pakistan is in a state of war nowadays,” he maintained.
PTI MNA Shah Mehmood Qureshi argued that the government should ‘focus on legislation of these ordinances through parliament’, adding that his party ‘has serious reservations over these laws but let the government start a discussion on their legislation in order to narrow down the differences’. Additionally, PTI MNA Javed Hashmi said political parties should keep in mind that such laws could also be used against them once they are not in government.
MQM MNA Nabil Gabol was of the opinion that the extensions were ‘a humiliation of this House’ while the Jamat-e-Islami’s Sahibzada Tariqullah said the country is already a ‘police state’ and these laws would further exacerbate the situation.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 7th, 2014.