Why do we need the Protection of Pakistan Ordinance (PPO)? To protect Pakistan, stupid, responds the federal government. One earnestly wishes to meet the copywriter at the Ministry of Law and Parliamentary Affairs for the breathtaking creativity of the names of these pieces of legislation (another remarkable example is the Fair Trial Act, an act neither fair nor providing for much of a real trial). We do not have the luxury of fundamental rights and freedoms, etc. anymore, they say. The federal government’s position is that law enforcement, both military and civilian, needs to be robust, deal with iron hands, no time for kid gloves and niceties of due process. The legal and rights-based criticism of the PPO is easy to grasp and in any event, has been done comprehensively and convincingly by legal experts, opposition parties and human rights organisations, most notably by the HRCP and HRW. However, the message the government seeks to communicate is that the State is serious and those who seek to challenge it will be taken to task. Very well, except, that the government’s position is not consistent even internally (let alone compliant with domestic or human rights standards).
It is helpful to recall some of the solemn happenings of recent days. Members of the TTP have been released unilaterally and secretly. Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi has been elected to the National Assembly as a result of court verdict. Perhaps, most surreally, even by our surreal standards, a nine-month-old child was named in a criminal case and the Punjab police were hard at work to apprehend the delinquent infant. Then there is news of the TTP condemning the sabzi mandi blast in Rawalpindi.
The interior minister is feeling particular chatty and wants to release our “estranged, anti-imperialist, nationalist, class struggle warriors”. One wonders, why the need for a Protection of Pakistan Ordinance arises when there are apparently no terrorists attacking the State of Pakistan, it is just one colossal misunderstanding, which will go away with some halwa, tea and pleasant company. So, if the State has decided to talk shalk with the TTP, against who will the powers of arrest and detention, search and seizure, and even the use of lethal force be used? They will be used against you and me.
Maulana Ludhianvi heads the ASWJ (previously the SSP). The SSP was a banned organisation and hence, it was renamed as ASWJ; viola, it was kosher again. The State then banned ASWJ. Well, now Maulana Sahib is a member of the National Assembly. There is a fundamental mistake here. Either the State should not have banned the organisation or Maulana Sahib should not be a legislator. The most disturbing explanation would be that the State is unable or unwilling to prevent any of this. The PPO treats fighting terrorism as a question of procedure and capacity and in doing so, takes the willingness of the State to defend its existence as a given. Maulana Ludhianvi will not and should not feel threatened with the passing of the PPO, he has the State at his disposal which welcomes him to the Parliament, to be part of the State itself. Maulana Ludhianvi has already defeated the State by defying the ban. The PPO does not stop Maulana Ludhianvi, simply because that is not what it is intended to do. We, on the other hand, might be justified in being unnerved with the passing of the PPO.
Maulana Aziz, Fazalur Rehman Khalil and good old Hafiz Saeed have displaced Orya Maqbool Jan and Ansar Abbasi as stars of the evening chat shows. It makes sense, why have proxies and knock-offs when you can have the real stuff. Even before the TTP had dissociated itself from the Rawalpindi attack (a claim one should take with a truckload of salt), representatives of the federal government and the PTI had gallantly began the defence of our annoyed brothers. The incredibly broad and arbitrary powers given to the law enforcement do not change any of that. The TTP are not in hiding anymore, hence the raiding, search and seizures powers are redundant. The “stakeholders” hold stakes to our hearts on prime time television now. The war on narrative will not be won by “shoot at sight” (without accountability) powers.
One is disappointed in Mian Nawaz Sharif for being gullible enough to believe that a magic ordinance will solve it all. Perhaps, a more likely explanation is that the PPO is Mian Sahib’s way of playing ball with the army, to give it the powers it desires. One may remind Mian Sahib of 1999 and what that would have entailed had a piece of legislation as egregious as the PPO existed. In more recent past, the lawyer’s movement (whose beneficiaries are many, including Mian Sahib as one of the major ones) would not have existed, if there was a legislation like the PPO. Mian Sahib, with the PPO, you make it too easy for our guardians and God forbid, might make it too hard for yourself.
Terrorism needs to be fought, and fought hard. The federal government shows no inclination to do that. The PPO is the warrant, the carte blanche for the State to use lethal excessive force. However, the State has repeatedly asserted that it will not use it against the militants. Worse, the power of the State, once acquired, does not go unused; it will only be that the recipients will be different.
Mr Prime Minister, it is time that decisions are made, resolve displayed and a comprehensive counterterrorism policy is formulated. Attempts like the PPO, while not making the TTP less secure, leave all of us, including you Mr Prime Minister, weaker and vulnerable. Who does the PPO seeks to protect and from whom?
Postscript: In my piece on April 10, I criticised Khawaja Asif for being too fiery and intemperate, given the present times. It turns out; the speech that was aired (a few days ago) was made in 2006, while General Musharraf was, in fact, clinging to dictatorial power. My apologies to Khawaja Asif, the speech was made when the Commando was at the peak of his coercive arrogance and more power to Khawaja Sahib for having the courage and integrity to say it as it was. As far integrity or lack of it, it would have been nice if the television anchor/s, who quite possibly deliberately sought to create misinformation by representing the speech to be current, also apologise.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 13th, 2014.
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