The National Assembly on Wednesday passed the Protection of Pakistan Bill 2014, but the government failed to get all members of the opposition on board, as the Jamat-e-Islami opposed the bill while the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf abstained from voting.
While the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) threw its weight behind the PPB, the prime minister left the assembly session a few minutes before the vote on the bill while Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan remained absent from the session.
The PPB was tabled in the lower house after the Senate introduced as many as 21 amendments before passing it unanimously. Members from two main opposition parties – the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) – voted in favour of the PPB. After the president gives his seal of approval, the PPB will remain in force for a period of two years.
“This bill is in conflict with Article 8 and 10 (A) of the Constitution,” JI’s Sahibzada Tariqullah said while announcing his party’s decision to vote against the bill.
Meanwhile, PTI’s Shah Mehmood Qureshi said his party abstained from voting as it did not want to ‘create hurdles’ for the government at this juncture, particularly as the country is “passing through difficult times”. The PTI leader called upon the government to draw a line between protection of the country and the fundamental rights of citizens while implementing this law.
“I am sorry but this is not a valid excuse,” responded Minister for Science and Technology Zahid Hamid, who moved the PPB. He added that the government had taken input on the PPB from leaders of all political parties and their recommendations were included before the bill was passed in the Senate.
Leader of the opposition Syed Khursheed Shah noted that the Senate had introduced 21 amendments to the PPB’s original version, tabled in the NA on April 7. “The PPP will observe this law for two years,” Shah said while adding that the PPB was previously due to take effect for three years.
MQM’s Dr Farooq Sattar said his party supported the bill in its current form, but remarked that the PPB lacked a definition for ‘terrorism’.
A guide to the PPB
The bill defines ‘enemy alien’ as “a militant whose identity is unascertainable as a Pakistani” in the locality where he has been arrested or in the locality where he claims to be residing, or one who has been deprived of his citizenship through a process of naturalisation.
Meanwhile, a ‘militant’ is defined as “any person who wages war or insurrection against Pakistan, or raises arms against Pakistan, its citizens, the armed forces or civil armed forces; or takes up advocates or encourages or aids or abets the raising of arms or waging of war or a violent struggle against Pakistan; or threatens or acts or attempts to act in a manner prejudicial to the security, integrity or defence of Pakistan; or commits or threatens to commit any scheduled offence; and includes a person who commits any act outside the territory of Pakistan for which he has used the soil of Pakistan for preparing to commit such act that constitutes scheduled offence under this act”.
Law enforcement agencies are now permitted to “enter and search, without warrant any premises to make any arrest or to take possession of any firearm, explosive weapon, vehicle, instrument or article used, or likely to be used and capable of being used, in the commission of any scheduled offence”.
However, after the search, “the circumstances justifying it and the items recovered shall be reported within two days to a special judicial magistrate of the area by the officer conducting the search”.
According to the law, the order to shoot a person on suspicion will come only from an official of a law-enforcement agency or a police officer of grade-15 or above. Moreover, the PPB binds the government to order a judicial inquiry if any law-enforcement agency official opens fire on suspected terrorists.
Under the law, convicted persons will have the right to appeal before a high court against their convictions. Earlier, a convicted person had the right to appeal before the Supreme Court.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 3rd, 2014.