It may now be on the verge of becoming law, but let there be no mistake: the Protection of Pakistan Bill (PPB) raises more questions than it answers. The law is unapologetically draconian in nature, and makes no qualms about trampling underfoot basic rights that are the cornerstone of any civilised state’s responsibility to its citizens.
One can argue all they want about how the Constitution of Pakistan allows for special measures and suspension of basic rights enshrined in the document when it comes to the ‘safety and integrity of Pakistan’, but the reality is that the scope of the PPB is so sweeping and wide that such lines can, and almost certainly will, be blurred. And that is where the real danger lies. Littered with words such as “enemy alien” the law is an act of blatant obfuscation to allow the desperate prying open of small exceptions that are inherently meant for temporary and emergency fixes. Effectively, this is what we are being told with the passing of the PPB: the government has no concrete or long-term solutions; that our laws aren’t good enough, nor is our legal system, nor are our law enforcers, and, indeed, nor are our legislators. It tells us that we are short on ideas and will. Terrorism and militancy is a problem that we have been facing for years — it is hardly a sudden phenomenon that could ostensibly justify expedience under the garb of haste. Our representatives have abjured a great responsibility: to give us workable and sustainable laws that abide by and respect our fundamental rights. The PPB is the opposite of this.
What happened to what was supposed to be spirited defiance by the opposition that we saw over the last few months? What happened to the welcome promises by the government of accommodating their legitimate concerns? The principal opposition, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), wilted and voted for a bill they fought frenziedly against — as did the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). The changes made to it on the suggestions of the opposition are minimal and indeed mostly cosmetic relative to the powers it bestows on security agencies. And despite the importance of the topic at hand, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) was neither here nor there — opposing it, but not voting against it. The law had been delayed since last year based on it being so contentious. In fact, even the government was reluctant to pass it by itself despite having the clear numbers. Where did this sudden consensus come from and why?
No doubt, maxims will be hurled around to justify the PPB and to support it: ‘desperate times call for desperate measures’ and that ‘we are at war and war is hell’. That would be to miss a central point: what the PPB now legally allows are practices that have been in place for years, if not decades. The police have long used the extrajudicial route to eliminate problematic elements — guilty or otherwise; security agencies have long held citizens for long periods of time without charge or evidence and the judicial route has long been circumvented by law enforcers. The question here is how much has it worked? Has high-handedness and the use of ‘encounter specialists’ for decades helped Karachi escape its recurring cycle of violence? Has the picking up of people in Balochistan helped quell the sense of alienation and anger there? Has the concept of collective punishment enshrined in the FCR, which has been in place for over a hundred years, helped eliminate the sheltering and nurturing of extremist pockets or of foreign militants in the tribal areas? Conversely, they have been counterproductive, with stories of injustice only exacerbating the sense of anger that fuels the very anti-state activities that jeapordise the safety and integrity of this country. It helps recruit even those who otherwise would not be recruitable. Is that how we propose to ‘protect Pakistan?’
Published in The Express Tribune, July 4th, 2014.
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