Increase font size Decrease font size Reset font size

Move to give anti-terror law a new lease of life

By Malik Asad 2016-07-15
ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government on Thursday started efforts to get the period of the antiterrorism law Protection of Pakistan Act (PoPA) extended, with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif constituting a four-member committee to win the opposition`s support for the purpose.

The committee comprising Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Law Minister Zahid Hamid, Adviser on Law and Justice Barrister Zafarullah Khan and PM`s Special A ssistant Khawaja Zaheer will hold an internal meeting on July 15 and then start a series of meetings with the leaders of opposition parties to gettheir support in giving a new lease of life to the Act.

The PoPA promulgated in July 2014 with a sunset clause of two years is expiring on Friday (July15).

It is worth recalling that the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) had last month termed the Act `oppressive and ineffective` and urged the Pakistan government not to extend it.

The ICJ said five `special courts` set up under the PoPA had remained nonfunctional for several months because oflack ofstaffand otherfacilities.The courts are now functional, but have so far not concluded a single trial.

Initially, the PML-N promulgated the law through an ordinance a few months after it formed the government in 2013. However, the law was converted into an act of parliament when it was tabled in the National Assembly and the Senate. Although the PoPA bill required a simple majority to become a law, the PML-N government managed to secure the opposition`s support to getit through parliament.

However, the situation is not such promising for the government this time as opposition parties have not been taken on board as of now. The government is in a position to get the PoPA extended with its 188 members in the 342-seat National Assembly, but it is not easy to secure a simple majority of 52 votes from the 104-member Senate. If the opposition is not convinced over PoPA`s extension, the government will have the only option of convening a joint sitting of the two houses of parliament and table the bill for simultaneous voting.

The lawmakers Dawn spoke to said that the government should come up with strong reasons for the law`s extension as it was swallowed as a bitter pill for one time only and with a sunset clause of two years.

The law allows prolonged preventive administrative detention and gives law enforcement agencies broad powers to shoot at sight. The offences that fall under the PoPA are: crimes against ethnic, religious and political groups, use of nuclear arms, suicide bomb attacks, killing, 1(idnapping, extortion or attacks on members of parliament, judiciary, executive, media and the armed forces and aid workers.

The law also covers attacks on energy facilities, airports, gas pipelines and grid stations, educational institutions and mass transport system and violence against foreign nationals. It also makes crossing national boundaries illegally a crime.

Senator Farhatullah Babar of the PPP said the PoPA was not acceptable in its current form. `It has been two years since the PoPA became a law and any extension after its expiry should be decided after a careful study on the performance of the law,` he said, adding that political parties should first consider the two-year progress of the PoPA and then make a unanimous decision on its fate.

`So far the extension of PoPA has not been discussed in the party`s meeting as the government has not contacted us.

Therefore, I cannot say anything about the future of the law on behalf of the PPP.

Mr Babar claimed that the law had been misused on a number of occasions.

He pointed out that law enforcement agencies invoked the PoPA against the tenants of Okara Military Farms, hence the government did not honour its commitment that the law would only be used against jet-black terrorists.Senator Saeed Ghani, another PPP leader, said the government should not have inserted the sunset clause if it wanted to extend the law after its expiry.

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) vice chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the PML-N government ought to explain the reasons for the PoPA`s extension.

`The government should give a detailed briefing to all political parties on effectiveness of the law and how it was utilised over the past two years.

According to the PTI leader, the government was supposed to hold dialogue with all political parties on the law`s extension well before its expiry. He criticised the government for its lethargic behaviour and said the law was going to expire over the next few hours, but no one from the government had contacted any opposition party.

The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which has eight seats in the Senate and 24 in the National Assembly, seems indecisive on the law`s extension.

MQMSenatorretired ColTahirMashhadi said his party would take a decision on the matter in a couple of days.

Political analysts are of the view that since the main opposition parties will also consider what the military wants. If they get a green signal from Rawalpindi, they will support PoPA`s extension. Otherwise, they say, the political parties will link the extension to certain conditions.

A senior lawmaker believes that the military as well as certain little-known associations like the Move On Pakistan and the Defence of Pakistan will seek the law`s extension. He expressed the hope that political parties would take a decision on the matter without accepting any outside pressure.