Opposition parties meet today to devise joint plan to block Protection of Pakistan bill

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ISLAMABAD: Opposition parties in the Senate will be meeting on Monday to devise a joint strategy to block the government’s move to get the Protection of Pakistan bill passed from the upper house. The meeting, according to opposition senators, has been convened to prepare a consensus document containing amendments to the controversial bill which is expected to be taken up by the Senate’s Standing Committee on Interior in the next few days. The bill was referred to the standing committee by the chair amid strong protest by opposition members when it was tabled by the government in the house on Friday.

In a significant development, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which had been playing the role of an independent opposition for the past one year, has announced that it will attend Monday’s meeting so that the opposition parties could come out with a united stance on the bill.

“Yes, we will attend the meeting as we are strongly opposed to the draft that had been moved by the government,” said MQM’s Senator retired Col Tahir Hussain Mashhadi.

Talking to Dawn, Mr Mashhadi, who is also a member of the Senate’s Committee on Interior, said that his party had already prepared amendments to the bill which he would present before members of other opposition parties.

He said that the MQM did not consider itself a part of the opposition alliance led by PPP, but it had decided to join hands with other opposition parties to block the government’s move to get the bill passed as it contained a number of clauses against fundamental rights of citizens.

The MQM senator said that the government was wrongly saying that the bill had been passed by the National Assembly unanimously since a number of parties, including the MQM, had opposed it.

Two specific provisions of the bill — giving powers to law-enforcement agencies to arrest a suspect without warrants and keep him under detention for 90 days and to shoot a person merely on the basis of suspicion — are seen by opposition senators as an attempt to give a legal cover to enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.

PPP’s parliamentary leader in the Senate Raza Rabbani, when contacted, said that the bill had been bulldozed in the National Assembly and that his party would not let the government repeat this in the Senate.

Describing it as a `black law’, Mr Rabbani said it was against the fundamental rights to give unbridled powers to law-enforcers.

Mr Rabbani, who accompanied his party co-chairman and former president Asif Ali Zardari at the latter’s meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on April 16, said the prime minister had assured them that the opposition’s proposals would be accommodated in the bill. He, however, denied that there had been any understanding between the PPP and the PML-N on the bill.

When asked as to why the opposition which is in a majority in the Senate did not block even the presentation of the bill, he said the PPP believed that the country needed such laws to deal with terrorism but there should be no curbs on fundamental rights of citizens.

“We realise that the legislation is needed. However, it should be within the ambit of the Constitution and fundamental rights,” he said.

Moreover, he declared that if the government did not incorporate the opposition’s amendments, it had the option to reject the bill completely at the committee or in the house.

“We want to give an opportunity to the government to improve the law,” he said, adding that the opposition parties would never ever accept the draft that had been tabled by the government.

Besides the PPP and the MQM, the Monday’s meeting would also be attended by members of the Awami National Party and the PML-Q.