The potentially controversial Protection of Pakistan Bill 2014 has been passed by the National Assembly and will now be in place for the coming two years. The proposed law allows security forces to enter and search premises without a warrant, and shoot on sight any suspected militants, subject to the permission of an official above grade-15.

Zahid Hamid, the Minister for Science and Technology, had moved the bill in the Senate on behalf of Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Minister for Interior. It was opposed by the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam – Fazl and Jamaat-i-Islami.

The law will give security forces wide-ranging powers that include the right to enter and search any premises without the need to obtain a warrant first, for the purposes of arrest and to seize any weapons or other potentially offensive items. It also aims to strike a balance between the rights of civilians and the law enforcement agencies by putting in place some strict measures. It limits the authority of the police by requiring the officer in charge to submit details of the event, and any illegal possessions discovered, to a special judicial magistrate.

Cyber-crimes and illegal border migrations are now on the list of offenses and special courts are to be set up to decide the cases which are bound to crop up under the new law. The sentences allowed for these can be extended up to 20 years, while the right to appeal a decision has been reserved as well.

The remand period of any arrested suspects has been fixed at 60 days. In exceptional cases, the detainment period could be extended to 90 days in a designated internment camp. Under the law, joint Investigation Teams can withhold information of a detainee‘s whereabouts except from a High Court or Supreme Court. The reasons for arrest can also be kept secret, and the burden of proof  will be on the accused.

The order to shoot on sight can only come from an official of above grade-15, and a judicial inquiry will be conducted in case this power is used and a death results from it; to ensure no gross violation of human rights takes place.

Farooq Sattar, the leader of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), has given the bill his seal of approval, and claims it is much needed to deal with terrorism in Pakistan as only strict measures will help now. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has some reservations as to the potential effects the bill could have, but for now their leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi has given it the green light.

According to Hamid, it is imperative that the law came into being to safeguard the interests and security of the people of Pakistan, in the present dire law and order situation that we are faced with. He considered it to be an urgent matter with the military operation presently underway in North Waziristan. It is also supposed to serve an ideological function and symbolize a harmony between the pillars of the state in these trying times.

“It will send a message that the government stands with the military in the operation against terrorists in FATA,” the minister claimed while presenting the bill to the senate.