ISLAMABAD - The National Assembly (NA) in its one-day session Wednesday passed with majority vote the Protection of Pakistan Bill-2014, which would provide protection against waging of war or insurrection against Pakistan, and the prevention of acts threatening the security of the country.

The PML-N government even after consultation with opposition parties could not be able to unanimously approve the controversial bill, which gives powers to BPS-15 police officer to fire or order firing as the ‘last resort’ on any suspect to prevent a scheduled offence.

Opposition parties, except Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), either preferred to abstain or voted against the bill. Amid the unusual presence of the prime minister, the opposition benches also felt the absence of Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan from the House, saying the nonappearance of main architecture of this bill was a matter of serious concern.

The salient features of the bill, amended after consultation and implementable for two years, says the word militant means any person who wages war or insurrection against Pakistan; raises arms against state, its citizens, the armed forces or civil armed forces; or commits or threatens to commit any scheduled offence.

According to the bill, the crimes like killing, kidnapping, extortion, assault or attack on members of the parliament, judiciary, executive, media and other important personalities, crimes against ethnic, religious and political groups, cyber crimes fall in definition of scheduled offences. The PPB states that special courts will be formed in consultation with the chief justices of the High Courts and appeals against the special courts’ decisions can be made in the High Courts.

“Any police officer not below BPS-15 or member of the armed forces or civil armed forces who is present or deployed in any area may on reasonable apprehension of commission of a scheduled offence, after giving sufficient warning, use necessary force to prevent the commission of offence,” says an important clause of the bill.

The bill says the police officer may decide to fire or order firing only by way of last resort and shall in no case extend to inflicting of more harm than is necessary to prevent the scheduled offence. Moreover, “All cases of firing which have resulted in death may, if the facts and circumstances so warrant, be also reviewed in the judicial inquiry conducted by a person appointed by the federal government,” says the amended bill.

The Joint Investigation Team, according to the bill, will have the right to withhold a detainee’s information except from a High Court or Supreme Court. “The government may not disclose a detainee’s information for security reasons. Additionally, on reasonable grounds, the burden of proof lies upon an ‘enemy alien’ or militant,” says the bill, adding that cyber crimes and offences related to information technology, as well as the crossing of national boundaries illegally have been included in the list of scheduled offences and punishments under these offences can be extended to 20 years.

The bill has already been passed from the Upper House of the parliament and is likely to be act of the parliament for two years in coming days after the signature of President Mamnoon Hussain. The passage of the bill was of ‘utmost importance’ in light of the military operation in North Waziristan, codenamed ‘Zarb-e-Azb’.

Clarifying the reservation made by opposition benches, Minister for Science and Technology Zahid Hamid said that he had to pilot the PPB 2014 even in the presence of Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. “There is no paradigm shift and we have consulted all the opposition parties before tabling it after the amendment,” he added.

Leader of opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah supported the government to approve the bill, urging other opposition parties to also help government pass it unanimously. “I will suggest other opposition parties to support government... I am supporting bill with a hope that the law would not be used against innocent people but only against the terrorists,” he said adding that the major opposition party, PPP, would keenly watch the implementation of this law during the next two years. About North Waziristan, Shah said the armed forces need full support and backing of the nation. “Parliament has always stood by the armed forces and would continue its support.”

The second largest party (PTI) senior lawmaker Shah Mehmood Qureshi preferred to abstain from voting, saying that they would not create any hurdle in the implementation of the bill. He raised objection over the absence of Ch Nisar in this important legislation, saying that his non-appearance is matter of serious concern. Amid brief rumpus by PPP and PML-N lawmakers, he said there was a perception that IDPs were not being welcomed in Sindh and Punjab. He, however, lauded the government for incorporating in the bill the amendments proposed by the opposition.

Opposition Jamaat-e-Islami totally went against the bill. “Article 10 of the constitution is against the bill,” said JI lawmaker Sahibzada Tariqullah, asking the lawmakers to support Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) while condemning those who are unwelcoming the refugees. Taking the floor, AML chief Sheikh Rashid Ahmed supported the bill but criticised the powers to BPS-15 for giving orders to fire. He said that police have already been politicised.

MQM lawmaker Dr Farooq Sattar, on his turn, said the armed forces are offering sacrifices to free the country of the menace of terrorism. He said passage of Protection of Pakistan Bill will prove to be a morale booster for them. He asked for more amendments in the bill, seeking two hours consultation of ruling party.