On Friday, President Mamnoon Hussain signed the Protection of Pakistan Bill (PPB) into law for the next two years. What most don’t seem to realise is that they now live in a much different Pakistan. If there ever was a balance between the powers of the state and the consitutional safeguards in place for the protection of individuals, it is no more. If you wish to know what a police-state legislation looks like, go through the PPB – really. As inhabitants of this land, it is absolutely necessary for common citizens to be fully aware of of the laws that they will now govern them.

The PPB essentially empowers the state to undertake actions that have been deemed illegal or excessive until now. In the absence of emergency laws and adequate mechanisms, the state has struggled to counter militancy in various parts of the country. The PPB is supposed to be all that has been missing. That, and several persons who may have been illegally detained but are now under legal detention owing to the PPB’s unique quality of “retrospective” application. The PPB is a time machine. It can travel back in time to provide legal cover for previously illegal actions and into the future under the pretext of “preventive detention.”

Desperate times call for desperate measures, yes, but desperate people will do anything out of desperation and not necessarily to their benefit. As we sacrifice our freedoms for the sake of the greater good or out of fear of what may lie ahead if we hesitate, it is important to ensure that we are doing so for the right reasons. That we are not giving too much for too little at the behest of those who promise heaven and more. The PPB is here for two years. It may be here for longer. It will override other laws if in conflict. It may be changed too. All of this is allowed by the law itself. What this means is that consistent scrutiny of any amendments to the PPB are crucial for staying on track.

Power and misuse of power go hand in hand. Even more so in countries such as Pakistan. Knowing this, the presence of loosely defined or completely undefined terms in the bill is worrisome. Not explaining what exactly is meant by “acting against the government”, or defining a militant as one “who threatens or acts or attempts to act in a manner prejudicial to the security, integrity or defence of Pakistan”, is simply unacceptable. Is PTI acting against the government? Is the editor of a newspaper? Laws with loopholes are more dangerous than no laws at all. These are usually kept there intentionally to enable exploitation as evident from our history. Whatever the case, they need to be fixed right away. The authorities have their special tools now. Let’s see how they use them, and against whom.