The Protection of Pakistan Act (PoPA) was a controversial bill even when it was introduced into the parliament back in 2014 — in in the middle of a raging military offensive against militants in the tribal belt. Several lawmakers needed to be convinced by the Ministry of Defence before they could sign off on it, and their hesitance was for good reason. The bill gave law enforcement agencies wide-ranging powers to enter premises, search vehicles and arrest people without a warrant. It gave the LEAs the power to shoot on sight, if the order was approved by a Grade-15 officer and it allowed the government to withhold information on a detainee’s location if it felt it was in the interests of the state. Combined with special courts and a wide definition of “combatant” the act set down the legal basis for a strict police state, trampling on many constitutionally protected rights and liberties. We were told it was a special measure, one that would expire in two years, and in the background of the war on terror, the nation swallowed the draconian law in ‘national interest’.

Yet it seems that the government has started process to extend Protection of Pakistan Act (PoPA) for another two years as the law is going to expire in July - going against the express promise that the law was going to exist only for the stipulated time period.

The desire to extend the act is understandable considering the terrorist threat is still not wholly removed, but is this act the best way to combat it? Over the course of its two-year existence not a single person has been convicted under the act, while countless people have been picked up by the police on the flimsiest of suspicions. For an act designed to smooth the prosecution process, it has been decidedly ineffective.

The only thing it has supported is heavy-handed policies by the LEAs. As the torture and death of an MQM worker at the hands of the Rangers show, when the LEAs are allowed to keep detainees without charging them for extended periods of time, abuses of power are bound to happen.

The government needs to change track; giving more power to LEAs has achieved nothing, it needs to focus on strengthening its prosecution service. This isn’t just an issue in terrorism related cases, but in general criminal cases too - Pakistan has one of the world’s worst conviction rate.

The PoPA was a wartime law, and an ineffective one at that, the government should not renew it and instead it should start planning for policing in peacetime.