The government is facing a battle to enact a tough anti-terror law that rights activists and opposition parties have attacked as repressive.
The Protection of Pakistan Ordinance (PPO) allows security forces to detain suspects for up to 90 days without disclosing their whereabouts or the allegations against them.
Anyone arrested under the new law must prove their innocence — reversing the usual legal burden of proof — and satisfy courts they are not engaged in terror activities.
The government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif introduced the legislation in a bid to curb the violence and instability blighting the nuclear-armed state. Law enforcement agencies and the sclerotic courts system have struggled to make any impact on the violence.
The lower house of parliament approved the new bill earlier this week. But the main opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) says it will fight to block it in the upper house, where it holds sway.
“Pakistan will become a police state,” senior PPP senator Farhatullah Babar said on Friday.
He warned the law effectively legitimises enforced disappearances — an issue on which rights groups routinely criticise Pakistan.
Campaigners say up to 2,000 people have disappeared into custody of the security services, many from Balochistan.
“It also legitimises extrajudicial killings, because the law authorises the police and the military to shoot anybody on the basis of reasonable suspicion, without evidence,” Babar said.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged the Pakistani Senate to reject the law in its current form and send it back to the National Assembly for amendments.
“The Protection of Pakistan Ordinance as drafted runs roughshod over rights provided under international law as well as Pakistan´s constitution,” HRW’s Brad Adams said in a statement.
Mushahid Hussain, the chairman of the Senate defence committee, said he did not think the bill could be passed in its current form.
“There is unlimited authority given to the security forces and police for shoot-to-kill orders. This authority can be abuse. So we find this unacceptable,” he told.
If the Senate and National Assembly cannot agree on amendments, a joint session of both houses may be called to debate the matter. Even if it is passed, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) has vowed to challenge it in the Supreme Court.