In June 2014, the Pakistani Government introduced the Protection of Pakistan Act (POPA), which was presented as an essential act/arm in the ongoing War on Terror, giving ‘Zarb-e-Azb’ its political backbone. When one analyses POPA, one realises that although it identifies what a militant is, and the scheduled offences that fall under POPA, it leaves the door open for political victimisation. The concern of political victimisation has been raised by the Pakistani political medium, such as MQM and the PPP, who sense a policy of political lynching and point scoring with key members being detained and even imprisoned. So the question that arises is, how does POPA create this possibility of political victimisation?

If one analyses with a close eye the ‘scheduled offences’ one will be somewhat disturbed to find that many clauses of the Pakistani Penal Code (PPC) have been lifted and inserted into POPA, leading to the natural possibility and scenario of political victimisation. The PPC clauses inserted include those of ‘hate speech’ and the distribution and publication of ‘hate’ material. These clauses are somewhat problematic as questions surrounding the definition of ‘hate’ come to mind.

The Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar recently in an APEX mentioned ‘hate’ to be that of calling others ‘kafir’ and that there would be a crackdown on ‘hate’ speech and related materials. This may sound fine and reasonable, given the inevitable social problems that emerge from throwing labels such as ‘kafir’ around but what the Interior Minister failed to answer was whether ‘hate speech’ and ‘hate’ material would encompass criticism of the state and related institutions, whether they be from the government, judiciary or the military. Given the lack of clarity over this issue the line between ‘hate’ and ‘criticism’ has been blurred leaving the door open for political victimisation under POPA.

In particular after the horrific terror attack seen at the Public Army School in Peshawar, the Pakistani government and the political class pushed through with the ‘National Action Plan’ (NAP) under the supervision of the military, which has been misused and abused for political ends, with ‘non militants’ being picked up, interrogated, detained and fake FIR’s designed against them– all of which being justified under the ‘NAP’. Clearly anyone with a sane mind will want justice for the innocent souls that were brutally massacred at the Public Army School, an attack that moved the whole of Pakistani society. However not with the presentation of more injustices, in particular on individuals that have done nothing other than voice political criticism of state, institutions and foreign policy –their criticism being deemed as a threat to the security of Pakistan, resulting in them being arrested under POPA. What is even more baffling is that there is no Judicial Infrastructure for victims of POPA to have their cases heard in a just and fair manner. The Pakistani government has not established any POPA courts. The High Courts are pressured to delay the hearings of POPA cases and in most cases the bail petitions are dismissed even though the legal evidences point clearly to innocence and possibility of bail. People are stuck in jails, separated from loved ones for 5 – 10 months, given poor medical care and treated like criminals when the evidence clearly points to innocence. Furthermore the government is continuously speaking of increasing the implementation of NAP. But what about delivering justice to those falsely arrested under POPA? The victims of POPA are asking for POPA courts and fair trials so that the truth can be established. If not, should the judicial powers not grant bail to people who present no threat to anyone but are languishing in prisons simply because of their political views?

It is a great travesty of injustice that the educated and professional tier of Pakistan has been victimised under POPA, which is in line with McCarthyism in the USA when during the Cold War communist thinkers, academics and activists were side lined, detained and fake charges were imposed to remove any ideological and intellectual criticism of Capitalism. It seems that the Pakistani state through the use of POPA is following a similar policy but as history indicates the flow of ideas cannot be stopped. The European revolutions in the 18th century, the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, the century of the Berlin wall, the rise of Islamic intellectual thought in the force of brutal dictatorships, such as Syria and Egypt are proof of this. So I would advise the Pakistani government to entertain political criticism, whatever shade it may come in and not resort to a new form of ‘McCarthyism’ that is justified under POPA, which has become a black law to legitimise the illegal through a legal cosmetic face. If the government is serious in a ‘counter-narrative’ surely it must engage in intellectual debate and not resort to the iron fist, as history has shown the battle of ideas can only be won through intellectual discourse and not through the use of oppressive laws.