Merger of ATA and POPA


Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) and the Protection of Pakistan Act (POPA) is symptomatic of the quick fix approach of the current government without addressing the underlying structural issues. In the proposed law, military courts, which are set to expire in January 7, will become permanent bodies to try cases related to terrorism. When the 21st amendment was passed by the parliament, it was done so with the realisation that it was an extraordinary measure that cannot be made a permanent part of the constitution. And so the two year sunset clause was put in place to allow time for civilian law enforcement institutions to develop the capacity to take care of these cases themselves. While there is no doubt that there are wide ranging deficiencies in civilian institutions ranging from incompetent prosecution to insufficient security of judges, but that does not exonerate the civilian government from its duty to extend all of its citizens due process of law.
The main issue for the government in all of this is two-fold: First is the protection of the fundamental rights of the citizens, the most relevant of which is the right to a fair and open trial. Second is the duty of the state to provide security to its citizens, and the exigencies of the time have brought this into conflict with the first issue. After all, terrorism has wrecked havoc on the lives of Pakistanis — not to mention the immeasurable suffering that it has afflicted on them. Hence, every innocent Pakistani wants this scrounge eliminated, and to that end military courts are the most efficient option available. However, this risks undermining the very democratic foundations of the Pakistani state, by giving extraordinary powers to opaque and inaccessible state institutions. In any case, the imperative of military courts should in no manner be celebrated, which, unfortunately, happens far too frequently in the public discourse.