ISLAMABAD: The government introduced a stronger anti-terrorism bill in the National Assembly on Monday with bars on reviving banned groups under new names and on court bails for offences punishable with death or more than 10 years in prison.
On a day the ruling Pakistan People’s Party saw one of its veteran lawmakers, Syed Zafar Ali Shah, confronting it after defecting to the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N, the house also passed a toned down version of once-controversial bill governing a defence housing authority in Islamabad, and another to set up a centre to study the impact of global climate change.
While the Anti-Terrorism (Second Amendment) Bill will go to a house standing committee on interior for vetting before coming back for approval, some lively discussion took place on the two other government bills before being passed with consensus, with PML-N patting its own backs for negotiating with military authorities to transform a previously objectionable draft into a new, acceptable Defence Housing Authority Islamabad Bill.
The new 25-clause draft came only six days after the house unanimously passed another amendment to the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997 to strength provisions against terrorism-financing.
One clause of the new bill says that “if any or all office-bearers of a proscribed organisation form a new organisation under a different name, upon suspicion about their involvement in similar activities, the said organisation shall also be deemed to be a proscribed organisation and the government may issue a formal notification of its proscription”.
The bill also provides that if members of such organisations or their associates were found “continuing the activities of the proscribed organisation, they would be denied passports and foreign travel, and loans or financial support by any bank or financial institution and have their arms licences cancelled”.
In a move to meet a common complaint of law-enforcement agencies about courts releasing terrorism accused on bail, a clause of the bill says that “no court shall grant bail to a person accused of an offence under this act punishable with death or imprisonment for life or imprisonment exceeding 10 years”.
Opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan made a long speech on his party’s role to change what he said would have been a “state within a state” under the original bill based on a Musharraf-era decree simply to a housing society adhering to normal government laws.
“It is now just a housing society,” he said about the Islamabad DHA as well as a sister organisation set up for nearby Rawalpindi.
Chaudhry Nisar, who recalled his one-time threat to physically block the original bill as introduced in 2009 if the government bulldozed it without incorporating about 30 PML-N amendments, claimed all credit for his party for the change he said had been negotiated by a party team with one from the army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi.
Though he acknowledged a team of government ministers had agreed with the PML-N that the previous bill involved some “serious” constitutional anomalies, but said it would have been much better if the new bill had been made the product of consultations between the government and opposition rather than the opposition taking the case to the General Headquarters.
The government accepted a few other PML-N amendments moved by its legal guru Zahid Hamid and even one from Syed Zafar Ali Shah, who continued to occupy a PPP bench despite announcing earlier this month that he had joined the PML-N.
CLIMATE CHANGE AND PARTY CHANGE: But it was during discussion on an earlier bill seeking the establishment of a Global Change Impact Studies Centre that party change by Mr Shah, a former deputy speaker of the house, came into focus with PPP chief whip and Religious Affairs Minister Khursheed Ahmed Shah objecting to his former colleague sitting in the house instead of resigning and some PPP back-benchers repeatedly shouting “lota” (deserter) for the elderly man.
The PPP chief whip said Syed Zafar Ali Shah should have followed the constitution to resign from the house though he said nobody could be stopped from changing parties.
But the dissident seemed in no mood to listen to such a demand and said the PPP chief whip better ask “his own leader” how much he was following the Constitution, adding, amid cheers from PML-N benches: “I have suffered for five years, now I am free.”
MQM WALKOUTS: Earlier, lawmakers of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, which recently quit the PPP-led ruling coalitions at the Centre and in Sindh province, staged token walkouts in both the National Assembly and the Senate to protest against a speech by Sindh Education Minister Pir Mazharul Haq against the establishment of a new university in Hyderabad.