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ISLAMABAD: Amidst strong concerns shown by the legislators from the two sides of the aisle, the upper house of the Parliament, finally passed on Sunday, the government’s Official Secrets (Amendment) Bill 2023, a controversial legislative draft that empowers the intelligence agencies with blanket powers in course of their operations, in addition to passing three other government bills.

In the house proceedings, Law Minister Azam Tarar presented the bill, originally moved by the Interior Ministry, after it landed in the house following its passage from the relevant standing committee.

Tarar informed the house that the amendments in the bill made by the committee included the omission of the Clause 9(2A) which authorised the intelligence agencies the power to arrest anyone without warrant. “This clause was the major bone of contention—that has been omitted now,” the minister stated.

Bill to amend Secrets Act referred to Senate standing committee after opposition

He said that certain other amendments were made keeping in view the reservations of the senators.

Treasury Senator and former chairman Senate Raza Rabbani from Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) said certain provisions of this bill, read with those of Pakistan Army (Amendment) Act 2023, would pave way for granting related exemptions not only on the procurement military hardware but also for the “factories producing biscuits, milk and yogurt.” He lauded the omission of the Clause 9(2A) from the bill.

“Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act or in any other law for the time being in force, the intelligence agencies may, at any time, enter and search any person or place, without warrant, and if necessary, by use of force, and seize any document, sketch, plan, model, article, note, weapon, ammunition electronic or modem devices or anything of like nature, or anything which is or can be evidence of an offence committed or suspecting of been committed, under this Act,” read the Clause 9(2A) that has been omitted.

Mushtaq Ahmed Khan from Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) termed them as “minor and superficial” the amendments introduced in the bill.

“This bill is still arbitrary in spirit. If this bill gets passed from the house in its present form, the whole country would become a cantonment,” he deplored. Khan suggested different amendments in the bill, which, he said, aimed at keeping a check on the operations of intelligence agencies in order to prevent them from misusing their powers. However, those amendments were rejected.

Nawabzada Umer Farooq from Awami National Party (ANP) said that the intelligence agencies were misusing their powers with impunity in the whole country in general and Balochistan in particular. “In such circumstances, moving this kind of bill, in the first place, is against democracy.

The house should make sure that the state institutions remain under control, and devise a system of punishment for their excesses,“ he said. The senator alleged that Pakistan Air Force (PAF) was forcefully occupying 8,000 acres of land in Quetta for the last 40 years.

Other senators including Kamran Murtaza and Faiz Muhammad from Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazal (JUI-F), Hidayatullah Khan from ANP and Rukhsana Zuberi from PPP also spoke in criticism of the bill. The senators questioned the need to bring “this kind of bill in the last days of federal government.”

Earlier, the opposition senators, wearing black armbands, staged a walkout from the Senate in protest to the arrest of PTI chief Imran Khan from Lahore on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the house passed the Higher Education Commission (Amendment) Bill 2023, Pakistan International Airline Corporation (Conversion) (Amend-ment) Bill 2023 and Zakat and Usher (Amendment) Bill 2023.

The government withdrew the Prevention of Violent Extremism Bill 2023 from Senate. A few days back, the senators from both treasury and opposition benches earlier handed an outright rejection to this bill, accusing the government of trying to “tighten noose around political parties in the garb of legislation.”

The house was adjourned till today (Monday).

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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MalikSaabSays Aug 07, 2023 01:56pm
As if they needed any legislation to enable them to do what they are already doing with impunity! Dark(er) days are ahead for Pakistani brethren (and sisters).
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