The last year has seen a significant shift in the political landscape of Pakistan, with the state becoming “overbearing” and converting into a police state. Some may argue that this depiction of the state is harsh but one cannot dismiss the reality- with a series of draconian measures introduced that warrant Pakistan’s characterisation as a police state. Pakistan has seen the advent of military courts, the Protection of Pakistan Act (POPA) and a cyber Crime Bill, that all trample on the basic rights of humans. The United Nations Human Rights Bodies have recently raised this point with concern over black laws such as POPA and its draconian nature, in which a person can be kidnapped, detained and deprived of a legal counsel. Despite this rather severe criticism, the Punjab Provincial Government has suggested amendment in POPA that would allow Law Enforcement Agencies (LEA’s) to detain a person for 1 year without a legal cover (i.e. Judicial Permission). This in principle would legalise kidnapping and is indicative of the Punjab governments’ total disregard of basic human rights and its characterisation as a “police state” being valid.

Given that Punjab is the heart of PML-N government, it is in this province that the government needs to be seen as serious in its endeavour to implement the “National Action Plan” (NAP) and not to disappoint the “hidden state”.The PML-N government has set loose LEA’s, such as the Punjab Counter Terrorism Department (CTD), replicated on the Turkish model to root out “terrorists” from within Punjab. In the PML-N drive to make Punjab a Pakistan version of Dubai, the CTD has arrested thousands over the span of one year. Those arrested have been from various Islamic movements and backgrounds, with many charged with POPA or the Anti-Terror Act (ATA). But to the inquisitive mind the question that arises is, how many of those arrested are actual terrorists, hell bent on raising arms against the state and killing in the name of sectarian blindness? If one listens to the CTD, those captured, are all bloodsucking terrorists intent on murdering. However after speaking to a police officer that has co-operated with the CTD and former CTD detainees, it was revealed that in its drive to show impressive figures to the Punjab government and to maintain the economic resources it has received, has arrested innocent people and registered fake cases on them. Anyone familiar with Pakistan’s LEA’s would not be shocked by such revelations and the Lahore High Court has come to realise the illegal tactics of the CTD and has criticised the CTD for its actions, which are contributing to discord and resentment in society. The Punjab government has been fully aware of this practice but continues to empower the CTD which has created perpetual fear, with innocent people fearing that they could be next, on the ‘Punjabi Gestapo’ hit list. Why? Well because they have a beard, attend the mosque regularly, or hold political views that are not consistent with that of the Punjab government. For example, the newspapers over that last few weeks have carried the news of a number of professors and students arrested by CTD from Punjab University for holding political views rooted in normative Islam. Punjab University in its credit criticised the tactics of the CTD that involved late night raids, terrifying women and children and damaging property. These arrests were on the directive of the Punjabi government that has focused the CTD on targeting public and private universities, with professors and students that hold “anti-state” views at risk. This is a dangerous benchmark that has been set, with the Punjab government resorting to Nazi tactics of policing thoughts and hindering political thought. This will lead to a witch-hunt in which the educated class is targeted and the door of political victimisation is opened.

Bilawal Bhutto has mentioned what many are sensing, that NAP is being used to politically victimise and given the turn of events one would have to concur with Bilawal’s comments as it seems that the PML-N is settling various political scores through NAP, black laws and the CTD.

In a short period of time, the CTD has become a symbol of injustice and hate with retaliation, in the form of its DSP being shot dead in Peshawar and a failed bomb attack on its building in Karachi. The Punjab government risks destabilizing social and political relations, with its authoritarianism and it is a matter of time before the atmosphere of fear is diluted and a reaction is seen as there is a limit to what a society can take.

It is important that the voices of reason and justice speak out, otherwise a black hole is awaiting. In particular the judicial voices have to say, enough is enough. Recently Justice Akbar Ali Naqvi, from the Lahore High Court, commented on the bail petition of a 65 year old man, stated that the ATA has become a law to charge everyone. Such voices are in much need as unjust sentences have been handed down. In one case a person was released from Lahore Central Jail, kidnapped by CTD, a fake case registered and he was sentenced to 2 years by the ATC in Lahore. After the sentencing the Judge apologised stating he had been pressured by the CTD. This is the level of interference in the Lahore High Court and the Lahore Chief Justice, along with the Chief Justice himself, Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamal must take notice to ensure justice. Another example would be the cases of those registered with POPA, again CTD involved, no POPA courts and bail petitions have been pending for over 10months in the Lahore High Court, although the evidences point clearly to malicious intent and fabrication.

Clearly this is injustice and it is time the judicial community stands up to be counted to bring a sense of Justice back to society.

The Punjab police state needs to feel ashamed, by making a mockery of the APS Massacre by inflicting more injustices on innocent people that have been trapped by NAP and black laws. It is time to reawaken our consciousness and push back this police state before it is too late. It is comforting to know people are beginning to speak out against the transformation of Pakistan into a police state. Pakistan has a lively political medium and civil society to revert the situation and the key to this is Punjab, by sending a strong message to the PML-N that its Stalinism will not be tolerated and that we as a society want justice not injustices to be enacted under the cover of NAP and black laws.