Wednesday October 20, 2021

Undoing TLP’s proscription: Both sides budge from their rigid positions

April 23, 2021

ISLAMABAD: The federal government has legal powers to rescind the proscription of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) that was invoked to outlaw it.

Indications emerging from the talks between the two sides and the subsequent assertions of official representatives suggest that the government, by using its executive authority, is favourably disposed towards undoing of the ban on the TLP.

The government is relying on section 11-C of the ATA to do away with the prohibition on the TLP. It provides a right of review to the banned outfit against the decision of proscription. Nothing has been heard from the TLP on filing a review plea but certain government leaders are apparently repeatedly prodding the organisation to take this recourse promptly so that it gets relief.

The section says where any banned organisation is aggrieved by the federal government’s order of proscription, it may, within 30 days, file a review application in writing before the government, which will, after hearing the applicant, decide the matter within 90 days.

If the authorities are inclined to lift the ban on the TLP, this process may be completed much before the 90-day timeline.

The law says the TLP may file an appeal in the high court within 30 days if its review plea is rejected. The government will appoint a Proscribed Organizations Review Committee to determine such applications. As things stand now, the matter will most likely be resolved at this stage and may not be required to be taken to the high court by the TLP.

There is no mention in the ATA of any input or summary from the Punjab government in removing the ban on a proscribed organisation. It is in the federal domain. A federal minister has stated that the central authorities would act on a recommendation from the Punjab government on taking away the restriction on the TLP.

The federal government applied section 11B of the ATA while proscribing the TLP. It says the government may list an organisation as a proscribed body on an ex-parte basis, if there are reasonable grounds to believe that it is involved in terrorism or owned or controlled, directly or indirectly, by any individual or organisation proscribed under the ATA or is acting on behalf of, or at the direction of, any individual or organisation proscribed under this law. The opinion concerning reasonable grounds to believe may be formed on the basis of information received from any credible source, whether domestic or foreign, including governmental and regulatory authorities, law enforcement agencies, financial intelligence units, banks and non-banking companies and international institutions.

The federal government outlawed the TLP on April 15. The organisation now has 23 days to submit its review petition to the designated committee. When the government was acting tough, it had announced after the proscription that it had decided to invoke Article 17 of the Constitution to dissolve the TLP.

Article 17 says that “every citizen, not being in the service of Pakistan, will have the right to form or be a member of a political party, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the sovereignty or integrity of Pakistan and such law shall provide that where the federal government declares that any political party has been formed or is operating in a manner prejudicial to the sovereignty or integrity of Pakistan, the federal government will, within 15 days of such a declaration, refer the matter to the Supreme Court whose decision on such reference shall be final. Every political party shall account for the source of its funds in accordance with law. Every citizen will have the right to form associations or unions, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of sovereignty or integrity of Pakistan, public order or morality.”

The government’s decision to bring into play this constitutional provision, which has not been frequently applied in Pakistan’s history, stood cancelled as the two sides conceded during the parleys that they have to show flexibility and climb down from their extreme positions. After a prolonged bout of violence, which resulted in the loss of lives and property, the two sides realised that they have to significantly shift from their stated positions.

As a result, the government took no time in quickly ordering the release of 700 TLP activists, arrested under the maintenance of public order law during the violent disturbances. The TLP retreated from its demand that the French ambassador should be expelled from Pakistan immediately. It had earlier made it clear that it would not relent on this demand come what may. It seemed content that the ruling party only move a resolution in the National Assembly.

The criminal cases registered against the TLP leaders and workers under several provisions including the ATA are expected to be concluded through the judicial process without much delay as the prosecution on the direction of the government will not be keen to pursue the charges.