While calling the agreement on the reestablishment of military courts “unfortunate”, Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani admonished the government for not taking steps to reform the overall criminal justice system as it had promised two years back, when special military courts were set-up for the first time.
The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) stalwart said entire development made him feel despondent, explaining that two years ago, he had to vote against his conscience when voting on the 21st Amendment, under which the military courts were established in January 2015.
“I have read in papers today that an unfortunate agreement has been reached between my party [PPP] and the government on military courts. We are again on the same path,” Rabbani said during the senate session on Friday.
Rabbani was referring to an accord the parliamentary leaders reached on Thursday after the Pakistani Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in the centre agreed to include four of the PPP’s nine recommendations.
The senate chairman also recalled the role of Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, as the main government negotiator.
Addressing the finance and law ministers, the leader of the house, and the leader of the opposition, the PPP leader tried to remind them that two years back, when parliament paved the way for the military courts, the PML-N government had promised to revamp the justice system before their term expired.
“Now again it is being said that a parliamentary supervisory committee will be constituted. I remind you all that the same promises were made two years back. Had appropriate steps were taken, we would not have to see this day again” said Rabbani, who has consistently voiced concern with military intervention in the civilian domain.
Rabbani’s had said, “I have been in the Senate for more than 12 years but have never been as ashamed as I am today, and I cast my vote against my conscience,” when voting for the military courts.
Cognisant of the inexorable dangers presented by the government’s inaction on improving the civilian criminal system, he said that on January 18, 2016, a senate committee passed two landmark pieces of legislation, the Witnesses Protection Bill 2016 and the Anti-Terrorism Amendment Bill 2016, hoping they would serve as catalysts for the government to adopt appropriate legislative measures for reforms in the country’s judicial system so that the civilian courts could try hardcore terrorists.
“We passed these laws well ahead of the expiry of a sunset clause inserted in the 21st Amendment. Had the government bothered to treat these as working papers, we could have been saved,” he resonated amid pin-drop silence in the house.
On this occasion, Ishaq Dar responded and told him that “we all share your sentiments”.
“It was the desire of every political party…but it is being done due to unique circumstances,” he added.