Are military courts vital?


Reema Shaukat

IT seems politics is the most profitable business in Pakistan where any politician according to his/her needs and demands can quote anything without in-depth knowledge and information about issue, thus creating misperceptions among masses. Pakistan is one exemplary country in world which has defeated menace of terrorism not hundred percent but managed and controlled it very well. Various factors and countless efforts were involved in tackling this issue and people of Pakistan stood with armed forces and supported their actions against militants. Operation Zarb-i-Azb along with other intelligence based operations, trials in military courts, tracking the facilitators, implementing National Action Plan and strong actions helped in lowering the scale of terrorism.
After APS attack in December, 2014 every Pakistani wanted a strong action against militants. National Action Plan was formulated and military courts were activated to punish miscreants. President Mamnoon Hussain in January, 2015 signed the 21st Constitutional Amendment Bill 2015 into law, making it a part of the Constitution. The bill had been passed in the National Assembly and Senate and was passed unopposed in both the Upper House and Lower House. The bill was presented in the National Assembly to seek changes in the Constitution and Military Act to speed up trial of terrorists after Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan gunmen killed over a hundred schoolchildren in an attack on December 16, 2014. At that time, the Constitutional Amendment Bill was passed with 247 votes – 14 more than the required two-third majority in the National Assembly and 78 votes out of 104 were passed in the Senate. The amendment in the bill was aimed to set up special courts for militant’s trials and it was not opposed by any member present inside the house. An All Parties Conference (APC) gave the green signal for the amendments to the Pakistan Army Act to extend its jurisdiction for speedy trial of cases under specified acts and provided the constitutional protection to this act for two years from the date of enactment.
Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah showed his reservations on military courts in previous months which were later clarified by him. For past few weeks political parties lingered on the decision for extension of military courts. Brainstorming sessions were held under the leadership of Speaker National Assembly, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq to finalize the draft legislation envisaging revival of military courts. But some political parties especially Pakistan People’s Party raised questions on these courts despite government’s several concessions including reducing the tenure of the courts from three to two years.
It is pivotal to note that with present wave of terrorism and security threats which hit the country for past weeks and Operation Radd-ul- Fasaad was announced to abolish residual offenders, presence of military courts is utmost as common people want the perpetrators to be punished. They expect from their elected representatives to ensure effective justice and judicial reforms not to be delayed. Speedy justice for every crime is the right of every citizen. Speedy trials in military courts relieved the people from the stress that justice is neither late nor denied.
Now after discussions Pakistan’s major political parties have agreed to extend the mandate of military courts for two years, instead of three years. After agreement on extension of military courts, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar in a press conference on Feb 28, 2017 said all parties except the PPP had agreed to extend military courts for two years instead of three because no politics can be played amid a wave of terrorism in the country. He said the process would require amendments to the Constitution and the relevant law and therefore, sessions of both the National Assembly and the Senate were being convened. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) leader Shah Mahmoud Qureshi said all political parties including PPP were convinced the country was in extraordinary circumstances and military courts were the need of the hour. He said there was no disagreement on revival of military courts in view of the given situation but parties only wanted a mechanism to ensure that there is no need for further extension in future. Sahibzada Tariqullah of Jamaat-i-Islami said terrorists are terrorists and terrorism should not be linked with the religion. He said terrorists should be dealt with using an iron hand.
Leader of MQM-Pakistan Dr Farooq Sattar said the government should take all political parties into confidence when launching the operation. He said his party could not announce full support to the military courts until the prime minister made certain assurances on this issue of national importance. PPP leader Khursheed Shah earlier said that their party believed in democracy and would make all decisions in the greater interest of the country. We should support the revival of military courts, but also voice our grievances against the federal government, especially with regard to the implementation of National Action Plan against terrorism.
The military courts set up in the aftermath of the Army Public School Attack in 2014, expired after their two-year-period in January this year. All cases being tried in the military courts were handed over to the anti-terrorism courts. However a recent wave of terrorism in Pakistan which includes suicide attacks in Lahore and Sehwan resumed the debate on setting up military courts for speedy trial and conviction of terrorists. Though some political parties have apprehensions on military courts because of government actions but one must not forget that to put our house in order we need to be one page and present situation demands that military courts is one of necessity to curtail extremism.
— The writer works for Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies, a think-tank based in Islamabad.
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