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The government’s continuous dithering and its inability to decide  about the extension of the military courts is facing criticism from the opposition.  Military courts were set up, under a two year sun-set cause, in Jan 2015 and have ceased functioning on January 7, after the completion of their time. The government had hinted of a limited extension but then given opposition’s criticism – especially PPP and ANP – it had assured the opposition parties that it will update them regarding the performance of military courts and the counterterrorism initiatives taken by the government under National Action Plan, within the next two weeks.

The military courts were established in Jan 2015 in order to try terrorists. These courts were established through the 21st amendment in the constitution after the APS attack in Peshawar. The special powers were given to try civilians in the army established tribunals. The mandated time was for two years which ended earlier this month.

These courts were established through the 21st amendment in the constitution after the APS attack in Peshawar.

The government told the parliamentary committee that is deciding over the extension, that the army was ready to brief the political parties on the performance of military courts. The leaders of parliamentary parties attended the second in-camera session which was presided by Ayaz Sadiq, Speaker National Assembly. In addition, the meeting was attended by Ishaq Dar, Finance Minister; Zaid Hamid, Law Minister and Prime Minister’s Special Assistant Barrister Zafarullah also represented the government side. However, remarkably the Interior Minister, under whose purview this falls, was not present. The earlier meeting on the issue was also concluded without agreement.

Read more: Officers question Army Chief on “Dawn Leaks” & “Rana’s comments on Military Courts”

Dawn has reported that the committee members were given some data about how the military courts had done. The military courts had a conviction rate of 96.4 per cent and 161 convicts were given the death penalty. There were much lower conviction rates in the ATCs which were 37 percent in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 21 percent in Punjab, nine percent both in Islamabad and Sindh and only seven percent in Balochistan.

Military Courts: merely speedy courts under a different name?

Immediately after the setting up of the military courts in 2015, Pakistani legal community, human right organizations and civil society activists took a position against these courts and took the matter to supreme court of Pakistan. Court granted double right of appeal to high courts and supreme court to all those convicted by the military courts. This reduced the status of ‘military courts’ to merely yet another form of ‘speedy courts’.

Most who were convicted by these courts, since Jan 2015, went on long appeals, after several months most of these appeals are still pending – like the routine cases. So while 161 were awarded death penalty under charges of terrorism, only 13 or 14 were executed. Same is the case with all those who got life imprisonments. This intervention granted by Supreme court, that made military courts part of the existing system has watered down their position, efficacy or fear. So these military courts merely acted as ‘speedy courts’ that could act decisively because they were immune from the usual pressures that come upon the police, administration and judges – but their overall deterrence value is thus questionable.

Shah Mehmood Qureshi, PTI leader told media that the opposition parties demanded from the government an in-camera briefing by security institutions to lawmakers. He said that several questions have arisen after today’s meeting. He then added that opposition parties now require an explanation from the government on the issue of granting an extension to military courts. He said that government is using delaying tactics to keep the issue lingering.

The military courts had a conviction rate of 96.4 per cent and 161 convicts were given the death penalty.

Other leaders, from the PPP and from Jamat –e- Islami have asked the government to make their own decision. Khursheed Shah said, “At the end of the day, the government has to take a decision. We demand transparency and fair play in dealing with the matter. Since the government has consulted the opposition, we need valid explanations.” He then added, “We need to know what the government has done to introduce and strengthen a system as an alternative to military courts. If not, we want to know why”.

Sirajul Haq, JI chief, was not part of the meeting and his party was represented by MNA Sahibzada Tariqullah. Sirajul Haq, later, questioned government’s sincerity. He said’, “What kind of sincerity is this when your allies are not with you and you stand alone? Don’t play games and don’t try to fool everyone. It will backfire. The government needs to make a decision and stick to it?”

“What kind of sincerity is this when your allies are not with you and you stand alone?

The next meeting will be held on January 31 and the decision by the government to delay the meeting by over two weeks has created an impression that there is little support for the extension of military courts by any political party.

In this case, it is hoped that the government has an alternative plan to ensure that terrorists are captured and timely justice is done. For the last two years, no work has been done on judicial reform, upon which agreement for the military courts had been predicated upon. This is  what the Nawaz government is supposed to explain.

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