Assuaging concerns: Govt ponders briefing to MPs on military courts

NA speaker meets opposition leaders today to discuss the matter


Sardar Sikander January 17, 2017
NA speaker meets opposition leaders today to discuss the matter. CREATIVE: AAMIR KHAN

ISLAMABAD: The government is considering a proposal to arrange a briefing by security officials for parliamentary parties in an attempt to assuage their concerns on possible extension in the term of military courts which have ceased to function earlier this month following the expiry of their two-year term.

The proposal was floated after opposition parties, particularly Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Pakistan Peoples Party, and Jamaat-e-Islami, sought performance reports of the military courts.

National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq is scheduled to meet leaders of parliamentary parties on Tuesday (today) where he might offer them a briefing by security officials, The Express Tribune has learnt. Or the offer might be held back until all other options fail to evolve consensus.

“Hopefully, a word from the horse’s mouth will help,” said a senior PML-N leader explaining the motive behind the proposal. “Politics aside, let’s place the right people for the right task.”

According to sources, at the government instructions, some ministers recently sought input from the security establishment, which has readily expressed willingness to allay concerns of opposition parties. “We approached them [security establishment] through informal channels and they are willing to assuage the concerns of opposition parties,” said one source.

PML-N leaders argue that briefings by security officials to MPs on security matters is not something new as security and intelligence officials periodically update federal lawmakers mainly from the platform of parliamentary committees. They refer to the 2011 confidential briefing by the military brass to parliament on the Abbottabad raid.

PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi doubts the government is serious in extending the term of military courts. “The government is playing a double-game. On the one hand, Punjab’s law minister opposes military courts, while on the other hand, the federal law minister supports them,” he told The Express Tribune.

“Publicly, the government is seeking extension in the military courts’ term, but actually that doesn’t seem to be the case,” he added. “How can we trust the prime minister who has failed to convince his political allies, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and PkMAP leader Mehmood Khan Achakzai, to give up their opposition to military courts?”

Asked about the proposal of briefing to opposition parties, Qureshi said: “We will see in Tuesday’s meeting what the government has to offer. We’ll take a decision accordingly.” He, however, added that the military courts had done a great job resulting in a remarkable decline in incidents of terrorism in the country.

On his part, PPP leader Syed Khursheed Shah said the government has so far not shared any such proposal with his party. “We have already made it clear: our decision on military courts would be determined by all relevant factors, mainly their performance,” he added. “We have an important meeting with the speaker today. We’ll see what the government is doing to allay our concerns.”

JI chief Sirajul Haq said there was no harm in security officials briefing politicians on the military courts. “It helps in bridging communication gap and harmonize civil-military relations,” he added. “We will see in today’s meeting how far the government can go to take the political forces in loop on military courts.”

Premier Nawaz Sharif’s adviser Ameer Muqam offered a cautious response. “It is too early to comment. An important meeting is scheduled on Tuesday. The government wants to extend military courts’ tenure and is trying to evolve political consensus. I would be in a better position to say something after the meeting.”

Published in The Express Tribune, January 17th, 2017.

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