Military courts: Opposition unimpressed by government briefing

Published: February 1, 2017

ISLAMABAD: Despite government’s public reiteration that it will extend military courts’ terms, uncertainty still surrounds the issue as another round of parleys between the ruling party and opposition remained inconclusive on Tuesday.

The opposition has demanded a briefing from the military establishment on the matter while the government has assured compliance to this effect.  The next meeting would be held on February 17. The security brass has also pressed the civilian leadership to take urgent steps to extend the courts’ tenure for smooth and effective implementation of the counterterrorism drive.

Ahead of the government-opposition meeting, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa held an important meeting wherein the issue of military courts was discussed. Although a brief PM House statement did not mention the issue and only said matters pertaining to regional and national security were discussed, sources said the military strongly demanded the extension as well as details of the ‘planted story’ probe besides exchanging notes on the recent action against Jamaatud Dawa.

Official sources said the military command conveyed to the civilian side that urgent steps were necessary to extend military courts’ tenure to remove hurdles in the way of securing and consolidating counterterrorism gains and for smooth and effective implementation of the National Action Plan.

Later, parliamentary leaders of mainstream opposition parties showed up at the parliamentary committee’s meeting chaired by National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq to take up the issue of military courts’ tenure extension.

Sources privy to the meeting said that the government’s side shared details about the progress of military courts in two-year-term, the steps it took during last two years to strengthen criminal justice system and improve criminal prosecution, the seminaries reforms and implementation of NAP.

However, the insiders said, the opposition was not satisfied with the government’s briefing saying it lacked authentic data based on verified facts and figures. “They failed to provide any exact statistical details on the related issues. We asked specific questions and they were unable to satisfy us,” said one of the meeting participants requesting anonymity.

The opposition reminded the government that it had earlier assured the opposition side to arrange relevant briefings of the military officials to update the opposition lawmakers.

Reportedly, the government side comprising Law Minister Zahid Hamid and Prime Minister’s Special Assistant Barrister Zafarullah told the opposition members that the briefings to the lawmakers from the security brass could be arranged in case they were not satisfied with the government’s stance.

“Our side conveyed them that the government’s strategy is to first brief the opposition MNAs by the civilian government functionaries and arrange separate briefings of the military officials in case they were not satisfied with government’s briefings. We have exchanged views with security establishment and they are ready to allay the legislators’ concerns,” said one of the PM’s close aides requesting anonymity.

Speaking to The Express Tribune, JI’s Parliamentary Leader in NA Sahibzada Tariqullah, who was part of the meeting, confirmed that the opposition demanded briefing from the military authorities. “Today, the government functionaries briefed us but it didn’t convince us. Once again we brought up the matter of briefing from military authorities. Government has again assured us to comply.”

Tariqullah said options regarding briefings from the security officials were discussed. “This can be done through parliament’s in-camera session, from the platform of any parliamentary committee or the security brass can privately brief the lawmakers at any designated venue to maintain secrecy.”

Other options including all parties conference (APC) on extension of military courts’ tenure or convening a joint session of parliament on the issue were also deliberated, he said.

“There is no harm in exercising options. But whatever options we exercise shouldn’t be time consuming and the government needs to demonstrate seriousness. We hope the government will be well equipped enough to address our reservations on February 17.”

Published in The Express Tribune, February 1st, 2017.

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