Opposition turns tables on govt over military courts

PML-N’s two allies skip Tuesday’s meeting that saw ‘implied consensus’.

Sardar Sikander February 09, 2017

ISLAMABAD: The opposition’s implied support for giving an extension to the military courts seems to have turned the tables on the government.

This is because the ruling party is faced with hostility from its major allies over political issues due to which they have silently distanced themselves from recent deliberations on the issue.

The PML-N’s two allies – the JUI-F and the PkMAP – were not present during Tuesday’s crucial meeting that saw “implied consensus” on the introduction of the 25th constitutional amendment to extend the military courts’ tenure for two years.

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Sources in the opposition believe by agreeing to support the government on the military courts’ extension issue, the opposition has put the government in a defensive position since the ruling lot was previously using lack of support from opposition parties as an explanation to stall progress on the issue.

“The ball is in their court now,” said a key opposition member, requesting anonymity. “They can no longer accuse us of being unresponsive. We have played our part. Now, it’s up to them to coax their allies into supporting military courts’ extension.”

Opposition parties, he said, shared a feeling that the government was using the opposition’s concerns regarding the military courts to cement its position.

“They were playing it tactfully. By putting the gun on our shoulders they were getting things go their way.”

This was the major reason the opposition came together in favour of granting extension to the military courts after Director General Military Intelligence Major General Nadeem Zaki Manj briefed lawmakers during an in-camera session of the parliamentary committee on the subject.

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“In reality, it was the government, not the opposition, that was shrewdly acting to keep the matter lingering. They need to put their own house in order and get their allies on board. The JUI-F and the PkMAP have some issues regarding the federal government policies.

The source said the opposition’s demand to be briefed in detail on the performance of the military courts was met following the briefing from the military top officials. “After that, there was hardly any room for us to point fingers [at them].”

Speaking to The Express Tribune, Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rashid Ahmad said the opposition’s concerns were related to the federal government – not the military.

“These concerns are still there because we were only satisfied with the briefing from military authorities – and not the federal government. Our reservations regarding the federal government still stand. Our questions have not been answered.

The AML predicted that a ‘clear breakthrough’ in the form of a formal consensus between the government and the opposition on the issue was likely in the next meeting scheduled for February 16.

Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Khurshid Shah said the PPP’s stance on the military courts was clear.

“Right from the day one, we made it clear that the onus of the initiative was on the federal government. And, if they seek our support, they better come up with valid explanations and respond to our questions. The answers came from the security brass.”

Asked about the PPP’s stance on the issue after being briefed on the performance of the military courts, Shah said, “The PPP is part of the opposition. We do not believe in taking solo flights and make decisions in consultation with other opposition forces.

“If the opposition wants to make a decision, whether positive or negative, we are with it. The PPP follows the policy of inclusion,” he said, referring to his party’s ‘favourable’ stance towards military courts.

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Senior JUI-F leader and Federal Minister Akram Khan Durrani denied that the JUI-F did not attend Tuesday’s meeting out of its opposition to the military courts.

“There are some issues that are dealt with politically. Just because a political party does not show up at a meeting does not necessarily mean it is opposed to the meeting’s agenda. Another meeting is scheduled for February 16, and we’ll see what we can do,” he said without elaborating.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 9th, 2017.