Military courts: Senators invited to key huddle on Feb 23

Panel to discuss fresh draft of 25th Amendment Bill in a meeting on 22nd

Irfan Ghauri February 21, 2017

ISLAMABAD: In an effort to expedite the process for reestablishment of military courts for another term, the government has decided to invite senators leading their political parties in the upper house to a sixth meeting of the heads of parliamentary parties in the National Assembly to be held on February 23. The huddle was earlier scheduled for February 27.

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, who has been tasked by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to expedite the process to adopt 25th amendment in the Constitution for extending tenure of the courts, held a meeting on Monday with Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani to seek much-needed support of the upper house.

The Senate’s support is vital in passing any amendment to the Constitution that requires support of at least two-third members of both houses separately. The ruling PML-N and its allies have enough numerical strength in the National Assembly but lack requisite numbers in the Senate.

Military courts are the need of the hour, says Qureshi

During the meeting, Rabbani asked Dar to take parliamentary leaders of different political parties in the Senate on board. On his request, the government asked the National Assembly Secretariat to invite leaders of parliamentary parties in Senate in the next meeting.

In a press statement issued later in the evening, the secretariat confirmed that the Speaker National Assembly would be inviting senators in the next meeting which has been rescheduled for Feb 23 now. The Senate has already sent names of 14 senators who head their parties in the upper house.

In the wake of a recent wave of terrorism that gripped the country last week, Dar on Saturday contacted parliamentary leaders of almost all the parties in the lower house, including Fazl to expedite the process.

He also talked to the Speaker National Assembly on Sunday and proposed to convene meeting of parliamentary leaders on Feb 23 instead of earlier scheduled of Feb 27.

In the meantime, a sub-penal headed by Law Minister Zahid Hamid will prepare fresh draft of 25th Amendment Bill. The sub-committee is scheduled to meet on Feb 22. It is likely that some senators might also be included in a sub-penal, led by Hamid.

The military court were set up through 21st Amendment in the wake of Dec 16, 2014 massacre of schoolchildren in Peshawar for speedy trial of hard core terrorists.

However, these courts were suspended after their two-year term expired on January 7. Soon after suspension of these courts, the ruling PML-N constituted a penal of parliamentary leaders under chair of the Speaker National Assembly Ayaz Sadiq to deliberate the matter.

Opposition amenable to military courts' revival

The penal has held five huddles so far, but has fallen short of forging consensus on the issue as some parties have reservations over extending tenure of the courts.

Some opposition parties want safeguards to ensure right of fair trail while others want an extension of military courts for two years and not three years as initially proposed by the government.

The PPP – the second largest party which holds offices of both the leaders of opposition in the National Assembly and Senate – wants a parliamentary committee to oversee the military courts.

The government’s key allies – Maulana Fazlur Rehaman’s JUI-F and Mehmood Khan Achakzi’s PkMAP – were also reluctant initially to offer unconditional support to any such move. However, a PML-N leader told The Express Tribune that “their reservations have been addressed and now they are fully onboard.”

During this period, the military courts convicted 275 individuals. A total of 165 of these convicts were awarded capital punishment and 12 of them were executed.

Rights organisations have been criticising these courts, which, they claim, do not give convicts the option for right to appeal in the civilian courts. They can only file an appeal at the military appellate tribunal.

Families of some of the convicts moved a review petition in the Supreme Court in August last year with a plea that military courts must share complete evidence and case record with the accused and allow them to engage a counsel of their choice.

However, the SC’s five-judge bench, headed by former chief justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali, dismissed the petitioners claim that military trails were being conducted in violation of standards of free tail guaranteed in the Constitution.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 21st, 2017.

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