ISLAMABAD: The government on Tuesday made a major breakthrough as it garnered the support of most political parties, including the arch-rival PTI, to revive military courts for another two years. However, the biggest opposition group, the PPP, once again stayed away from a consultative meeting held in the chamber of National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq.
The military courts — set up through the 21st constitutional amendment to try hardcore terrorists in the wake of Dec 2014 APS massacre — had ceased to function on Jan 7, 2017 after the expiry of their two-year term.
Parliamentary leaders agree to re-establish military courts for two years
Since then, the government had been consulting the parliamentary parties as some of its allies, including the JUI-F, also expressed reservations over the move to re-establish the trial courts.
However, the government on Tuesday managed to win the support of major parties at the 8th meeting of heads of parliamentary parties. The meeting also agreed to set up a parliamentary committee to oversee important matters related to national security — a demand first made by the PPP.
Talking to media after the meeting, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar — who was interlocutor from the government side in approaching political parties for agreement on military courts — said it was a unanimous decision of leaders of parliamentary parties to further extend the tenure of military courts.
He said the PPP did not attend the meeting but hoped that after holding its all parties conference (APC), the opposition party would also concur on the matter.
“There is a proposal of convening a Senate session on March 3 and a National Assembly session on March 6 to discuss the matter,” he said, adding that both the sessions would be held on proposed dates and the government would welcome any positive suggestion on the matter.
Govt mulls reinstatement of military courts
He said once the draft bill on the constitutional amendment was tabled in parliament, the PPP or any other party could also suggest their amendments.
Still not on board, the PPP’s opposition to the draft constitutional amendment – in which terms of ‘religious’ and ‘sectarian extremism’ have been deleted – is the only obstacle in passing the new amendment in the Constitution to once again set up military courts.
The PPP claims that the government in its new draft – which has not yet been made public – used general terms which, the party fears, can be used to victimise politicians.
It claims that the government has deleted clearly defined scope of military courts as adopted through the 21st constitutional amendment by which the courts were set up in 2015. That scope limited the courts to try terror groups that wage war in the name of religion or a sect and the people captured during combat with armed forces.
This, PPP claims, has been done to appease religio-political parties mainly the JUI-F and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI). The party insists that it will go for an APC it plans to host on March 4 on the issue. However, it appears to be left alone after Tuesday’s huddle and has softened its stance.
“The PPP had played a key role in adopting the 21st amendment. We are still ready to play positive role,” Senate’s former chairman Nayyer Bukhari said while talking to The Express Tribune. Former president Asif Ali Zardari has assigned Bukhari the task to invite all the parties in PPP’s planned moot.
He said during the last few days, the PPP delegations approached many smaller political parties and extended invitation for a meeting to be held at Zardari House in Islamabad.
“Most of the political parties have accepted our invitation. We would like to hear from them on which clauses agreement has been reached and where consensus is yet to be achieved,” said Bukhari.
Tuesday’s meeting was a big achievement of government’s spin doctor Dar after the PTI extended its rare support to its arch rival ruling PML-N. The ANP that expressed some reservations during the last meeting was also willing to support the amendment.
“We believe that military courts are against the basic human rights but we are supporting them because the situation warrants so,” said Haji Ghulam Ahmed Bilour who represented the ANP in the meeting.
The PTI’s Shah Mehmood Qureshi said all the participants have agreed to extension of military courts for two years. Their term would start from January 7, 2017 when the two-year term of military courts expired.
Leader of another parliamentary party said the proposed parliamentary panel would be similar to the parliamentary committee on national security that was set up by the last PPP government. “The proposed panel will not be limited to military courts but it will be a committee on all important national security matters,” he said.
Around a dozen military courts, set up through the 21st amendment, convicted a total of 275 individuals, out of these 165 were sentenced to death and 12 were executed before expiry of their sunset clause.
Human rights organisations have been criticising the courts as they do not give convicts an option to appeal in civilian courts. The convicts can only file an appeal on military appellate tribunal.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 1, 2017.