ISLAMABAD: After a broader agreement between the government and most mainstream political parties on extending the military courts’ tenure, former president Asif Ali Zardari realigned his strategy, adding many items in the agenda of the Multi-Party Conference (MPC) scheduled for March 4.
Opposing extension of military courts through an amended draft of a constitutional amendment, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) had announced an All Parties Conference (APC) on the issue to muster support of other political parties.
However, the government succeeded in passing a new amendment in the Constitution for continuing military courts for two more years, PPP appeared to be left alone.
MQM-Pakistan to join multi-party conference on military courts
Some political parties, including PTI, conveyed to the PPP they would not attend, while others who have representation in parliament and have a say in passing legislation were ambivalent after they publicly announced their support to government’s draft bill on re-establishing military courts.
The situation prompted the former President to rush to the federal capital and re-draw his strategy.
Zardari landed in the federal capital on Wednesday afternoon a day before his scheduled visit.
PPP leaders were holding marathon sessions on the new strategy since Zardari arrived in Islamabad.
After these huddles, PPP decided to include many new but contentious items on agenda of the moot. In a smart move, selected items include issues on which opposition parties differed with the government.
He converted the APC into a Multi-Party Conference in which all parties but the ruling PML-N have been invited. Zardari personally dispatched invitations to heads of mainstream parties, clearly mentioning the agenda.
Zardari in capital after 18 months
These issues include:
1. Implementation on the National Action Plan (NAP) over the past two years – Lessons learnt.
2. Revival of military courts; whether they should be revived or not and if revived, necessary parameters for their revival.
3. Implementations of Fata reforms as part of NAP; discussion on various aspects of proposed reforms, ethnic profiling.
4. Any other item with permission.
PTI unlikely to attend
PTI, the biggest Opposition group in terms of numbers in parliament after PPP, is unlikely to attend the moot, even after changes were made in its agenda.
“The issue of military courts has already been resolved. The government has already agreed to our proposal to have a parliamentary oversight committee and also on NAP. The FATA reforms package has been passed by the cabinet. I do not think we will be participating,” Shireen Mazari, a PTI leader, said.
If PTI opts to stay away, other political parties close to PTI are likely to toe its line. This would lessen the moot’s impact. However, PPP is trying its best to cajole all these parties to make this huddle successful.
Military courts: PTI warms up to PPP’s APC move
The Supreme Court Bar Association’s (SCBA) statement gave PPP some hope. The SCBA also opposed the extension of military courts’ tenure.
Speaking with media persons on Thursday, SCBA president Rashid A Rizvi said military courts did not provide any opportunity of a fair trial. He urged the government to reform the criminal justice system instead of simply extending the tenure of military courts.
PPP fears the new amendment would allow the authorities to coerce political opponents. PPP, being the largest party in Senate, can give the government a tough time if the amendment is put to vote in the Upper House of parliament without its consent. To pass any amendment in the constitution, support of two-thirds of lawmakers is required in the NA and Senate separately.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 3rd, 2017.
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