ISLAMABAD: The PML-N government may have decided to engage the PPP in deliberations over reestablishment of military courts. However, no significant outcome is expected of this exercise given that all other mainstream political parties have agreed to support the ruling party on the issue.
The government has called a meeting of the parliamentary leaders of political parties in the National Assembly and the Senate on Thursday to discuss revival of military courts, which were established for two years on Jan 7, 2015 for speedy trial of hardcore terrorists and were suspended on Jan 7, 2017.
However, sources in the PML-N said the government is not in a position to budge from or change its stance on the trial courts as the government itself led the move to forge consensus for extension of the courts for another two-year term.
In a meeting of parliamentary parties – convened by Speaker National Assembly on February 28 – almost all the political parties, except for the PPP, had extended support for extension of military courts for another two years as per the draft of constitutional amendment formulated by the government.
This agreement between the PML-N and political parties left the PPP alone and fizzled out importance of its multiparty conference convened last week. Later, on Monday, the PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari proposed that the military courts be headed by a civilian judge and their tenure be reduced to one-year.
“Now when everything is settled, we just cannot go back to square one,” said a senior PML-N leader requesting anonymity. He said it was not about the PML-N alone but a host of other parties had also set aside their reservations on the issue and came together to support the government.
“We just can’t ask them to review their stance just because one party (PPP) wants it,” he added.
A senior PTI leader, wishing not to be named, said the PTI’s stance on the issue is clear which is why the party decided not to show up at the PPP’s multiparty conference.
“We decided to support military courts in the national interest. We have no reason to support PPP’s stance especially when it has failed to attract the support of all other political parties.
“Everybody knows that military courts are headed by military men. The proposal that sessions’ judges should head military courts is PPP’s political bargain chip, nothing more. Otherwise, who doesn’t know there hangs a huge question mark over functioning of our lower judiciary,” he added.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, AML chief Sheikh Rashid Ahmad said the PPP should have become part of the deliberations between the government and opposition on the military courts.
“When majority of political parties have put their weight behind the courts, keeping the issue open for further deliberations will only attract complexities and delay the matter. If the government is serious, then it should go ahead with what has been decided by the political forces,” he said.
Ahmed said he would participate in the Thursday meeting of parliamentary parties “even though the outcome is obvious.”
However, PPP stalwart and Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Khursheed Shah said the PPP has put up recommendations for political parties to consider irrespective of the outcome.
“We have not pushed anyone for accepting our recommendations. We are open to support government on military courts like other political parties if government takes us into loop and allays our concerns.”
He said the PPP boycotted the government-opposition parleys on military courts because the government did not take it seriously. “We have shown flexibility on the issue. However, if political parties and government disagree with our recommendations, we’ll see what to do,” Shah added.
A source close to the PM argued that the PPP’s reservations had much to do with its high stakes in Karachi. “The PPP wants the mandate of military courts to be specific to religious extremism because if military courts do not operate under a specific mandate, the PPP fears that cases involving political violence [by its members in Karachi] could be referred to the courts,” he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 8th, 2017.