PPP’s somersault on military courts not part of backdoor deal with PML-N

The party hasn’t won any concessions regarding situation in Karachi


Sardar Sikander March 20, 2017
CREATIVE: AAMIR KHAN

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Peoples Party’s about-face on the revival of military courts is not part of any clandestine deal with the PML-N government because the opposition party is said to have changed its policy due to its own political ‘compulsions’.

The PPP, which had spelled out nine recommendations for a draft bill seeking the re-establishment of military courts, voluntarily dropped five of its proposals on Thursday and decided to lend support to the government on the issue.

Military courts back in sight as PPP budges

However, the party has failed to extract any concessions in return, mainly on the situation in Karachi, The Express Tribune has learnt from leaders of the two parties in background interviews.

Apart from the Karachi situation, the PPP also had serious reservations over the government’s decision not to specify the term ‘religious terrorism’ in the initial draft of the constitutional amendment on the re-establishment of military courts. This concern had much to do with the reported fear that a generalised mandate of the military courts would allow the government to victimise political rivals by trying those involved in political violence in military courts.

However, the PPP’s demand was accepted and ‘religious terrorism’ was specified in the constitutional amendment bill the government has moved in the National Assembly seeking a two-thirds majority’s support for the passage.

Sources in the government said it had been earlier conveyed to the PPP on behalf of the PML-N leadership that the party’s demand to specify ‘religious terrorism’ was acceptable to the government, and there was a ‘wide’ room for negotiations on the PPP’s nine recommendations as well, but there was no space for political bargaining on the situation in Karachi. Reportedly, the government’s response did not go down well with the PPP leadership but nevertheless it decided to ‘digest the bitter pill’ and eventually supported the government on military courts after procedural opposition.

“The demand to re-establish military courts came from the security establishment, which was enough for them [PPP] to sense the gravity of the situation. The recent uptick in terrorist violence also necessitated the revival of military courts,” said a PML-N source. “In a situation like this, you are short of options.”

Another senior politician believed the PML-N was not in a position to offer any concessions to the PPP regarding the situation in Karachi where the PPP leadership has been making efforts for the release of Dr Asim Hussain, a close confidante of PPP Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari, and closure of cases against him.

“The issue of Dr Asim is not something the government is actively involved in. It’s all about the security establishment. The PML-N leadership does not want to act in a way that could disturb the smooth-sailing between the civilian government and the security establishment.”

The source said the PPP’s nine recommendations were a political manoeuvre to extract political mileage. “The real issue has been Dr Asim. But there isn’t much that can be done about it.”

PPP gets cold shoulder on military court proposals

Speaking to The Express Tribune, opposition leader in the National Assembly Khursheed Shah denied the PPP support to the military courts was part of a strategy to initially oppose the government on the issue and eventually accept the government’s request after putting up some procedural opposition.

“If this is the case then why did we have four of our recommendations accepted? If it is intended to imply that we have supported the government without having our terms accepted, it is wrong. The acceptance of our four significant demands means otherwise.”

On the Karachi situation and Dr Asim, Shah said, “It is our principled stance that cases against Dr Asim be closed because he is being politically victimised. But on the issue of military courts, the government has accepted our key recommendations and our demand [not part of nine recommendations] to specify religious terrorism in the related constitutional amendment was accepted earlier.

This gives us a good ground to support the government on military courts’ re-establishment. This has nothing to do with Dr Asim.”
Published in The Express Tribune, March 20th, 2017.

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