ISLAMABAD: Despite showing their reservations, opposition parties in the lower house of parliament have verbally supported the Twenty Eighth Amendment Bill 2017 which will be put for voting today (Tuesday) to pave way for reconstitution of military courts for another two years.
The military courts set up in Jan 2015 for speedy trial of hardcore terrorists through a constitutional amendment were suspended on Jan 7, 2017 after their two-year tenure came to an end.
After a series of elaborate discussion, the government managed to garner support for the trial courts and on Monday tabled the amendment bill in the National Assembly as the house adopted a motion to suspend the Private Members’ business in the sitting to be held today.
Speaking on the floor of the house, PPP parliamentary leader Naveed Qamar said it was unfortunate that for the second time in Pakistan’s history, people who called themselves democrats were making speeches for suspension of citizens’ rights enshrined in the Constitution.
“It’s shameful that we will be voting for the bill tomorrow. We have lost confidence in our judicial system. Two years ago when the Constitution was amended for forming military courts we were sure that after two years the normal judicial system would take over.
“However, two years on we are standing at the same point and are not sure whether we will not be debating over extension of the courts once again [after expiry of these two years],” he said.
Qamar asked what was done to change the national narrative and the mindset of General Zia’s regime.
“We are doing the same treatment with the military courts as we have done with Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) under which cases of illegal weapons, rape and murder are tried,” he said.
The PPP lawmaker said a huge task was being assigned to the armed forces. “A large number of cases will make the deterrence effects of these courts to zero. Do it in a focused manner and make it transparent,” he added.
The PTIs’ Shah Mahmood Qureshi said military courts were not a solution to everything but a step ahead towards the goal. He said the situation might have improved if the National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism had been truly implemented.
“Reconstitution of military courts is a proof of the government’s incompetence. During meetings of the parliamentary committee on these courts, the parliamentary leaders had expressed concerns that these courts might be used for political victimisation,” he added.
He said these courts should target jet black terrorists. “We don’t want to make the military courts a permanent part of the Constitution. It is a temporary window and the normal judicial system should start working after expiry of these courts,” he said.
Fully supporting amendment for the reconstitution of the military courts, the AML’s Sheikh Rasheed said 1.7 million cases were pending with the civilian courts.
“The system of appointing judges is obsolete and needs to be reviewed. However, it should be ensured that innocent people are not trialed under these [military] courts,” he said
Debating on the tabled bill, PkMAP’s Mehmood Khan Achakzai said through their proposed amendment the lawmakers were expressing their lack of confidence on the existing judicial system. He said his party would support the bill only if its five demands were fulfilled.
“A resolution be passed in favour of judges who did not take oath under the provincial constitutional order (PCO). Such judges should be declared national heroes while the PCO judges should be condemned.
“Another resolution be passed in a joint session of parliament to vow that if someone violated the Constitution then the entire pubic would take to the streets,” he said.
Achakzai also demanded that the armed forces also seek forgiveness for wrongdoings of the past.
Supporting the bill, MQM’s Shaikh Salahuddin said we had to compromise on some issues. “There is no way out and the MQM will support the government over this constitutional amendment,” he said.
However, he said, there were rumours that the government had struck a backdoor deal with the PPP over the matter by suing the cases of PPP leaders – Dr Asim Hussain and Sharjeel Memon – as bargaining chips.
However, Speaker Ayaz Sadiq intervened and said the bail was granted to Memon by the court. He requested Salauddin not to make the bill controversial. Sharjeel Memon was briefly detained after his arrival at Islamabad airport on Saturday.
The JI’s Sahibzada Tariqullah also supported the bill but criticised the government for not achieving some points of the NAP. He said religion and terrorism should not be linked.
The QWP’s Aftab Sherpao said the country was facing an extraordinary situation and the courts were not beyond the Constitution. “There should be no politics on reconstitution of these courts and the government needs to be on the driving seat on this issue,” he added.