The clock is ticking on a parliamentary decision over whether or not to grant extension to the military courts set up in the wake of the December 16, 2014 massacre of school children in Peshawar.
The speedy trial courts were established through a constitutional amendment with a ‘sunset clause’ for a period of two years. Their term was first extended in January 2016 for another two years. A further extension requires backing of all the three main parliamentary groups.
However, the government of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) faces a tough challenge to pull off this legislative feat given the stated opposition of the two major opposition parties, PML-N and PPP, to the proposition.
The political environment remains highly charged despite the fact that Imran’s party recently ate its words and conceded to allow the Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif to head the key Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
The PTI and its coalition partners lack the legislative muscle to grant an extension to the army courts on its own. They have a total strength of 182 members while the minimum required strength of 228 members, constituting a twothirds majority in the 342-member National Assembly, needed to push through the legislation cannot be cobbled together unless the opposition mellows its stance.
Airing the military establishment’s standpoint on the issue, Director General Inter-Services Public Relations Major General Asif Ghafoor told a news channel that military courts had not been the wish of the Pakistan Army but a national requirement. He noted that the decision on military courts’ extension rests with the parliament.
On the other hand, PPP leaders told a press conference they had serious reservations about extending tenure of the military courts. “The joint investigation teams have already been militarised, so we don’t want to militarise our judicial system,” remarked one leader.
Some analysts, however, believe the two parties are using the issue as a bargaining chip to get their leadership out of the legal quagmire they have slipped into, and that they will ultimately lend their support. Let us wait and watch with our fingers crossed.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 21st, 2019.