Military courts: What all the hue and cry is about

Published: January 5, 2012
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What were the military courts, how did they function – and why. DESIGN: ESSA MALIK

What were the military courts, how did they function – and why. DESIGN: ESSA MALIK

KARACHI: 

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif created a stir during his last visit to Karachi with his comments supporting military courts that were set up in the city during his second tenure.

What were the military courts, and why has their mention prompted such a response?

A history of the courts

Nawaz, chief of his own faction of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), had been elected for the second time as prime minister in 1997 after a landslide victory against the Pakistan Peoples Party. During that period, MQM and its splinter Haqiqi group were at each other’s throats. The law and order situation of Karachi further deteriorated when philanthropist Hakim Saeed was murdered under mysterious circumstances.

Following this, military courts were formed through an ordinance and a prosecution team was formed on the official notification of the Sindh government.

The courts were established in the Malir cantonment area and operated under the field court marshall, according to the 1952 military act.

At least two people were hanged during that period, including Rafi ‘Bubbly’ on Dec 31, 1998 –accused of brutally raping a minor – and Shabbir alias Habib Baloch – accused of being involved in robbery and murder cases.  Advocate Habib Ahmed, who used to supervise the prosecution wing at military trial courts in the 90s, recalls that, “the military trial courts comprised one colonel and two majors.”

These special courts were outside the ambit of the High Courts and Supreme Courts. If an accused appealed against the verdict, it would be heard by an appeal court headed by either a brigadier or a major-general and would, in most cases, uphold the trial court’s verdict.

‘Speedy justice’

Interestingly, the Anti Terrorism Courts under civilian judges established in 1997 continued to run parallel with the military courts. “Even the ATC was formed so that speedy justice could be delivered, but since military courts were formed by the government, all high-profile cases, which included gang rape incidents and dacoity with murder cases, would be tried by military courts,” he said.

Furthermore, unlike civilian courts, no detailed judgments would be handed out in the cases and the verdicts would usually be one line statements, mentioning the charge and the verdict, guilty or not.

“One of the main reasons why military courts ensured speedy justice was that instead of a system where one court would hear all the cases, each case would have its own court in the military setup,” said Habib. Therefore, if there were three cases, three military courts would be set up which would hear and conclude the arguments within a day or two.

Habib insists even today that military courts were not only quick in dispensing justice, but also brought about a remarkable change in the crime rate of the city.

“The military courts lasted a mere two months between Nov 20, 1998 and Feb 17, 1999, but they scared the hell out of all criminal mafias and militants affiliated with political parties and were forced to go into hiding,” he said.

‘Illegal courts’

Sindh High Court Bar Association president Anwar Mansoor Khan, however, said that there is no doubt in his mind that Nawaz’s actions back then were “illegal, which was why the Supreme Court back then had struck down the military courts.”

Former Inspector General of Police Sindh Afzal Shigri also disputed the claim that the crime rate changed drastically.

Defence Analyst Gen (retd) Talat Masood says the problem of civilian courts has always been ensuring speedy justice.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 5th, 2012. 

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Reader Comments (6)

  • UsmanS
    Jan 5, 2012 - 11:29AM

    so if speedy justice was being provided and crime rate dropped drastically what is the point in criticizing nawaz shareef all day long on tv ok i think ppl would prefer speedy justice over nonspeedy injustice

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  • Al-Klaldun
    Jan 5, 2012 - 1:17PM

    Well !! the military courts should start functioning first in FATA followed by Baluchistan, Pakhtunkhaw and Punjab. Let them first demonstrate that it helps in reducing the crime rate. Then only can Karachi / Sind accept the logic. Recommend

  • MALIK WAQAR HAIDER AWAN
    Jan 5, 2012 - 1:42PM

    speedy courts must be there but proper hearing should be given to the parties and justice be done to them, these courts shall not be made to give one sided decisions but to share the burden of backlog with the ordinary courts. These courts shall be under the umberella of High Court and their appeals shall be provided before the relevant High Courts.

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  • SMJ
    Jan 5, 2012 - 7:46PM

    Why did we restore the job of Chief Justice if speedy justice by Army is the solution?

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  • Tamaaz Khan
    Jan 5, 2012 - 9:04PM

    What is the need for the Supreme Court, Military courts for all of Pakistan then.

    All Pakistanis should get Speedy Justice.

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  • A. Rehman
    Jan 6, 2012 - 2:03AM

    What a cunning and evil thought / request by Nawaz Shareef for establishing the Millitary Courts against Karachites. Actually he was humiliated, due to his wicked-deeds against MQM & Army, so he wants to take the revenge. Now he wants both to come against each other and fight against eachother, so that Nawaz Shareef agenda may weaken and harm to both of them.

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