Both the upper and lower chambers of parliament on Tuesday gave their ringing endorsement to the establishment of military courts for speedy trial of terror suspects by way of passing the 21st Constitutional Amendment Bill 2015 and the Pakistan Army Act 1952 (Amendment) Bill 2015.
The Constitutional Amendment Bill was passed in the National Assembly with 247 votes – 14 votes more than the required two-thirds majority. In the Senate, 78 lawmakers in a house of 104 balloted in favour of the bill.
The amendment bill – aimed at stemming the rising tide of militancy and terrorism – was not opposed by any member present inside the house. However, mainstream political parties, including Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) did not take part in the voting.
The proposed law was made to speed up trial of terrorists after Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan gunmen killed over a hundred schoolchildren in an attack on December 16, 2014 in Peshawar.
The bills were separately moved by Minister for Law, Justice and Human Rights Pervaiz Rashid in the house, which passed them after making some amendments. The provisions of the two bills shall remain in force for a period of two years from the date of their promulgation and can be extended beyond this time only through a resolution passed by both houses of parliament.
Each clause of the constitutional bill was voted for separately. As per procedure, National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq asked for counting of members every time and for final vote all MPs were asked to gather in the assembly’s lobby for attendance.
Pakistan Army Act 1952 (Amendment) Bill 2015 was, however, passed with a simple voice of ‘yes’. The constitutional bill will become an act after presidential endorsement.
The NA speaker incorporated as many as four minor amendments in the 21st Constitutional Amendment Bill 2015 and four amendments in the Pakistan Army Act 1952 (Amendment) Bill 2015. The speaker dropped two amendments already proposed by the JI members in the bills due to their absence from the house.
PM Nawaz thanks lawmakers
Later, thanking ‘every member of parliament’, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said only ‘hardcore terrorists’ will be tried in military courts and they will remain in the field for two years, adding that the government will decide cases to be taken up by military courts.
“We all should resolve to eliminate all terrorists from our soil,” he added.
Recapitulating the events and meetings in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the Peshawar school, he agreed with the chief of army staff that “military courts are not our desire but need of the hour”.
Talking about the reservations of the JUI-F, the PM said his government had included some amendments to address their concerns. “They (JUI-F) have also been attacked and I wish they come and vote in the Senate,” he added.
Earlier, Senator Raza Rabbani was the first speaker after the amendment was passed and was seen visibly sombre and sad. “I have been in the Senate for more than 12 years, but have never been as ashamed as I am today. I cast my vote against my conscience,” Rabbani said.
The PPP Senator Aitzaz Ahsan said: “It is a difficult day for me to speak,” adding that he had voted for today what he had protested against 50 years ago. “I confess that I have lost my values [after the vote],” he added.
Recalling several incidents including the assassination of former PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto, Ahsan said he did not think that military courts are a solution. “But there are times when heart wrenches and earth shakes. After the Peshawar attack I thought the worst has come about and worst is the solution.”
Ahsan, however, admitted that he was part of the entire process.
“My purpose was to narrow down the scope of military courts as much as possible, we redefined terrorism and addressed the fears and reservations of the JUI-F and the JI that political parties will not be victimised under it and that civil authorities must not abdicate to army,” he added.
Senator Afrasiab Khattak of ANP said the problem of militancy could not be solved just by setting up military courts. “We need to cleanse our syllabus of the things added after the ’80s and change our policies towards Afghanistan,” he added.
Senator Hasil Bizenjo said: “Today is a unique day as we have voted for an amendment and are not happy,” he said. “However, there will be no change if the state – particularly security establishment and bureaucracy – does not change its approach and 20-year-old policies,” he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 7th, 2014.
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