Will of the people prevails
Muhammad Jamil


With the Parliament passing the amendment bill for revival of the military courts, the will of the people has prevailed. PILDAT in its policy brief stated that with the expiry of sunset clause of the 21st Constitutional Amendment on January 07, 2017, the Government and the opposition parties reached an across-the-board consensus on March 16, 2017 to revive Military Courts for another two years.

It mentioned the inability of the government in initiate the process in time for reviving military courts, and also failure of the government in reforming the criminal justice system during the last two years. It also rightly pointed out about government’s failure in implementing National Action Plan in its entirety. Anyhow, on 21st March 2017, the National Assembly had resumed discussion on amending the Constitution for revival of military courts for another two years and the bill was passed.Winding up the discussion, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar had said that after the expiry of the tenure of the military courts on 7th January this year, the government in consensus with all the parliamentary political parties decided to revive it. He said fifteen meetings of Parliamentary Leaders and five meetings of the technical committee were held in this regard. He said the Parliamentary Committee on National Security that was constituted after the incident of Abbottabad, will also be revived through a resolution and it will oversight the functioning of the military courts. Later, the House also passed “The Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill, 2017” with amendments. Under the bill, the tenure of the military courts will be extended for next two years effective from 7th January, 2017. The terrorists arrested will be presented for remand within 24 hours and the charge sheet will also be submitted.The accused will have right to hire private counsel, which is a step in the right direction. The law of evidence will also be applicable. The Senate on 28th March 2017 also unanimously passed the Constitution (28th Amendment Bill, 2017) envisaging an extension in the military courts for two years. In 2015, the National Assembly had then passed the 21st Constitutional Amendment and Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill 2015 extending jurisdiction of military courts to try terrorists unopposed, as 255 members had voted in favor of the laws which will provide constitutional cover to special/military courts for the trial of terrorism suspects. The statement of the objects and reasons said an extraordinary situation and circumstances exist which demanded special measures for speedy trial of offences relating to terrorism, waging war or insurrection against Pakistan and prevention of acts threatening the security of Pakistan.Two years ago, key decisions regarding implementation of the National Action Plan and national security were taken including formulation of a policy to regulate INGOs and local NGOs; renewal of armed licences, and a detailed policy had been prepared by the interior ministry over private security companies working inside Pakistan. It was decided to legislate for regulating the NGOs including their registration and funding. It had also been decided to crush those challenging the writ of the state, and those resorting to violence in the name of Islam be dealt with iron hand. Other points are: Taking effective steps against religious persecution, registration and regulation of madaras; ban on glorification of terrorism and terrorists organizations through print and electronic media; FATA reforms, dismantling communication networks of terrorist organizations, zero tolerance for militancy in Punjab, taking the ongoing operation in Karachi to its logical conclusion, and dealing firmly with sectarian terrorists.Anyhow, in the amendment bill 2017, the PPP withdrew the key conditions including the demand that military courts should be presided over by one sessions or additional session judge along with a military officer. The PPP also withdrew the recommendation that right of judicial review by high courts under Article 199 of the Constitution should be given to an accused and high court shall decide case within 60 days. Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani said he was against the establishment of military courts; two years back it was not the constitution that stopped him from opposing the military courts, but it was his own ‘timidity’. “Had I not been timid, I would have resigned from the Senate. I did not resign and opted for an escape route.” He has been candid in admitting his timidity or cowardice; but there was no need for such comments.In 2013 and even earlier, the security top echelons had been complaining about the holes in the anti-terrorism law, as a result of which terrorism suspects had gone scot-free by the courts for want of evidence, and then they continued with bloodletting of the innocent people and members of the security forces. Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed, while delivering his address to the full court reference given in his honor to bid him farewell at his elevation as judge of the Supreme Court in May 2012, had said: “Pakistan is perhaps one of the most regulated countries in the world with plethora of laws, yet the cherished goal of providing justice to the people remains elusive. It is the inefficiency of our legal system which has compromised its effectiveness. The procedures, rules, regulations and practices forming the basic fabric of the system were conceived in the 19th century and were perhaps best suited to the times”.The security agencies of Pakistan have been complaining that they catch the terrorists and terrorism suspects but those are let off the hook by the courts for want of evidence that could hold in the court. The problem is that human witnesses are loath to stand in the witness box to testify for the dread of terrorists and their ferocious sympathizers. Even the investigators shy away from collecting the hard evidence for fear of their own and their families’ lives. Coping up with such a multifaceted terrorism of huge enormity and dimensions decidedly require extraordinary measures. Anyhow, many accused had been released because of lack of evidence or out of fear due to lack of adequate security for witnesses, prosecutors and judges. Unfortunately, some unconscionable analysts are writing against revival of military courts, which amounts to showing utter disregard to the Parliament and will of the people.