Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017
Home »Editorials » ‘A cup of poison hemlock’?
Pakistan People's Party (PPP) has described the agreement on military courts as 'a cup of poison hemlock'. Before something is said about the political parties' near-unanimous decision to reinstate military courts for another two years, it must be conceded that they very well acquitted up to their expected mandate. They delivered justice against terrorists almost right on the spot, which was not the case with normal courts, and thus greatly helped stem the rising tide of terrorism in the country. And when self-serving political considerations barred their reinstatement and they ceased to function the terrorists returned with a sense of vengeance. Of the forces that stood in the way of their revival the most prominent were the Pakistan People's Party and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Fazl), and their opposition - though camouflaged as principle-based - was in fact embedded in their political interests. But all that is behind us now. Of its nine amendments in the government draft for the proposed constitutional amendment, the PPP has withdrawn five, and thus stepped back from its initial stand which if conceded would have resulted in recreation of military courts but without their biting teeth. The JUI (F) too surrendered its otherwise frivolous stance - on its insistence from the wording "use and misuse of religious groups" the word "use" would be omitted. The four changes the PPP demanded include that the accused would be presented before a court within 24 hours of his arrest and that the Qanoon-i-Shahadat (Law of Evidence) would be enforced. The revived military courts should have no problem with these changes - except for the Catch-22 situation that tends to evolve in the wake of Supreme Court's latest declaration that civil laws are not applicable on military courts.

One would hate to differ with the Supreme Court Bar Association chief's assertion that there is "no opportunity of a fair trial in military courts". But what then there is on the ground or in hand to stop incessant spilling of innocent blood by terrorists. Of course better option, as he proposed, is an improved criminal justice system. But what to do if that is not there, and ordinary courts find it quite problematic to punish those accused of committing terrorism. When enacted, the National Action Plan did commit to carry out judicial reforms which should have ushered in an efficient, workable criminal justice system. But that has not happened. No doubt there was tinkering with the existing laws here and there, but the fact remains that both the general body of law prevalent in Pakistan still retains its antiquity. It is therefore quite heartening to note that the government and opposition have decided to constitute a high-powered parliamentary committee to "oversee government efforts to enact necessary judicial reforms to strengthen the criminal system, monitor the implementation of the National Action Plan and other matters of national security." Will this committee also "oversee military courts," as reported in a section of media. One hopes not - let these courts function independent of any oversight, and their verdicts should be challengeable nowhere but in the appellant courts, although Senate chairman Raza Rabbani averred that "it was a very sad day ... today we are again abrogating the constitution. Two years back, the government had pledged to take the required measures [implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP)] but it did not."

Copyright Business Recorder, 2017

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