In the wake of massacre at Peshawar's Army Public School in December 2014, Pakistan looked so much vulnerable to rising incidence of terrorism. But two years on it is no more: the Operation Zarb-e-Azb and military courts have played a profound role in dealing with this challenge. While the military operation has cleared the tribal areas of terrorists the military courts dealt with 274 cases, awarding death penalty to 161 convicts, 12 among them already executed. The rest were awarded imprisonments of varying durations. So if anything struck terror into the hearts of the wannabe terrorists, it was the military courts' prompt verdicts. But those very courts which greatly helped eradicate the menace of terrorism have ceased to exist because their two-year constitutional cover expired on January 7, 2017. Nonetheless, given that the challenge of terrorism is fast acquiring a global dimension and tends to attract new recruits from far and wide with yet more sinister agendas there is the felt need for their revival. Ideally, the government should have felt that need well in time and taken appropriate steps towards the extension of their constitutional cover. But that was not done - a lapse perhaps deliberate as reflected from Punjab law minister's much-quoted remark 'what is remarkable about the performance of the military courts'. But that's probably no more the case; at the third meeting, on February 7, the government appears to be ready for the revival of military courts for another two-year term. Its only problem now is the consenting nods by its parliamentary allies Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP). The leaders of these two parties have publicly expressed their opposition to the revival of military courts but not with much of cogent logic. Their presence at the briefing given to the parliamentary leaders on Tuesday by the military intelligence officials might have helped them rethink their hard positions on the question of revival. Hopefully, they would be there at the next meeting, on February 16, where a decision in favour of extension is likely to be clinched.
Since the revival of military courts is possible only by amending the constitution, which in this case should be the introduction of the 25th Amendment, the government is expected to secure maximum support in both the houses of parliament. Given the sensitivity of the issue this support should be from across the board, as was the case at the time of these courts were given the constitutional cover. So there is some work cut out for the government by the parliamentary opposition. The opposition has called upon the prime minister to convene an All-Party Conference to arrive at a unanimous decision on the issue of revival of these courts. They also demanded that a parliamentary committee be set up 'to review all the anti-terrorist laws and anti-terrorism strategy'. But going by the optimism underlying National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq's take that a 'breakthrough' was made on Tuesday, and the decision would be taken at the next meeting in the 'best national interest', the extension in the tenure of military courts is almost certain. As to what exactly was conveyed by the military intelligence officials to the parliamentary leaders there is no information. They must have made a very convincing case which seems to have won over the parliamentary leaders to their side insofar as the revival of military courts is concerned. Since justification for establishment of military courts and their jurisdiction are equally a matter of interest, if not concern, with the legal fraternity and civil society, these deliberations might have been made public. If winning over the consent of parliamentarians is necessary because extension is possible only by amending the constitution it is no less vital that the move gels with the man in the street, for it is he who happens to be the prime target of terrorism.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2017