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January 1, 2015

Political parties fear military courts may target them


January 1, 2015

ISLAMABAD: A primary reason behind expressing reservations to creation of military courts by some political parties is their strong apprehension that these forums might be used against politicians.Whether any political party has publicly aired such fears or not, every one of them has substantial worries in the back of their mind that politicians may fall victim to such courts.However, this fear apart, no parliamentary party is opposed to the establishment of military courts if they exclusively try terrorists because all want elimination of terrorism by employing every possible means and tool. All political forces want conviction of militants on fast-track basis.
Every parliamentary force including even the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had consented to the proposal, though hesitantly, after exhaustive discussions. “We are sure that the parliamentary parties will agree to the creation of these courts at the end of the day as we are trying to allay their apprehensions,” a senior source which is part of the high-level consultations presided over by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told The News.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which has now partially differed with the proposal, had stamped its approval on it during the December 24 second meeting of the top parliamentary leaders, which was also attended by Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif and Director General of the Inter-Services (ISI) Lt-Gen Rizwan Akhtar.
When the recommendation was floated in the lengthy session, PTI Chairman Imran Khan had sought time to mull over it but endorsed it just after half an hour in the same deliberations.
However, his nominee, Hamid Khan, advocate, held the view in Monday’s meeting of constitutional experts that the PTI was opposed to the military courts. On the other hand, PTI Information Secretary Dr Shireen Mazari quickly contradicted Hamid Khan saying that her party was not against such bodies. Confusion about the PTI’s policy has

unnecessarily been spawned.
Almost same is the case with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). In the December 24 discussions, its representatives had also agreed to the proposal. The biggest support, though slightly conditional, to the setting up of the military courts had come from a person no less than PPP chief and former president Asif Ali Zardari. He had stated at the death anniversary congregation of Benazir Bhutto in Garhi Khuda Bux on December 27 that his party has backed the recommendation with the condition that these courts will not target politicians.
However, PPP Senator Raza Rabbani has now expressed reservations over military courts and advised the government to learn lessons from thepast as two civilian regimes were toppled by martial laws. It was always during the PML-N stints that such courts were set up, he said.
However, PPP Senator Aitzaz simplified the creation of military courts saying that they can be established by bringing about a change in an ordinary law that the Parliament can pass with a simple majority, and there is no need of any constitutional amendment. “We rejected the draft presented by the attorney general in Monday’s meeting and offered a very brief and simple amendment in a law to satisfy the mandate of the December 24 deliberations.”
Former Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry has also described the proposed setting up of military courts as unconstitutional. “Military courts are illegal and unconstitutional. The basic structure of the Constitution guarantees an independent judiciary, and military courts cannot be created in the presence of an independent judiciary.”
The Jamaat-e-Islami was the first political party that had stood against the idea of military courts. But in the December 24 session, it too had changed its mind, though reluctantly. The political parties continue to highlight their fears and apprehensions despite the fact that General Raheel Sharif has categorically assured the parliamentary leaders that he guarantees that these forums would only try ‘jet black terrorists’ with the objective of getting rid of the scourge of terrorism and would not arraign any political figure.
The parliamentary parties, which concurred to the proposal in the presence of the COAS but are disapproving it afterward, are following a hypocritical policy. It is quite possible that they will be fully on board after another meeting on the pattern of the one held on December 24.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has made it clear that the creation of the military courts is part of the 20-point National Action Plan (NAP), which was unanimously approved by all the parliamentary parties.
As per the NAP, the military courts are to function for two years. As they try and convict hardcore terrorists, the government may use this period to massively rectify the normal criminal justice system so as to enable it to meet the new challenges.
The final go-ahead to the establishment of military courts from all the parliamentary parties may be forthcoming with some more discussions and efforts by the prime minister and the army leadership. But the biggest test these forums will face will come when they will be challenged in a superior court especially in view of the fact that the Supreme Court had declared such tribunals null and void back in 1999.
Generally, the superior courts treat special tribunals as a parallel judiciary, which, they are sure, is not allowed under the Constitution. Whenever special courts have been disputed at a judicial forum, superior courts have been laying down strict guidelines to be followed by them where the parties involved are given the due right of hearing, defence and appeal.

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