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February 20, 2017

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Parliamentary parties tend to okay military courts

Parliamentary parties tend to okay military courts

ISLAMABAD: The usual haggling and wrangling apart, the parliamentary parties appear willing to give the military courts the powers to try civilian terrorists in view of the recent consecutive terrorist attacks.

When these powers ended in early January as per the sundown clause of the 21st constitutional amendment, it seemed that most stakeholders do not feel the need to extend this authority as the threat of terrorism had substantially subsided due to relentless campaign against terrorists over the past two years.

However, the spate of bombing last week that claimed some 100 lives revived the necessity of extension of these powers without any delay. Although there is hardly any parliamentary party that is openly opposing the proposal, most of them are simply wasting time in reaching a consensus on one lame excuse or the other. The issue is being unnecessarily dragged for frivolous reasons.

Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has forcefully pleaded for extension of these powers of the military courts. Former Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf has aired a similar opinion. Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who has been in the forefront in rejecting the idea, has also favoured it. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is also disposed to it.

As the military courts worked for two years, none of their judgments turned out to be very controversial because they had tried only “jet black” terrorists, who had been found involved in heinous crimes. Although the superior courts were barred under the constitutional amendment to hear appeals against these decisions, the convicts challenged them. At times, this delayed the execution of those sentenced by the military courts.

When the amendments in the Constitution and the Pakistan Army Act were prepared last time, there was a rare unanimity among all the parliamentary parties. The army had pushed for these changes. The Nawaz Sharif government was all for such amendments due to the monumental threat of terrorism. A similar consensus is the need of the hour now. Previously, the Supreme Court had also approved these amendments. Thus, the judiciary had made its contributions to award stern punishments to terrorists.

At one stage of the ongoing consultations among the parliamentary parties, it appeared last week that the discussants have agreed to the extension of the powers of the military courts. But again, petty politics crept in, sabotaging the likely agreement for the time being.

It is appalling that the parliamentary forces are not quickly realising the urgency and emergency to let the military courts take up the cases against terrorists to give a message to them that they will be dealt with like the past.

In January, the federal government was also apparently not pushed to the extension of these powers, and had announced to transfer all the cases pending before the military courts to the anti-terrorism courts. But the recent gory episodes have completely changed its mind and it is now pushing the parliamentary parties to arrive at a consensus sooner than later.

In this connection, Finance Minister Senator Ishaq Dar has launched efforts to break the deadlock and talked to parliamentary leaders of different parties, underlining the need for a prompt decision in the wake of renewed terror attacks. He has held a discussion with National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq and asked him to facilitate early convening of a meeting of the parliamentary committee on military courts so that a decision could be made as soon as possible.

He has also talked to Fazlur Rehman and his brother Senator Ataur Rehman, parliamentary leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in the National Assembly Syed Naveed Qamar, PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Qaumi Watan Party chief Aftab Sherpao.

The parliamentary parties are required not to waste more time when the security forces, police and counter terrorism departments (CTD) of Punjab and Sindh are doing a good job in taking on the terrorists. The Punjab CTD has already arrested an alleged facilitator of the Lahore suicide attack while there are reports that Sindh authorities have also apprehended an alleged facilitator of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar suicide bomber from the outskirts of Khairpur. He is being interrogated. During initial interrogation, he has revealed that Hafeez Birohi group of Shikarpur is involved in Sehwan Sharif bombing. This group which was previously affiliated with Lashkar-e-Jhangi is associated with Daesh now.

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