THAT these are trying times was fully evidenced by the presence on Wednesday of all the political parties around the table for an emergency discussion on the ways to deal with the monster of terrorism.
Ultimately, it seems, they were required to be there to endorse the setting up of special courts to be headed by military officials. Some of the parties present agreed with the idea readily. Others took their time, but in the end were made to see ‘reason’ and agree to a controversial mode of ‘speedy justice’.
Also read: How the reluctant were brought round
True, the civilian justice system is flawed and tardy in the dispensation of justice. But what will military courts achieve, given the increasing possibility of miscarriage of justice that experience has shown they bring with them? They not only encroach on the civilian domain of justice, they often render it redundant.
The Supreme Court judges had also assembled in Islamabad on Wednesday to discuss ways of streamlining the trial proceedings and meet the demand for expeditious justice. But by the end of the day it was clear that their effort was deemed insufficient for dealing with terrorism if not altogether irrelevant.
Notwithstanding the unusual circumstances and the justifications that have been given for the military courts, this was not a happy sight. It was not a happy sign for those who had been pursuing the cause of an independent judiciary.
It was the confirmation of the worst fears of those who have been accusing the governments of neglecting the job of building upon the free-judiciary theme to a point where the judges could be fully empowered. In what could lead to greater complications, these civilian courts may now be asked to adjudicate on the validity of the military courts.
A few politicians at the meeting in which the consensus on setting up the special courts was reached did express their reservations, but apparently that was more out of ritual. It was clear that the army leadership which was also present was not going to settle for anything less than military courts.
Some of the politicians were keen on making an impact on the proceedings, and they insisted on a time frame for the law. The emphasis was not needed since everyone knew that the military courts would come with a time frame. Then apprehensions were expressed about the possible misuse of the law against political workers — whereas there should have been concern about it being used against people in general above political affiliations.
The politicians were there not in the interest of the parties, but to give their feedback on how the superimposing of the military over the civilian will by and large affect the system that they have a responsibility to run and improve. Back in the comfort of their camps, they should be asking themselves whether they fulfilled this responsibility.
Published in Dawn, December 26th, 2014