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Military courts: a wrong move

Updated Dec 31, 2014 07:38am
.—Online/File
.—Online/File

PAKISTAN should not have military courts, not in the expanded form envisioned by the military and political leadership of the country, not to try civilians on terrorism charges and not even for a limited period of time.

Military courts are simply not compatible with a constitutional democracy.

In the immediate aftermath of the Peshawar school massacre, politicians and the military leadership rightly came together to respond urgently to the terror threat that stalks this country.

Also read: PTI, PPP rethink support for mly courts

What they did wrong was to decide on military courts as the lynchpin of a new strategy to fight terrorism.

Perhaps with a country convulsed with grief and the PML-N government on weak ground — given that until recently the party was insisting on dialogue with the elements behind the Peshawar calamity — there was little resistance to the military’s demand that terrorist suspects be tried in military courts, and presumably summarily executed thereafter.

Perhaps also the full range of opposition political parties present were overawed by the presence of the army chief and DG ISI in Peshawar, and those opposed to military courts decided that it was futile to oppose them in the circumstances.

Whatever the thinking of the political leadership that has brought the country to the verge of amending the Constitution and sundry laws to allow military courts to try terrorism suspects, it was unquestionably wrong.

Belatedly, some conscientious members of the political leadership have begun to speak out, led by senators who are perhaps less encumbered by party discipline than members of other legislatures.

When a new system of so-called justice requires overriding constitutionally guaranteed rights and the independence of the judiciary, surely that is no solution — even to terrorism and militancy.

There is a further problem, one mostly left unsaid: military courts are a populist move, meant to show a frightened public that the state can still be relied on to keep the peace and secure the nation.

Such populism often only begets more populism, leading to more deviations from the democratic path until there is no democracy left, not even in name.

This country has travelled down the path towards authoritarianism and dictatorship too many times, with too many disastrous consequences, to countenance deviations from a constitutional democracy today.

The question that should be asked is, why is the criminal justice system so poor at convicting the guilty? There are really just three steps: investigation, prosecution and judicial.

While the courts are often maligned for allowing the accused to walk free, it is at the investigation and prosecution stages that most of the cases are already lost. And where the judiciary is at fault, it is often because of a lack of protection offered to trial judges.

Can those problems not be urgently fixed in Pakistan? Does not a democratic system exist to strengthen and buttress the democratic system? Military courts are certainly not the answer.

Published in Dawn, December 31st, 2014