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Military courts: a wrong move

Updated Dec 31, 2014 07:38am

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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


Comments (56) Closed



Krishna Prasad Dec 31, 2014 07:22am

The answer to prosecution of terrorists is quite clear and Dawn has beautifully summed it up in the last paragraph of the editorial. Instead of wasting national resources, money and time on committees, all party meetings - this editorial clearly brings out the right direction to resolve this issue. Judiciary - to expedite the process and the Judges be protected. During investigation and evidence gathering time- the police should take the full responsibility and provide all the material without delay. Unfortunately, police and investigating powers/people are either incompetent or unwilling to cooperate. Military courts is no solution anyway.

Afraz Dec 31, 2014 07:51am

Military courts are threat to democracy. To protect democracy, there should exist democracy.

Adnan A Dec 31, 2014 07:58am

They are good option because the regular courts are useless.

imranrahbar Dec 31, 2014 08:06am

dont just criticize propose a viable solution

Zubia Dec 31, 2014 08:07am

No, with due respects, Mr. Editor, its you who is wrong. Our judicial system, lawyers and judges, are incompetent, corrupt and lack courage. The police and jail system are phenomenal failures, about whom the less said the better. Collectively they have failed to charge and punish terrorists, who have had a free run on our lives. We don't care for democracy and associated nonsense when our children are dying. We CANNOT sacrifice our children at the alter of democracy.

Jehangir Dec 31, 2014 08:33am

Finally a voice of reason- Army courts would not solve the problem.

Ali Kamal Dec 31, 2014 08:43am

An insightful article; however, must people do not think objectively. I am from a military family and have lost friends and relatives in wars and terrorist attacks, I still do not support military courts. We need to empower judiciary and protect judges.

Malik Sb Dec 31, 2014 08:45am

No. Its not a wrong move. They are the need of time.

Lal Dec 31, 2014 09:04am

Another blunder by Pakistan. Instead of restricting Army to barracks the state leans on Army again for internal affairs. This sends a wrong message to the society. Pakistan is making a mockery of democracy which in any case is nothing new.

abp Dec 31, 2014 09:11am

Well said--Keep calling a spade a spade. Another brave write up after Babar Sattar's brilliant piece "Death squad as justice".

Hope folks in Islamabad and Pindi do read these well thought opinions.

yasmin Dec 31, 2014 09:16am

it is the need of the time to survive both as a nation & state

sunil Dec 31, 2014 09:22am

Need to protect judges and prosecutors whether civil of military if the criminal is to face full brunt of the law. Given the emergency situation (do or die) it is important to support the Government & Military and hope and pray that people with the special powers will use it judiciously and temporarily.

A massive long term reform in education curriculum and amendments to laws is also needed to put an end to the "factories of death" which largely effect Pakistan but also the neighboring countries be it Afghanistan, China, Bangladesh or India.

JS Dec 31, 2014 09:29am

A well written piece, but belated. The editor's perspective is sensibly articulated but unfortunately does not befit the current circumstances the country is engulfed in. Existential issues need to be handled differently. However, a good read. and just that.

K Alam Dec 31, 2014 09:39am

This is like valuing FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS at the cost of HUMAN LIFE in a country where rule of law is non-existential, where anyone can kill any other, where terror rules, where DEMOCRACY is merely the name of holding elections!

Abdul Rehman, U.S.A. Dec 31, 2014 09:59am

The current government has not been able to take action and hangs those terrorists who have killed our kids and people. The civil court process will challenged, delay and they will continue to be on loose. Meanwhile, the new group of terrorists would not be afraid to strike the heart of our country again. To deter the terrorism, the Pakistan should have a military courts in current situation, first hang or shoot all the terrorists, then decide how you could expedite the cases of terrorists in civil court in future.

I. Ahmed Dec 31, 2014 10:07am

Agreed, tell us the right move please? Just talking about constitution, democracy and laws will not eradicate brutal and barbaric terrorism that is faced by people of Pakistan. It is evident with the passage of time since Dec 16, 2014 the media, politicians and legal fraternity realizing that the public 'euphoria' is over is now coming out boldly against military courts. What double standards. Everything will go back to the callous and inhuman ways as it was before Dec 16. The PM is already back on road - rather motorway. Judiciary is saving its backside by opposing, media is opposing because they love the opinion of 'rights' activists and people, who cares, they can go back to their scary ways of living and the three pillars media, politicians and judiciary will be happy that they pushed the generals back. So sad and so inconsiderate of you all.

Md Asif Dec 31, 2014 10:13am

Gentlemen, We all are crazy about democracy, isn't it? Have you thought that how it works ? I hope you know that Democracy does not work without Education. Do you know what is the literacy rate in Pakistan? As per wiki, we are on 55% while India is on 74 %. Do you expect that uneducated 45% people, who are already suppressed under feudalism can bring the right leadership through democracy in the country? Obviously, almost half of the population who are working as servants or we may call them slaves under feudals, cannot give vote to someone else other than their Master. So the Master will be in power, again and again and again. Then his son will be in power again and again and again and the cycle goes on and on. This is the result what we are seeing now. Now who else is remaining? Islamicfanatic religious parties who were deadly against Pakistan creation at the time of partition. These parties playing with the religious emotions of the people. Not a single party among these have any agenda except playing with Islam for their own benefits (halwa manda) and keep repeating the same story of islamization another 200 years. First step is abolish feudal system, second is EDUCATION.Then you expect some results from Democracy. Right now we are seeing Democrazy not democracy.

Rafiq Ali Dec 31, 2014 10:30am

Military court is a bad omen to our democracy. Pakistan is making slow progress towards real democracy, secularism and equality. Military court will negate all of them. Army is good at protecting the nation and fighting its enemies, but they are not good rulers and not good at delivering social justice. Let us not burden the army with what they are not made for.

cheebz Dec 31, 2014 10:30am

There would have been no need of military courts had the Court system and the current Justice system provided any relativity of Justice! The Justice system doesnt even provide relief on relatively simple matters or on clear murder. When justice is not provided, people see else where. I am sorry say, but if Military courts are not setup and Current Justice system is also the way it is then people will start looking towards Daish/IS or self protection (which is already happening - people have stopped reporting to Police). If that happens, then forget military courts or Courts all together.

Babar Dec 31, 2014 10:33am

Without the military courts murderers and killers who killed the Governor of Punjab are more likely to become Pirs. The civilian Government of Pakistan Muslim League is corrupt, and has alliances with the fundamentalist groups. At this time of the country's juncture it cannot be trusted to care of terrorists. Unless the civilians government gets rid of nepotism, corruption and siding with the terrorists and religious bigots and fundamentalist and wishing to have dialogue with them, then I as an individual civilian citizen feel more comfortable with the military courts. I do not agree with the editorial!!!!

Jawad Dec 31, 2014 10:49am

Soooooo worried about the unconstitutional step by making military courts ---- Wish they worried about people / children's lives that much. Constitution is made for people protection , it's not the other way around. If it fails to protect people life and property -- how good the constitution is and what's it's use ? While people are being brutally killed by terrorists ,politicians are glorifying themselves , raving about their knowledge of constitution . How sad. While Man of action continues to do his job. The General. To me -- all this talk about democracy and constitution really doesn't matter if my kids and my family's lives are not safe. While half of the police force is protecting the few.

M Rafique Dec 31, 2014 10:53am

The present democratic system, PML (N) is not capable to handle any sort of national insurgency, there motive to hold power in the name democracy(actually it is dictator ship) and drive the benefit to get monetary strengthen for chosen ones

Saeed Dec 31, 2014 11:02am

Democracy be damned if it cannot provide what it is supposed to, pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. Survival of the state takes precedence over everything else and that includes the type of governance.

Shazzay Dec 31, 2014 11:05am

Civil Courts release People like Lakhvi, they couldn't deal with Killer like Mumtaz Qadri & Abdulaziz, & LEJ Chief Ishaq & list Goes on.

Military courts is not the solution so WHAT ELSE ? Should we sell this Country to USA or China ? NO? Well to me thats a fine Solution.

vin Dec 31, 2014 11:23am

@Shazzay I checked USA and China not interested.

ai Dec 31, 2014 11:28am

it should be mad .....miltry courts is the only solution to hang devils

Fazal Karim Dec 31, 2014 11:28am

Military courts are proposed because civil courts have failed to deter criminals through speedy trials. Judges and the prosecution machinery is under terrible fear of repercussion from terrorists and other criminals.Ninety percent of criminals are set free because of lac of evidence, because the witnesses are easily eliminated by the criminals.Instead of strengthening the police,prosecution and judiciary government finds it easy to to give this responsibility to army. Suppose if the judges(or their relations) of the military courts are threatened and eliminated by the terrorists, where do we stand? We must first sincerely strengthen civilian justice system. Every one right from law enforcement agencies to Judiciary should be given fool proof protection(including their relatives). Most important link in the whole process is the motivation and protection of witnesses. Witnesses will be encouraged to come forward if they have confidence in police, prosecuting agencies and judges.Which witnesses will risk life if he knows that corruption in police and judiciary will let the criminal go. After reform in the system, witnesses should be assured that if they are killed, government is there to look after their families. If a witness is killed his family should be immediately paid at least Rs sixty lacs. This is not much as compared to getting a crime free society.Personnel of the government machinery should also be similarly compensated.

aijaz hussain Dec 31, 2014 11:29am

its very urgent to made miltry courts its highly need of pak at ths stage ....

aijaz hussain Dec 31, 2014 11:37am

its highly need ths time... but unfortunately not seems to be made bcz NS and AZ are there in between ...God bless you pakistan

Iqbal Bhai Dec 31, 2014 11:37am

Objectively speaking you are right. Logically speaking you are wrong. With a complete failure of governance coupled with politicians indifference and even tacit support to militancy, there is nothing left than the military courts. If we sit and watch again, this will be our last time. Military courts are our last resort.

Fida Ahmed Advocate Dec 31, 2014 11:53am

@Zubia Dictatorship is no option either.

Deepak Talwar Dec 31, 2014 12:05pm

Today Military Courts. Tomorrow Martial Law.

Ali Dec 31, 2014 12:37pm

The military court are threat not only democracy but also to the judiciary, politicians and terrorists, questions arise why? Do these politicians are loyal to country, nation, politics? if yes then why they have shifted their wealth and property outside of the country? why they are not concern once over 60 thousand people lost their life;s? Why they are not concern once the 2013 election was rigged? Why they are not concern about the condition of civil departments? Why they are not concern about the corruptions? Why they are not concern about the situation in Thar?

Haroon Dec 31, 2014 12:52pm

You can't have first rate law enforcement with a third rate judicial system. Military courts are not the best option but they are necessitated by the conditions we face and the pathetic state of our judicial system.

Amjad Wyne Dec 31, 2014 01:00pm

Dawn, fixing the politicians, the judiciary, the police force, the forensics and the interrogation teams, the law makers, the intelligence teams, the lashkars, the madrassahas, the media and the mullahs, the vaderas and the sardars etc. etc. can take another twenty years after we have a working democracy...While you assume the responsibility of fixing them, why don't you please tell us what the nation should do till then. How should we deal with those that kill and burn innocents for fun and enjoyment.

neil Dec 31, 2014 01:01pm

Yes, military courts are not the answer, but what about civilian courts letting go free, convicted terrorists who can create further mayhem?

Shoaib Tirmazi Dec 31, 2014 01:37pm

I could not understand how political parities even thought of Miltary courts, and even your mentioning here so belated after seven days of that decision. are we in a confusion as a society-- ?I posted on my FB/ Twitter on the night of 23rd Dec-14, before that all parties meeting under the canopy of Pak Army:

"No military courts in any case, this is time to revamp our systems, and not to further deteriorate justice and other systems in the society. If Parliament is there it should use its right to legislate for shortcoming in the systems."

jogi Dec 31, 2014 01:44pm

civil courts failed.military courts will fail.no gas/electricity.where is the hope. will more religion bring hope or militancy.people want action but no body knows what action.l fear great chaos.

Asif Ahmed Dec 31, 2014 02:08pm

when the basic rights of an overwhelming majority are non-existent then why the furore over military courts?? this democracy has delivered nothing but massive corruption, total collapse of governance and law and order. it is not democracy, it's a mockery and a hideous and sick joke being played with the people of Pakistan.

shahid Dec 31, 2014 02:27pm

I would say only army court is the solution in unusual circumstances its a war civil judges can be threatened killed or bribed, w, America is still running army courts in Guantanamo bay since last 10 years , constitution or democracy are weakest institution could not save even 150 children, army has strength now who would you trust?

Raj Dec 31, 2014 02:28pm

Hasty move.Militry courts are presided over by Sr Militry officers who are not expert in legal matters although they are assisted by officers from militry legal department.They are short of legal experience of criminal natures and are capable of handling only routine Army discipline cases.

Ajamal Dec 31, 2014 02:30pm

@Zubia. There is no argument that our entire judicial system has failed but military courts are not an answer. Firstly, military's job is not to dispense justice and military itself has failed in its duties on many occasions (Mehran Base, GHQ, Parade Ground, Kamra, POF, etc) and that would also not mean replacing military with another force. In fact, our democracy fails us continuously but that should not be replaced by martial law since martial law has also failed us on numerous occasions. The answer to our failing institutions is steps towards their repair and improvements, as the rest of the world has demonstrated.

umer salahuddin Dec 31, 2014 02:57pm

Once a nation is at war then civil courts could not play an efficient role because of their slow process which expands for many years. To punish terrorists speedy trials is only solution and military courts is the answer. Is Pakistan important or lame democracy at this stage. We have to decide.democracy only prosper when there is peace in Pakistan.

Ajamal Dec 31, 2014 03:00pm

Military courts is not justice - it is "extra judicial killing". The examples from past experience are too horrific.

Ajamal Dec 31, 2014 03:03pm

Why government is talking ONLY of military courts as if "would be terrorists" would deter? Why the government and the military are not telling us about their actions to address their failings in the intelligence and policing system?

Ajamal Dec 31, 2014 03:09pm

Excellent analysis. Threat of attack on the schools --- close the schools and declare extended holidays (in fear of public reprisals)

Abbas Ali Dec 31, 2014 03:29pm

A judicial oversight is required here. Unfortunately our judicial system, like every other organ of the state, is in shambles. When the chiefs of banned organizations like LJ or LeT are freed by our legal system you can't just put your faith on the judiciary. Its simple, either you save our country, or save the democracy.

Haseeb Dec 31, 2014 03:34pm

@Afraz who cares about democracy when there is an existential threat. Democracy, sofar has only expedited the deterioration of the society by exponentially increasing corruption.

John Dec 31, 2014 04:08pm

MQM was right from the beginning.

Muhammad Dec 31, 2014 05:47pm

Military courts = Shortcuts to investigation, prosecution and trial = injustice.

sikandar Dec 31, 2014 07:57pm

Miltery court is good option, I am not saying that regular court's are incompetent, I am saying that In this you can't protect the judges of regular court's & also they have lot of burden of other case's. .. so if we want to save our country from terrorist then we should make Miltery court's that can give decision quickly without any threat....

Jalaluddin S. Hussain Dec 31, 2014 10:51pm

I agree with the following question and your response 100%:

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.

Naeem Sajjad Dec 31, 2014 11:47pm

Democracy should not be considered more substantial than the lives of the innocents.So,military courts are indispensible.

Shehryar Jan 01, 2015 01:10am

A great editorial by dawn

sara Jan 01, 2015 01:12am

Many will disagree with this editorial because it tells the truth. Kudos to The Editor!

Annie Jan 02, 2015 09:44am

@Ali You are right. I am really surprised that literate people are also in favor of military courts. Please be democratic...