ISLAMABAD: Two religious parties and two smaller government allies seemed to have rattled the government in the National Assembly on Monday, opposing some religion-related passages of a key constitution amendment bill despite assurances from Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan that speedy trial military courts sought to be set up to try terrorists would be no kangaroo courts.
It was earlier expected that the Constitution (Twenty-first Amendment) Bill, tabled in the house on Saturday at military’s behest, would steer quickly without much ado after it was exempted from scrutiny by a house standing committee soon after its introduction, so it could go to the Senate on Tuesday.
But Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq allowed a previously unexpected debate after the government-allied Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F (JUI-F) expressed its reservations at a news conference before coming to the house.
The main opposition PPP also conveyed to the government its hesitation to vote for military courts on the 87th birth anniversary of its founder, executed former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
NA debate on 21st amendment to resume today
JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman said in a speech in the house that the government had not consulted his party in drafting the bill despite being an ally. He objected to some passages citing groups “using religion and a sect” in describing terrorists to be punished by the proposed military courts, seeing the wording discriminatory against religious groups and madressahs.
Though he said the government side had contacted his party to resolve the issue, his objection was supported by the opposition Jamaat-i-Isami’s parliamentary leader Sahibzada Tariqullah and two more government allies — Ghaus Bakhsh Mahar of the Pakistan Muslim League-F and Mohammad Ejazul Haq of Pakistan Muslim League-Zia, a son of former military dictator Gen Ziaul Haq.
The brief constitution amendment bill, meant to remain in force for up to two years, refers twice in its preamble to perceived “terrorist groups using the name of religion or a sect” threatening Pakistan’s security or “raising arms and insurgency”.
Similar expressions have been used four times in a bill seeking to amend the Pakistan Army Act, 1952, which was also introduced on Saturday and seeks to expand the act’s scope to try civilian terrorism and extremism suspects.
Claiming he was speaking for all Islamic schools of thought in the country, the JUI-F chief said “we want such words deleted” so there was no difference outside of parliament” after a national consensus on fighting terrorism achieved at conference of political leaders convened by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Friday.
But what the interior minister called an unseemly course forced on the government by an abnormal situation, was strongly supported by Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) parliamentary leader Farooq Sattar, who said it was time to ask “you are either with us or against us”.
And government-allied Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party leader Mahmood Khan Achakzai said military courts should be accepted in the same way as Muslims were permitted to eat pork or blood if they could save one’s life.
Chaudhry Nisar, speaking in the presence of the prime minister, said citizens having nothing to do with terrorism need not fear military courts which he said would honour conventions on human rights.
“They will neither be something frightening nor kangaroo courts,” he said.
The debate will resume on Tuesday, when the house is due to meet at 10.30am.
Published in Dawn, January 6th, 2015