ISLAMABAD: Parliament on Tuesday adopted the 21st Constitutional Amendment Bill and the The Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill, 2015 unopposed after 247 Members of National Assembly along with the Senate voted in favour of the laws aimed to set up constitutionally protected military courts to try civilian terrorism suspects.
Members of the National Assembly belonging to the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F (JUI-F) abstained from voting.
The session of National Assembly adjourned until 11am tomorrow (Jan 7).
Speaking in the Senate, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif spoke as to why it was necessary to pass the amendment bill.
"This bill is about military courts trying hardcore terrorists who kill Pakistanis...this is an important day for Pakistan when the nation decided that terrorists will be taken out from the roots," he said.
“I want to thank all the party heads and their parliamentary representatives for attending committees and sharing their thoughts and advice on this highly important bill. This bill was created with the help of everyone's common agreement,” the PM said.
"Through this bill, we can overcome the last 60 years of unrest which should have ended years ago," he said.
The prime minister also expressed a conciliatory approach to political parties that did not vote in favor of the bill in the National Assembly.
"The parties that were in disagreement of this law, we understood their point of view and tried our best to address their reservations and their point of view was also accommodated.
"Therefore if they could not vote for it at the National Assembly I would urge them to vote for it in the Senate," he said.
The provisions of the Act shall remain in force for a period of two years from the date of its commencement.
The constitutional amendment bill was required to be passed by two-thirds of the total participants in both the 342-seat National Assembly and the 104-seat Senate; however, for amendment in the Army Act, a simple majority was required.
Read more : Draft of amendment bill
The two bills – the Constitution (Twenty-first Amendment) Bill and the Pakistan Army (Amendment) — were expected to have been passed a day earlier but voting was deferred after the government fell short of the required two-thirds majority – 228 members – for the passage of the amendments.
Khursheed Shah delivers opening speech
Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly, Syed Khursheed Ahmed Shah, delivered the opening speech of the session during which he said that, "We have not been in favour of military courts in the past but the Pakistani public's safety is our priority and it is the governments responsibility to keep the masses safe in this country," the veteran Pakistan Peoples Party leader added.
"No matter who it is, no one can speak against religion. The country has been a victim of terrorism for a long time. It is a sin for us to even pass laws here which go against the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)."
The opposition leader said that the Pakistani nation believes in unity and that terrorism must be dealt with.
"The Parliament is going to vote to save Pakistan. The bitter pill of this new law is being swallowed for the security of Pakistan. Murdering one person is like killing all humanity," Shah said. "It doesn't matter if the person is from grammar school, Aitchison or a government school – there will be no differences between any terrorist."
He added that the proposed law is against those who carried out a suicide attack against late Qazi Hussain and against those who had recently carried out three suicide attacks against JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman.
Only 218 members were present during Monday’s session of the National Assembly– 10 legislators short of the required number.
Furthermore, two religious parties and two smaller government allies seemingly rattled the government in the National Assembly on Monday, opposing some religion-related passages of one of the amendment bills 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.
Moreover, main opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (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.
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.
A breakfast to tie some loose ends
Around 150 parliamentarians from various political parties were attending the breakfast meeting called by the prime minister on Tuesday.
JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Qaumi Watan Party chairman Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao were among those absent from the meeting which was being held in the Speaker’s Lounge.
Premier Sharif took the guest parliamentarians into confidence on bills empowering military courts and assured them that the law would not be misused.
He stressed that the measures were the need of the hour and reservations held by JUI-F would be adequately addressed.
Separately, a government delegation comprising Kamran Murtaza, Barrister Zafarullah and Pervaiz Rasheed was also meeting the JUI-F chief in order to convince him to vote in favour of the amendment bills.
Fazl’s objection remains on the specification of religious and sectarian groups in the bills. Meanwhile, sources said lawmakers from Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) have said that if specifications in relation to religious and sectarian groups engaged in terrorist activities were removed, the amendments would have no real meaning.
Government sources have however said that they would try to arrive at a middle ground in this case.
Preambles to the bills
The preambles to both the bills were largely identical, citing “extraordinary situation and circumstances” that they said demanded “special measures for speedy trial of certain offences relating to terrorism, waging of war or insurrection against Pakistan” and prevention of acts threatening the country’s security by “any terrorist or terrorist group using the name of religion or a sect and members of such armed groups, wings and militias”.
However, the Pakistan Army (Amendment) added two key new sub-clauses in the existing act describing people or groups that could be punished under the new law.
The sub-clauses (iii) and (iv), to be inserted in clause (d) of sub-section (1) of section 2, after sub-clause (ii) are:
(iii) Any person who is or claims or is known to belong to any terrorist group or organisation using the name of religion or a sect and raises arms or wage war against Pakistan or attacks the armed forces of Pakistan and law enforcement agencies, or attacks any civil or military installation in Pakistan or kidnaps any person for ransom or causes death of any person or injury, or is in possession, storage, fabrication or transport of explosives, firearms, instruments, articles, suicide jackets or vehicles designed to be used for terrorist acts, or receives or provides funding from any foreign or local sources for such illegal activities and acts or does any act to overawe the state or any section of the public or a sect or a religious minority or to create terror or insecurity in Pakistan or attempts to commit any of the said acts, within or outside Pakistan shall be punished under this act;
(iv): Any person who is or claims or is known to belong to any terrorist group or organisation using the name of religion or a sect, commits an offence mentioned at serial Nos. (i), (ii), (iii), (v), (vi), (vii), (viii)), (ix), (x), (xi) (xii), (xiii), (xv), (xvi), (xvii) and (xx) in the schedule to the Protection of Pakistan Act 2014 (X of 2014).
However, according to an official press release, the law minister has sent a letter to the National Assembly secretary giving notice of an amendment to his draft bill to insert in the above-mentioned sub-clause (iv) to include any person who “raises arms or wages war against Pakistan” among those to be punished.
The bill explains that the expression “sect” would mean a sect of religion and “does not include any political party registered under any law for the time being in force”.
Draft of amendment bill
Whereas extraordinary situation and circumstances exist which demand special measure for speedy trial of certain offences relating to terrorism, waging of war or insurrection against Pakistan and for prevention of acts threatening the security of Pakistan by the terror-in groups formed in the name of religion or a sect and also by the members of any private armies, armed groups, wings and militia;
And whereas there exists grave and unprecedented threat to the integrity of Pakistan by the raising of arms and insurgency in name of religion and sects, and foreign and locally funded anti-state elements including warriors in the name of the religion or sect;
And whereas it is expedient that the said terrorists groups including any such terrorists fighting in the name of religion or sect captured or to be captured in combat with the Armed Forces or otherwise are tried by the courts established under the Acts mentioned hereinafter in section 2;
And whereas the people of Pakistan have expressed their firm resolve through their chosen representatives in the all parties conference held in aftermath of the sad and terrible terrorist attack on the Army Public School at Peshawar on 16 December 2014 to permanently wipe out and eradicate terrorists from Pakistan it is expedient to provide constitutional protection to the necessary measures taken hereunder in the interest of security and integrity of Pakistan;
It is now enacted as under:
Short title and commencement. — (1) This Act may be called the Constitution (Twenty First Amendment) Act, 2014. (2) It shall come into force at once.
(3) It shall extend to the whole of Pakistan.
(4) The provisions of this Act shall remain in force for a period of two (2) years from the date of its enactment and shall cease to form part of the Constitution and shall stand repealed on the expiration of the said period.
Amendment of Article 175 of the Constitution. After Article 175(3) the following proviso shall be added namely: “Provided that the provisions of this Article shall have no application to the trial of persons under any of the Acts mentioned at serial No.6, 7 & 8 of section 3 of this Act who claims or is known to belong to any terrorist group or organisation formed in the name of religion or sect.
Amendment in the First Schedule of the Constitution.- ln the First Schedule, In Part I (III), after entry 5, the following new entries shall be made:
The Pakistan Army Act 1952.
The Pakistan Air Force Act 1953.
The Pakistan Navy Ordinance 1961.
The Protection of Pakistan Act, 2014.
Overriding effect.- The provisions of this Act shall have effect, notwithstanding, anything contained In the Constitution, any law for the time being in force or any Judgment of a court including the Supreme Court.
Consider that where previous constitutional amendments during civilian dispensations were designed to clear the mess left behind by military dictators, this time it is the civilians who will be muddying the document to empower the army further. The 21st constitutional amendment will stand as a monument to the betrayal of the civilian, democratic cause.