THE decision by the full bench of the Supreme Court to suspend the death sentences awarded by military courts to six convicted terrorists is the right and courageous one and ought to have been taken earlier. Far too many individuals in far too many quarters have cheered on the death sentences as just and deserved — with only the vaguest details of who has been convicted, under what circumstances and for what specific crimes having being revealed in the most shameful of circumstances.

Perversely, the Supreme Court itself is now being criticised for belatedly doing its job by supporters of military courts. In the desperation to wreak vengeance on militants for the ghastly atrocity that was Peshawar, the cheerleaders for military courts appear willing to sacrifice the structure and principles of the state itself. There must, at all times, be a basic separation of powers: parliament legislates, judiciary interprets. And at all times, all institutions of the state must hold the rights of the people paramount. Violate those principles and neither will militancy be eradicated nor will the society and state emerging from this war be recognisable as anything close to the foundational values of this country.

To critics of the Supreme Court’s temporary decision and proponents of the new, post-December regime of military courts, there is also a straightforward response. Yes, there is a desperate need to draw up a coherent and cohesive policy to fight militancy here, but military courts can be no part of such a strategy, in principle or in practice. Consider what is now known about the six men who were, before the Supreme Court’s intervention, sentenced to be executed in the name of the power that the people have invested in the state.

They were effectively sentenced to death (the appeals process under the new legislation will surely be even more abbreviated and limited than the trial itself) because the military has accused them of being terrorists. If the military is convinced of the militancy connections of these six men, and knows the specific crimes they have committed, why is it so difficult for the same evidence to be produced in a reasonable manner before reasonable individuals? The notion that the judiciary is an incurable ally of militancy is preposterous. By the same token that the military has convinced itself of the guilt of certain individuals, why can it not convince others of the same? The Supreme Court has done the right thing.

Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2015

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