ISLAMABAD: The first meeting of parliamentary parties on the issue of revival of the controversial military courts for trial of civilians charged with terrorism remained inconclusive on Tuesday, with mainstream political parties reluctant to give the green signal to the government to extend their tenure, which expired on Jan 7.
The government sought an extension of another two years for the military tribunals. Although the main political parties — the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) — disagreed with the government’s point of view, they kept the option of dialogue open on the issue. They came up with a unanimous stance that they would make a decision on the basis of the two-year performance of the military courts.
As the meeting chaired by National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq in the Parliament House remained inconclusive, it was decided that parliamentary parties would meet again on Jan 17 when the government would provide reasons for extending the period of military courts and a report on their two years’ performance.
If the government managed to persuade the opposition at the next meeting, legislation in the Constitution would be required for revival of the military courts, the meeting was informed.
After the meeting, the NA speaker told reporters that it was an initial meeting and another one would be held on Jan 17 to discuss more issues. “Today the meeting focused the issues of military courts and National Accountability Bureau’s performance,” he said.
PTI vice-chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi wanted the government to answer six questions before the next meeting so that his party could decide whether it should accept or reject the proposed reinstatement of military courts. “We have placed six queries and sought details of two years’ performance of military courts,” he said.
He said he would put the whole situation before his party leadership and if the party agreed to the government’s proposal, it would ask for details of military courts’ past performance.
“For how long the government will rely on military courts,” Mr Qureshi asked.
The PTI also asked the government to form a much-desired national security committee of parliament as promised by the latter and said the government had failed to implement the National Action Plan (NAP) in letter and spirit.
Mr Qureshi asked the government to explain what achievements the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and antiterrorism courts had made so far as well as the overall law and order situation in the country.
He said the government side wanted two-year extension in the tenure of military courts, but failed to muster support of even two of its allies — JUI-F and PkMAP – at the meeting.
The opposition, he said, was of the view that the government had been allowed to establish military courts for two years on the condition that it would bring some reforms to the country’s justice system. “However, the government failed to introduce even a single reform,” he regretted.
The meeting took place a day after the federal government initiated consultations to introduce a constitutional amendment reinstating the controversial courts for a period of time all political parties agree upon.
Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah said the government had presented its point of view at the meeting. “The issues of military courts, Operation Zarb-i-Azb and national security committee of parliament were discussed today,” he added.
He claimed that his party had countered the decision of establishing military courts at every step.
Another PPP leader, Naveed Qamar who was present in the meeting, said his party was compelled to give vote in favour of military courts, but it was now opposing its extension.
Talking to Dawn, PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar said the party would take its decision after having a detailed briefing from the government on military courts. “Although we opposed military courts from day one, we want to know that how many jet black terrorists and common criminals were hanged by the military courts.”
He regretted that the military authorities had informed execution of convicts only through tweets without giving their names, addresses and reasons of capital punishment.
Sahibzada Tariqullah of the JI told reporters that his party would hold a consultative meeting to take a decision on the military courts. “We should strengthen civilian courts instead of giving extension to the military courts,” he said.
The military courts were allowed to try civilians accused of terrorism for a period of two years in Jan 2015 soon after an terror attack on the Army Public School in Dec 2014, in which 144 people, mostly children, were killed by Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan militants.
The courts were given a constitutional cover as the two houses of parliament passed 21st amendment despite fears among lawmakers that the tribunals they were authorising would not be able to ensure due process to the suspects and might undermine democracy.
Published in Dawn January 11th, 2017