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Military courts’ revival on the horizon

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Slowly but stubbornly, and mostly out of view of the public, a debate on the revival of military courts for civilians appears to be edging towards a decision to reactivate the courts.

A draft law by the government that appears to have been shared with parliamentary leaders proposes, according to news reports, a three-year extension for military courts.

The last time this debate was held, shock and horror at the Army Public School attack in Peshawar overwhelmed broader constitutional and rule-of-law concerns. The country had been deeply wounded and a chaotic political leadership was unable to resist a determined military leadership’s demands for symbolic new powers in the name of fighting terrorism.

And while the Supreme Court did eventually uphold the hastily passed 21st Amendment, it was apparent that a conflicted court only envisaged military courts as a temporary aberration. Yet, a door to the normalisation of military courts had been opened — and sure enough, more than two years on, the military wants to keep its powers to try terrorism suspects in secrecy and with a minimum of due process.

What is deeply troubling about the push for the revival of military courts is that the PML-N government appears to have become a thoroughly willing accomplice in the further distortion of the Constitution. A government sworn to protect and uphold the Constitution appears blithely unaware, or perhaps deliberately ignorant, of its democratic responsibilities, opting to align itself with a militarised view of safety and security inside the country.

Perhaps the federal government is calculating that reviving military courts will create goodwill with the military leadership while causing minimal political damage, especially since a terrorism-weary public is supportive of extreme steps taken against terrorism suspects. But expediency and populism do not make the government right.

Indeed, it is possible to make a case that the government, having no interest or appetite for judicial reforms, sees military courts as an easy cover for its legislative and administrative failings. Instead of having to explain why justice system reforms have not featured on its agenda, the government is simply turning to military courts to plug the gaping hole in its record.

As the government works to assemble the coalition necessary to amend the Constitution once again, now is the time for conscientious and right-thinking parliamentarians to speak out and push back against the government’s plans.

Once an amendment bill is tabled in parliament, the individual will of parliamentarians will not matter; they will be required to vote in line with their parliamentary party leaders’ orders. Certainly, even in the government ranks, there will be unease at what is being attempted.

Military courts for civilians are a distortion of bedrock constitutional and democratic principles — and distortions, once introduced, have a way of growing in unpredictable ways. The fight against militancy will be a long one; it must be fought and won honourably.

Published in Dawn, February 17th, 2017


Comments (15) Closed



Syed F. Hussaini Feb 17, 2017 03:24am

The civilians would be at the mercy of the terrorist informants.

The informants would protect their own and point a finger at any hapless civilian shunting him to these closed door military courts which simply announce that the suspects confessed and were thus declared guilty.

ZIA UDDIN AHMED Feb 17, 2017 06:19am

Excellent editorial. If 3-year extension is allowed, the people of Pakistan will conclude that failure on Govt.'s part was due to justifiable reasons. I think not more than 1-year extension may be given, with an attached proviso that failure to bring about reform will incur a penalty (this may be specified)

maverik Feb 17, 2017 07:48am

Extraordinary circumstances require extraordinary measures,

Muhammad Qurban Feb 17, 2017 07:46am

Fully endorse your views on constitutionalism but special situations call for special measures. Even USA enforced Patriot Act to gave special powers to LEAs to deal with the problem. Legal reforms have been talked about for decades now. God alone knows how long it would go on. Giving people of FATA the basic human rights has not been accomplished in 70 years. Should we continues to wait for that while people die or live in constant terror.

iqbal carrim Feb 17, 2017 12:23pm

The alternative is for a failed civilian administration to step out honourably and give chance to another one. The problem is that in politics ,hunger for power has become an obsession.

Masood Feb 17, 2017 12:25pm

These politicians should be taken to task for the destruction of this country.

Haseeb Feb 17, 2017 12:50pm

Govt. responsibilty is also to protects it ppl and they must do it weither its accotding to constitution or not.

AW Feb 17, 2017 01:02pm

Very true that if the Government and the parliament would have done their job and worked on serious reforms of the judicial system to make it efficient, competent and effective; their would be no need for the military courts.

Unfortunately, in the current system in which opposition and the ruling parties have shared interests, there is no accountability for lack of such performance. Even any sense of responsibility remains elusive. Scores of citizens have died and many more have been injured in terror incidents because of lack of security, causing irreversible damage to families and yet no government functionary has resigned or has been fired. If there is zero accountability, then it will be foolish to expect performance.

haji nawab Feb 17, 2017 02:10pm

Totally agreed to the views expressed in this article. The views expressed are the comprehension of common man who is unheard and unattended. The PML (N) government is hesitant to find a lawful and socially accepted solution to the menace of terrorism. They have no idea how to tackle this intricate issue. The government has no will and determination even to take action against the banned organizations in Punjab. The recent waves of terror in the country certainly lead to the revival of military courts.

Reuiescat Feb 18, 2017 04:10am

"The fight against terrorism must be fought and won honorably." Lovely sentiment! But when the adversaries resort to tactics that fall well short of the honorable what does one do? The judges and lawyers whether through fear, coercion or conviction, are more prone to release captured terrorists. Can we expect fair judicial recourse from them? Military courts are not a democratic option, one agrees. But then what is?

Dr. mohsin Feb 18, 2017 03:41pm

@Syed F. Hussaini So the hapless civilians being killed by terrorists should continue? I don't really understand how some of so called educated elite doesn't understand the very ground realities. Your "mome battis" are not a deterrent for the terrorists. Every modern democracy which you guys adore has come up with radical measures to deal with these radicals. Solution is not military courts forever but at least until the government comes up with some substantial reforms in the judicial system as well as criminal justice system including law of evidence. I am doctor and your statement to me looks like you are saying okay ventilator is not a permanent solution, so lets take it off and try preventing the disease in the first place.

Dr. mohsin Feb 18, 2017 03:42pm

So the hapless civilians being killed by terrorists should continue? I don't really understand how some of so called educated elite doesn't understand the very ground realities. Your "mome battis" are not a deterrent for the terrorists. Every modern democracy which you guys adore has come up with radical measures to deal with these radicals. If you somehow have the nerve/access to the chatter that is picked up, they laugh at your courts and justice system. Some of them even consider jail terms as holidays. Solution is not military courts forever but at least until the government comes up with some substantial reforms in the judicial system as well as criminal justice system including law of evidence. I am doctor and your statement to me looks like you are saying okay ventilator is not a permanent solution, so lets take it off and try preventing the disease in the first place.

Shahid Feb 18, 2017 08:07pm

Why is it that any measure to 'save' the 'unsaved' citizens and bring the culprit to justice is looked down by intellectually mature sector of society knowing well that that is the 'only' recourse in the short run. This air of 'political correctness' suits only when system is fair, just, responsible and responsive. Firm handling of situation is the need of time by actions, not repeated soft talk.

Syed F. Hussaini Feb 18, 2017 10:14pm

@Dr. mohsin

Thank you, Doc!

No matter how dysfunctional the hospital is, a physician must not send a patient to a quack.

Ventilators keep people alive.

Military courts condemn people to death.

There is no comparison.

Syed F. Hussaini Feb 19, 2017 03:15am

@Shahid

We don't have the rule of law; we are struggling to get back to the rule of law and we have got to stay focused on this need of ours.

It is a long haul and shortcuts are mere distractions or disasters as bad as the bombings.

Hangman's trees or lynch mobs in any form, even in uniform, do not substitute for the rule of law.

Thanks.