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Govt bill seeks three-year extension for military courts

February 17, 2017

ISLAMABAD: The government on Thursday handed over to parliamentary leaders a draft of its proposed constitution amendment bill seeking a three-year extension for military courts, but failed to break the deadlock over the issue as the opposition parties refused to support the proposal without certain guarantees and without intra-party discussions on it.

The opposition parties, however, agreed on the formation of a five-member committee to review the draft.

The committee, headed by Law Minister Zahid Hamid, will hold its first meeting on Feb 22, whereas the parliamentary leaders will again meet on Feb 27.

Shazia Marri of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Shireen Mazari of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), S.A. Iqbal Qadri of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Naeema Kishwar of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) are other members of the committee.

Opposition rejects proposed law; sub-committee formed to review draft

The draft of the proposed law was handed over to the parliamentary leaders of the parties during an in-camera meeting presided over by National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, who also announced the formation of the committee to “fine-tune” the draft.

National Security Adviser retired Lt Gen Nasser Janjua briefed the meeting on the progress of the National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism.

Earlier this month, senior military intelligence officials had briefed the parliamentary leaders on the working of military courts to remove their apprehensions about the judicial system under the army’s supervision.

The draft of the proposed bill says that since the “Constitution (21st Amendment) Act, 2015 has yielded positive results in the fight against terrorism and whereas an extraordinary situation and circumstances still exist constituting grave threat to the security and integrity of Pakistan from various terrorist groups”, it is in “the national interest to continue the special measures for speedy trial of certain offences relating to terrorism adopted in pursuance of the Constitution (21st Amendment) Act 2015 for a further period of three years”.

Talking to reporters after the meeting, PPP’s parliamentary leader Syed Naveed Qamar rejected outright the draft, saying the government had further widened the scope of the military courts and his party could not accept it in its present form.

PTI vice-chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi said he had sought certain guarantees from the government regarding the implementation of the proposed law since the rulers had not fulfilled the commitments they had made at the time of the passage of the 21st constitutional amendment about two years ago.

He said the government wanted the opposition parties to endorse the bill at the meeting, but they refused to take any decision in haste. He criticised the government for its “failure” to carry out judicial reforms as promised by it at the time of seeking political parties’ support for establishment of the military courts.

Mr Qureshi said he had again stressed the need for formation of a parliamentary committee to oversee implementation of the government plan to introduce judicial and structural reforms. He said that members of the JUI-F and the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, who had skipped the previous meeting, attended the briefing.

The PTI leader was of the view that the real discussion on the matter had actually started on Thursday.

During the previous meetings, the opposition parties had asked the government to provide a roadmap of its plan to carry out judicial reforms and structural changes in the criminal justice system before seeking their cooperation for reviving the military courts.

The military courts were established in January 2015 after a terrorist attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar in December 2014 to try civilians charged with terrorism.

The courts have been non-functional since Jan 7 after the expiry of the two-year constitutional cover.

Published in Dawn, February 17th, 2017