ISLAMABAD: The government has stepped up its hectic lobbying for the revival of military courts following the deaths of over 100 people in six terrorist attacks across the country last week.

On Sunday, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq contacted parliamentary leaders from opposition parties and informed them about the government’s intention to prepone their next meeting on the issue of the military courts from Feb 27 to Feb 23.

The finance minister called Dr Farooq Sattar of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Sahibzada Tariqullah of the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), Ghulam Ahmed Bilour of the Awami National Party (ANP), Awami Muslim League (AML) chief Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and Fata MNA Shahji Gul Afridi, according to a handout issued by the Ministry of Finance.

Editorial: Military courts’ revival on the horizon

In his conversation with parliamentary party leaders, the minister highlighted the significance of extending the working of military courts to ensure speedy trial of terrorists and stressed the need for consensus on this all-important issue.

NA speaker, finance minister continue canvassing; govt looking to prepone parliamentary body meeting

The minister also telephoned the speaker, asking him to move back the date of the next meeting of the main parliamentary committee on the matter.

Mr Dar advised the speaker that since the meeting of the sub-committee formed to review the draft of the constitutional amendment bill was scheduled to be held on Feb 22, it would be appropriate to convene the main committee to meet day after that, in order to facilitate a swift decision on the matter.

Following his conversation with the finance minister, the speaker also spoke to parliamentary leaders from various political parties. An official statement issued by the National Assembly Secretariat, however, did not mention who Mr Sadiq spoke to.

On Saturday, Mr Dar had spoken to parliamentary leaders from the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and stressed the need for a “prompt decision” on the matter in the wake of renewed terrorist attacks.

He also reached out to Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and his brother Senator Maulana Ataur Rehman, PPP’s Syed Naveed Qamar, PTI vice-chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Qaumi Watan Party chief Aftab Sherpao.

Referring to the recent incidents in Fata, Peshawar, Lahore, Quetta, Awaran and Sehwan Sharif, the minister had stated that an effective and well-coordinated response on part of the federal and provincial governments was need of the hour.

The minister told the political leaders that revival of the military courts was essential for ensuring continuation of the momentum of anti-terrorism campaign and the political leadership in parliament needed to show unity as well as complete unanimity of views on this issue.

A senior PPP leader told Dawn that the urgency being shown by the government all of a sudden indicated that the ruling party had succumbed to pressure from “certain quarters”, which wanted revial of military courts as soon as possible.

The impression they got in previous meetings, the PPP leader said, was that the government itself was not serious in reviving the courts and was trying to pass the buck on to other parties to delay the matter. But in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in all four provinces, the government had been prompted to take a swift decision on the matter.

The military courts were established and granted permission to try civilians charged with terrorism in January 2015, in the aftermath of the gruesome terrorist attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar.

The courts were given constitutional cover for two years after parliament passed the 21st constitutional amendment, despite fears among lawmakers that the establishment of the military tribunals might undermine democracy in the country.

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

During a meeting of the parliamentary leaders chaired by the National Assembly speaker last week, the government had circulated a draft of a proposed amendment bill seeking a three-year extension for military courts.

However, government members failed to break the deadlock over the issue as opposition parties refused to support the proposal without certain guarantees and before intra-party discussions.

The opposition parties did, however, agree on the formation of a five-member committee, headed by Law Minister Zahid Hamid, to review the draft.

The new subcommittee was scheduled to hold its first meeting on Feb 22, whereas the parliamentary leaders will meet again on Feb 27.

Initially, apart from the PPP and the PTI, two government allies — JUI-F and the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party — had also refused the proposal to extend the term of military courts.

Published in Dawn, February 20th , 2017