Former president and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari on Monday announced his party's nine recommendations for an extension in the operation of military courts.
Military courts had been disbanded this year on Jan 7 after a sunset clause under which the tribunals were established expired. No consensus was reached between the government and the opposition on an extension in their tenure despite frequent meetings on the issue.
On Feb 28, however, the majority of the political parties in power consented to an extension for another two years. The meeting, however, was not attended by leaders of the PPP, who had earlier called a multi-party conference on March 4 to discuss the matter with other politicians.
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, Zardari clarified that his party is "providing recommendations [for], not opposing [an extension in] military courts."
"We want a law that defines terrorists, that will become a definition for terrorism," he added. "Our aim is not to dishearten our armed forces."
The PPP's nine recommendations:
- Military courts shall be presided over by one sessions judge or additional sessions judge with a military officer.
- The sessions/additional sessions judge will be nominated by the chief justice of Pakistan.
- Period will be for one year from starting date.
- Right of judicial review by high courts under Article 199 of the Constitution.
- High court shall decide case within 60 days.
- Accused to be produced within 24 hours before the concerned court.
- Accused to be supplied with grounds of arrest within 24 hours.
- Accused shall have right to engage counsel of his choice.
- Provisions of Qanoon-i-Shahadat 1984 shall apply.
The former president said his party intended to present the points for parliamentary discussion eventually.
"I hope all political forces are present for this parliamentary discussion. We are open to dialogue [on the points], whether with the government or the army," he said.
He added that the party had provided one year's time to assess the law, and that the PPP intended to pressure the government to strengthen witness protection in Sindh and disburse funds to the provinces and judiciary for more effective implementation of the National Action Plan.
"I think there are weaknesses [in NAP] because the government is not serious and they have not provided them the funds," he claimed.
Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, responding to the PPP's announcement, said the government would examine the points and provide copies of them to all political parties.
"There was consensus earlier on two years [extension in military courts]," Dar said, "But the PPP has suggested only one year... We will sit tomorrow or day after and discuss them," he added.
"Because there are new recommendations now, we will have to examine them," Law Minister Zahid Hamid said. "The clerical amendments shouldn't be an issue, and through discussion with all political parties we will try to reach consensus on this again."
Military courts have been an issue of conflict between the government and the opposition.
The primary concern of critics is the mystery surrounding military court trials: no-one knows who the convicts are, what charges have been brought against them, or what the accused's defence is against the allegations levelled.