ISLAMABAD: After a series of exhaustive meetings, the government and opposition on Thursday agreed to revive the military courts for a two-year period, until January 2019.

The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which had been opposing the government’s draft for the renewal of military courts, withdrew two of its main proposals on Thursday, paving the way for an across-the-board consensus.

Now, the government is expected to table two bills — the 23rd constitution amendment and a fresh amendment to the Pakistan Army Act — in the National Assembly on Monday. Both bills will subsequently be introduced in the Senate the following day.

The amendment is similar to the 21st amendment, which was enforced in 2015 to establish military courts for a period of two years.


Govt to table bills before parliament next week; four PPP demands accepted, two withdrawn


Government and opposition parties have also decided to form a high-powered parliamentary committee, consisting of parliamentary leaders from all parties in the National Assembly and Senate, to oversee government efforts to enact necessary judicial reforms to strengthen the criminal justice system, monitor the implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP) and other matters of national security.

The decisions were taken in a parliamentary committee meeting, chaired by National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq and attended by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Law Minister Zahid Hamid, PPP leaders Aitzaz Ahsan, Naveed Qamar, Sherry Rehman and Farooq Naek, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl’s (JUI-F) Talha Mehmood, Sahibzada Tariqullah of the Jamaat-i-Islami and Ghulam Ahmed Bilour of the Awami National Party (ANP).

Speaking to the press after the meeting, Mr Dar said all parliamentary parties had sent a message that they were on the same page on the issue of national security and terrorism.

“We gave our consent to the government bill because the country is in the state of war,” said Senator Aitzaz Ahsan.

Mr Qureshi said the spirit of the law would be that it won’t be used as a tool for political victimisation or against any specific religious group.

The PTI vice-chairman also hailed the formation of the parliamentary oversight body, saying: “Now parliament will monitor national security matters in a better way. If parliament is sovereign, its decisions are binding for all.”

Proposals

“Four of the PPP’s nine proposals have been accepted,” the NA speaker said at a press conference after the meeting.

These include the stipulations that: the accused will be presented before a court within 24 hours of his arrest; the Qanoon-i-Shahadat (Law of Evidence) will be enforced; accused will be able to choose a counsel of their choice; and, the prosecution will have to present evidence against the accused within 24 hours.

Mr Sadiq also said that religious parties — such as the JUI-F and JI — had objected to the use of the word “religious” in the proposed bill, therefore it was decided that only the word “misuse” was being incorporated from the sentence “use and misuse of religious groups” that already existed in the original military courts bill of 2015.

The speaker said the parliamentary oversight committee was being formed to monitor NAP, judicial reform measures and all national security matters. “The terms of references of the parliamentary body will be finalised soon,” he added.

Mr Ahsan said PPP had withdrawn two of its main proposals as a “give and take” because four of their suggestions had been accepted.

The withdrawn proposals included limiting the term of military courts to one year and that the courts should be presided over by a sessions judge, to be appointed by the chief justice of the respective high court.

PPP Spokesperson Farhatullah Babar said the committee did not agree to incorporate another one of the PPP’s proposals, which called for giving the high courts a right of judicial review of military court decisions under Article 199 of the Constitution.

“In fact, all sides agreed that this provision was already available in the law in the light of the Supreme Court verdict, therefore the accused in any terrorism related case will have a right to appeal,” he said.

Published in Dawn, March 17th, 2017

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