ISLAMABAD: Despite its success in winning over opposition parties, the government on Monday faced embarrassment in the National Assembly when two of its allies refused to unconditionally support the bill seeking revival of military courts in the country.
Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai put forward five conditions, saying he would only vote for the 23rd Constitutional Amendment Bill if they were accepted.
Naeema Kishwar Khan of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), meanwhile, declared that her party would make a final decision on whether to vote or not after moving an amendment and gauging the government’s response to it on Tuesday (today).
Besides these two speeches, other members made speeches similar to the ones made at the time of the passage of the 21st Constitutional Amendment Bill in 2015, saying that they were “swallowing a bitter pill” by endorsing the revival of the courts under “unusual circumstances”.
Achakzai makes his support for military courts bill conditional; JUI-F says will wait until bill is tabled before deciding to vote
One of the major demands put forward by Mr Achakzai was that the army should “apologise” for overthrowing elected governments and imposing martial law in the country, as well as pledging it would never happen again.
Besides, Mr Achakzai said, parliament should pass a resolution in its joint session, saying that the day the Constitution was abrogated again, the entire country should take to the streets.
The PkMAP chief further said that his support to the bill was linked to the passage of resolutions from the parliament to pay tributes to the judges of the superior courts who had refused to endorse martial laws and even sacrificed their jobs, while condemning judges who had taken the oath under Provisional Constitutional Orders (PCOs) during the military regime and paying homage to political workers who faced prison and lashes under military rule.
“My vote is not for sale,” Mr Achakzai said. “Accept these demands and only then will I cast my vote. Otherwise I will not vote.”
Mr Achakzai was of the view that voting for the military courts bill would amount to an expression of no-confidence in the country’s judicial system.
The PkMAP chief regretted that the country had been brought to the brink of a “dangerous situation” through “mistakes and shortcomings of all of us”, warning that victimising smaller nations and ethnic groups would endanger the federation. Criticising the government’s recent actions against Pakhtuns and Afghans, Mr Achakzai said that Pakhtuns, Sindhis and Balochs were not “conquered people” and all were equal in the eyes of the Constitution.
The PkMAP chief was immediately confronted by Awami Muslim League (AML) chief Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, who supported the revival of the military courts with full force, asking the government to overhaul the country’s judicial system in the next two years. He warned that if the people did not get justice, they would pick up guns and the country could face a disastrous situation.
Mr Ahmed also lashed out at the PML-N for ignoring parliament, saying that it was the opposition that had actually been running the house for the past three-odd years; the ruling party was not even able to maintain quorum.
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) parliamentary leader Syed Naveed Qamar said it was unfortunate that they were voting for the “suspension of the fundamental rights of the people” in a democratic era for a second time.
“This is the indictment of not only the judiciary, but of the government and the parliament,” the PPP leader said, detailing his party’s efforts to put some checks in the original draft to ensure that the law would not be misused for political purposes.
Naeema Kishwar of the JUI-F and Sahibzada Tariqullah of the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) expressed their concerns over the inclusion of the word “misuse of religion” in the draft, and called for its deletion. Both of them said they would move amendments to the clause concerned on Tuesday.
Sheikh Salahuddin of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) created a stir when he drew the attention of the members towards the reports that the PPP and the PML-N had struck a deal.
When Speaker Ayaz Sadiq asked him not make the army courts bill controversial, the MQM members said there was speculation in TV talkshows that the PPP had struck a deal over the cases against Dr Asim Hussain and Sharjeel Memon.
Law Minister Zahid Hamid assured the opposition members that the resolution seeking formation of the parliamentary committee on national security would be presented before the house also on Tuesday.
Losing the support of the JUI-F or the PkMAP may not be the end of the world for the ruling party, since both parties have only a few members in the house. The PkMAP has four MNAs and three senators, while the JUI-F has 13 MNAs and five senators.
In the 342-member National Assembly, the support of 228 legislators is required to get a constitutional amendment bill passed. In the Senate, where the government is in a minority, the endorsement of 70 senators is required in the 104-member house.
If both parties stick to their guns, the amendment may not pass unanimously.
Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2017