ISLAMABAD: President Mamnoon Hussain gave on Friday his approval to the revival of military courts for another two years with effect from Jan 7, more than two months after a tug of war between the government and opposition parties over the way of their functioning.

The government says the revival was imperative keeping in view the recent spate of terrorism in the country.

The president’s spokesman said: “President Mamnoon Hussain on Friday gave his formal assent to the Pakistan Army Act 2017 and the 23rd Constitutional Amendment Bill.”

Both pieces of legislation are aimed at granting legal cover to the military courts for trying civilians charged with terrorism.

The president also approved the Inquiry Commission Bill 2017, paving the way for the formation of the commission to investigate any matter.

When the military courts bill was tabled in parliament it was titled the 23rd Constitution Amendment Bill, but now it will be called the 28th Constitution Amendment Bill.

Bill to form inquiry commission also approved

The Senate passed the bill on March 22, a day after it was approved by the National Assembly with 255 votes in favour and four against, exceeding the two-thirds majority required for its passage.

Giving reasons for the revival of military courts, the 23rd Constitution Amendment Bill said: “An extraordinary situation and circumstances still exist which demand continuation of the special measures adopted for expeditious disposal of certain offences.

“The Constitution (Twenty-first Amendment) Act, 2015 was passed (with a sunset clause of two years) enabling trial under the Pakistan Army Act, 1952 for expeditious disposal of cases related to terrorism. These measures have yielded positive results in combating terrorism. It is, therefore, proposed to continue these special measures for a further period of two years through this Constitution Amend­ment Bill.”

The Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl lawmakers abstained from voting on the bill, saying they had reservations over its legal language, especially the phrase “terrorism in the name of religion”.

The government and the opposition had until recently struggled to reach a consensus on the courts’ revival despite frequent discussions. The primary concern of critics was the mystery surrounding military court trials: no one knows who the convicts are, what charges have been brought against them, or what their defence is against the allegations levelled.

The government and opposition parties have decided that it will be the last two-year extension for the military courts and formed a high-powered parliamentary committee comprising parliamentary leaders of all parties to oversee the government’s efforts over the much-demanded judicial reforms to make the existing judicial system stronger to deal with terrorism-related cases and to monitor the National Action Plan and other issues pertaining to national security.

The government held a series of meetings on the issue mainly because of reservations expressed by the main opposition Pakistan Peoples Party which stuck to its stance that since the term of the present government will be over in May 2018, the extension of military courts for two years (beyond 2018) will be illogical.

Secondly, the PPP was of the view that like in the past, military courts should be presided over by a sessions judge who would be assisted by an additional sessions judge.

However, the party later withdrew its both demands, thus paving the way for the revival of military courts.

Inquiry Commission Bill

The Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act 2017 signed by the president was tabled by the government in the Senate in the wake of the Panamagate controversy last year.

The bill was introduced after former chief justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali refused to form a “toothless” inquiry commission on Panamagate under the Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act 1956.

Earlier this month, the Senate passed the bill with four amendments, one of which makes it mandatory for the government to make the commission’s report public within 30 days of its submission.

The bill was presented in the National Assembly for a second time after the Senate made amendments to it. It was passed by the assembly last week.

Published in Dawn, April 1st, 2017


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