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ISLAMABAD: The Punjab government has decided to transfer the murder case of former home minister retired Colonel Shuja Khanzada to a military court.

Sources privy to the development told Dawn that the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) Rawalpindi had shortlisted the case for transfer to the military court.

Subsequently, the only under-trial suspect in the case, Qasim Muavia, may face a court martial for his alleged involvement in the terrorist attack that killed Mr Khanzada along with 16 other people on August 16, 2015, at the minister’s political office in the Shadi Khan village of Attock.

In October the same year, the CTD Sheikhupura killed four suspected terrorists who had allegedly planned the attack on the minister.

The sources said the murder case was shortlisted for transfer to the military court since the trial of the suspect had been proceeding at a snail’s pace.

Punjab govt takes decision after trial of the only suspect in an anti-terrorism case moved at snail’s pace

The prosecution listed 130 witnesses but only six of them testified before the Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) Rawalpindi.

Another reason for the inordinate delay was that the case had been registered under the controversial Protection of Pakistan Act (POPA).

The federal government promulgated POPA but failed to establish and equip the courts as per requirement under the law.

POPA lapsed last year in accordance with its two-year sunset clause and the government did not give the law a new lease of life.

Subsequently, cases registered under POPA were transferred to the ATCs of the respective jurisdictions.

The murder case of the home minister was transferred to the ATC after the law expired.

The CTD last year planned to transfer the case to the military court. However, since the constitutional amendment empowering the military courts to try civilian terrorism suspects was about to lapse, it could not be shifted.

In March this year, parliament extended the military courts for another couple of years.

A senior official of the Punjab prosecution department on the condition of anonymity told Dawn that after the revival of military courts there were rumours that the case might be sent to a court martial.

As a result, he added, the prosecution was not pursuing the case vigorously as after its transfer the military court would start the trial afresh.

The under-trial accused was arrested in September 2015. According to the prosecution, he was a member of the Qari Sohail Group of the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). His name was included in the Fourth Schedule of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 in 2013.

The prosecution claimed that Muavia was aware of the plot to target the home minister.

However, Rao Abdul Rahim, the legal counsel for Muavia, said since his client was already a fourth scheduler the station house officer (SHO) of the area should be held responsible if he was involved in any unlawful activity.

He contended that Muavia belonged to a rival political group of the Khanzada family and was implicated in the murder case.

The ATA empowers the government to mark a person as “proscribed”, and place them on the Fourth Schedule.

Published in Dawn, August 19th, 2017