The law ministry informed a National Assembly standing committee on Wednesday that the summary for a second extension in military courts has been forwarded to the federal cabinet for approval.
The information regarding the military tribunals, whose two-year term will expire in March 2019, was provided during a meeting of National Assembly's Standing Committee on Law and Justice.
The session of the sole standing committee formed in the lower house of parliament so far was held with Riaz Fatyana in the chair. In attendance at the meeting were Shahbaz Sharif and Khawaja Saad Rafique, the two PML-N MNAs who are both in National Accountability Bureau's custody and were brought to the session upon issuance of production orders.
Answering a question, Malaika Ali Bukhari, the law ministry's parliamentary secretary, informed the committee that the interior ministry had sent a summary regarding the extension in military court's term to the law ministry, however, the summary "did not mention a time period" for which the tribunals could be extended.
She said after approving the summary, the law ministry forwarded it to the federal cabinet for approval.
In case the government decides to give a second extension to the military courts, it will have to get a constitutional amendment passed from both houses of parliament.
The military courts were allowed to try civilians accused of terrorism in January 2015, soon after a terrorist attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar in December 2014. In the attack, 144 people — mostly children — were killed by the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan.
The courts were given a two-year constitutional cover as both houses of the parliament passed the 21st constitutional amendment with the inclusion of a sunset clause despite fears among lawmakers that the tribunals they were authorising would not be able to ensure due process to the suspects and might undermine democracy.
The courts remained dysfunctional from Jan 7, 2017 (due to expiry of the two-year constitutional cover) till March 2017, when the military courts were extended for another two years by the parliament amid controversy that the constitutional cover could not be given to the Military Act under which the military courts were resumed.
On December 13, Defence Minister Pervez Khattak had informed the National Assembly that the military authorities had to decide 185 cases of terrorists in three months (till March).
During the meeting, PML-N MNA Rana Sanaullah inquired about the progress on a possible amendment in the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999.
The ministry's representatives informed the body that it would take another month or two before legislation in this regard could take shape. Sanaullah directed the ministry to present the draft of the bill within 45 days.
Committee chairman Fityana expressed the concern that the law ministry was bringing forward very little new legislation and that efforts should be made to increase its number. He directed the ministry to brief the committee at the next session about various issues of national importance and legal reforms.