ISLAMABAD: Nearly two weeks before expiry of the two-year term of the military courts set up in the country to try civilians on terrorism charges, the government has formally initiated the process of consultations with political parties having representation in the parliament and decided to invite them for a briefing on March 28.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who is also the vice-chairman of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), has started sending letters to the parliamentary leaders of all the parties for a meeting to be held in the Parliament House for a briefing on the implementation of National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism.
“I would like to invite parliamentary leaders of all the political parties on 28 March 2019 at 1600 hours [in the] Committee Room No 2, Parliament House, to underscore our continued commitment to speedy implementation of NAP. This implementation is clearly in the long-term interest of the people of Pakistan,” he wrote in his letter sent to Shahbaz Sharif, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) president and Opposition Leader in the National Assembly, on Sunday.
Mr Qureshi wrote that NAP, which had been formulated in the aftermath of the tragic attack on Army Public School in Peshawar in December 2014, “was a result of a national consensus achieved through consultations with all the political parties of the country”.
Decision taken in principle to grant another extension to military courts
Though, there is no mention in the letter of the military courts that had been set up under NAP to hold trial of civilians charged with terrorism and which are completing their two-year term on March 30, a number of opposition members believe the main purpose of the activity is to seek their consent for giving a second extension to these courts.
Sources in the ruling PTI said the government had decided to engage the opposition parties over the issue as it did not have the required two-thirds majority in both the houses of the parliament to get the constitutional amendment bill passed for this purpose.
Former speaker and a central leader of the main opposition PML-N Ayaz Sadiq in a statement welcomed Mr Qureshi’s invitation, but said the foreign minister should deliver whatever briefing was necessary on the floor of the National Assembly.
He pointed out that no matter how grave the national issue might be, “Prime Minister Imran Khan believes it to be below him to engage with the parliament, which is not acceptable.”
He reminded that in the past, the prime minister had opted out of something as important as the Kashmir conference. He said the prime minister needed to prove through consistent actions that he respected and honoured the august parliament and all its members.
When contacted, PPP’s parliamentary leader in the Senate Sherry Rehman said that so far they had not received any invitation for the meeting. She, however, said that the opposition had always played its due role while dealing with the national issues, but the government had always taken them for granted.
She recalled that during a briefing on the security situation in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack and India-Pakistan tensions, the political parties gathered for the sake of Pakistan and its security, but Prime Minister Khan did not even bother to attend it. She also suggested to the government to convene an in-camera joint sitting of the parliament for the briefing on NAP or the military courts issue.
The military courts were established and granted permission to try civilians charged with terrorism first time in January 2015 after the terrorist attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar in Dec 2014. The courts remained non-functional between Jan to March 2017 after the expiry of the two-year constitutional cover given to them.
Sources in the ruling PTI said the government in principle had already decided to give another extension to the military courts for a period of two years and draft laws in this regard had already been prepared. According to the sources, the two ministries concerned — law and interior — had already initiated the process of reinstating the military courts even before the expiry of their two-year term.
PPP’s tough stance
During a news conference before leaving for China, Mr Qureshi on Sunday said he had already consulted Shahbaz Sharif and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Asif Ali Zardari.
Speaking at a news conference last week, federal Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry had stated that the government was discussing with the opposition issues pertaining to grant of extension to the military courts and implementation of NAP with special reference to the measures being taken against banned groups. He has already said his party believed that the military courts had delivered and even the Supreme Court had upheld the establishment of these courts.
The opposition PPP, however, which had previously taken a tough stance on the issue and had extended its conditional support to the previous PML-N government over the issue, is again opposed to the idea of giving another extension.
According to PPP general secretary Farhatullah Babar, the party during its Central Executive Committee meeting held in Naudero on Dec 26 last year had already declared through a resolution that the parliament should not give another extension to the military courts.
Published in Dawn, March 18th, 2019