MILITARY courts play a crucial role within the justice system, especially in dealing with cases related to national security and terrorism. Globally, there have been instances when military courts were found to be effective in handling such cases.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the United States established military commissions to prosecute individuals involved in acts of terrorism against the country. Like, after the 2016 attempted coup in Turkiye, the country utilised military courts to prosecute individuals implicated in plotting the conspiracy. On its part, Colombia, a nation grappling with internal conflicts and insurgencies, employs a military criminal justice system to handle cases involving military personnel accused of committing crimes, including those related to terrorism and insurgency.
Regrettably, there has been resistance from a particular segment of society in Pakistan against military courts after the May 9 incidents. We need to take into account the facts and figures of both civilian and military courts to reach a conclusion in the matter. The civilian judicial system in Pakistan has failed to deliver timely and transparent justice. It is a common observation that legal cases, spanning generations, often remain unresolved.
The overwhelming caseload further burdens our courts, with a staggering backlog of 2.144 million cases. In 2021 alone, 4.102 million cases were concluded, while 4.06 million new cases were filed.
According to statistics, the Supreme Court, the Federal Shariat Court, and the five high courts together disposed of 229,822 cases in 2020, while 241,250 new cases were instituted. More or less a similar pattern can be seen at various tiers of the judicial system.
Grappling with terrorism, Pakistan established anti-terrorism courts (ATCs). These specialised courts were aimed at ensuring fast-track legal proceedings for a swift response to security threats. ATCs have played a pivotal role in prosecuting individuals involved in high-profile terrorist incidents, contributing to the dismantling of terrorist networks and restoring public confidence in the judicial system.
Additionally, military courts in Pakistan were instituted through the 21st Constitutional Amendment following a terrorist attack on the Army Public School (APC) in Peshawar on Dec 16, 2014. These courts were granted jurisdiction for the speedy trial of cases related to specified acts. Since their inception, military courts have handled over 700 cases, finalising 546 of them. Notably, they awarded death sentences to over 300 terrorists, and rigorous imprisonment to the rest of them. This track record underscores the role of military courts in delivering swift justice.
It is of significance to note that decisions made by military courts are subject to appeal in civilian courts, mitigating concerns of potential human rights violations. When there are reasons to put on trial the perpetrators, planners and abettors of the May 9 incidents, why should we not opt for military courts?
When the military courts have served justice in the recent past, why is there a hue and cry against them now?
Abdul Basit Alvi
Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2023