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‘Changes to Army Act’

November 28, 2012

THIS is apropos of your editorial ‘Changes to Army Act’ (Nov 14) which has touched the core aspects of army discipline and as rightly pointed out this amounts to disturbing the internal system of the army.

First, let us be clear about the current system of trying any convict against an act committed by anyone prejudice to the good order of military discipline where the accused is given complete freedom to prove his innocence and can avail the facility of any lawyer to defend himself.

All statements of witnesses irrespective of trials are recorded in the presence of accused with complete freedom to cross examine the witnesses as per his desire.

The only difference between civil and military trial is that cases are not prolonged because of one major factor that case against any person subject to the Army Act is only initiated when complete evidence has been obtained as a result the justice is dispensed within laid out time. This is speedy justice.

This is a tested and tried system, very transparent and followed by rest of the armies of the world. As far as appeals are concerned, like civil courts, the accused has a right to appeal right up to the army chief and that is also decided within given timeframe.

It is incorrect to suggest that serving officers will take decisions that differ from those of the high command. This is a wrong perception and hundreds of examples can be given where the courts awarded punishment and it was not liked by the higher authority.

Army’s system of accountability is time tested and within the accepted norms of the military culture and tradition.

The Pakistan Army is voluntary army. The people join voluntarily and they take the oath to serve the army and obey orders in letter and in spirit. If the army starts giving options to soldiers and allows them to contest orders no one would like to go to Siachen or any theatre of operations. They will file a suit and get away.

In the army, the Army Act acts like a bible duly approved by the government and practised over years. We cannot amend laws on individual cases. It must be seen in the larger perspective and in the interest of the institution of course within the domain of the Constitution.

Like the navy and the air force, carrying out amendments in the army rules and regulations is also a regular feature but is not made public. Pakistan Army Act is applicable to all soldiers and is applied without any discrimination.

However, in certain cases the army allows trial of uniformed personnel in the civil courts at the sole discretion of the competent authority. Amending the Army Act may not be wrong but the expert internal advice of military as an institution must be sought before embarking on this reformist adventure.