Military courts were established in 2015 during the Nawaz Sharif regime in the aftermath of Army Public School (APS) massacre of 140 people, mostly children. Military courts carry out swift justice in terrorist cases, they act as a deterrent menace of terrorism. This was done in the first place because Pakistan’s judicial system is not effective enough to implement the laws even with all the evidence in the world to convict even hard core terrorists. Keeping that in view the Supreme Court (SC) had upheld the establishment of these courts. Whereas it is the responsibility of the elected representatives to protect the life and liberty of the citizens, implementing the laws of the land is further compounded by the lack of political will.
The fundamental rights enshrined in a democracy cannot co-exist with terrorism. No democracy in the world is basically equipped to tackle terrorism unless the citizen is a stakeholder in the governance. Legislation and reform take time, unfortunately the terrorists are already here causing mayhem and murder. Some among the Opposition have rejected giving any extension to the military courts arguing that these go against the concept of democracy and human rights. Can the critics of military courts account for the human rights of the APS children? Even western countries had to bring in new draconian legislation to deal with extraordinary situations, consider the ramifications of the US “Patriotic Act”?
How many times have hard-core urban terrorists walked out of police stations in Karachi duly feted and garlanded because it suited the political expediency of the then ruling parties? Even when the killers were brought to trial they could not be punished by the courts because of flaws in the existing “laws of evidence” and the intimidation of witnesses in deadly fear for their lives. The combination of political expediency coupled with the lack of political will is not only frustrating but morale-sapping for the law enforcement agencies (LEAs). What about the human rights of LEAs personnel involved in catching terrorists who were killed in retribution?
Given their effectiveness in containing terrorism, military courts were given a two-year extension in 2017 .During the four years the functioning of military courts terrorists in 717 cases of terrorism were given death sentences in the 546 cases finalised, 234 imprisoned and 310 given the death penalty. Fighting terrorism is a national cause that is well beyond parties and party politics. Terrorism may have been contained but not eliminated from our country. Given this fact the military courts need another extension, only possible with the support of the opposition parties. Contrary to the stance of some of his party stalwarts PML (N) Head Shahbaz Sharif acknowledged that terrorism has been contained because of military courts, indicating that his party would support the motion when approached to do so.
Some of the PPP leaders made negative statements about the military courts. When the situation required, Zardari’s PPP government and subsequently Nawaz Sharif’s PML (N) government both successively went to war against terrorism. The political consensus in the aftermath of the APS tragedy included the National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism. The population of Swat and FATA are as good citizens as any other in Pakistan. Did they have due process of law or even the benefit of judicial hearing in military courts? Therefore anyone opposing military courts is being a hypocrite shedding crocodile tears. However Zardari did say PPP would consider an extension it if approached by the government. Given Zardari’s alleged involvement in the “fake accounts” case and given possible confiscation of all his assets abroad under the OECD laws if convicted of money-laundering in Pakistan, anyone want to guess what he may want in return?
The PTI government lacks the political skills to integrate and include opposition forces into the national political agenda. Fighting corruption must not prevent the government from creating an ‘alliance of the willing’ from all sides of the divide in the interest of Pakistan. Despite his disqualification Jahangir Tareen should play a critical role for his party and the national interest.
Wiping out terrorist insurgency in Swat, FATA and Karachi was done without benefit of the process of law because the situation so required. Remember the three decades and more of dark ages we faced in Karachi listening to Altaf Hussain’s drunken harangues? The total closure of the city on his whims and caprices?
Military courts are not the “sin qua non” of a democracy. Our criminal and justice system must be reformed to allow it to tackle terrorism in normal courts. Meantime we cannot allow vestiges of terrorism to remain; they must be eliminated with ‘extraordinary situations being handled by extraordinary means’.
(The writer is a defence and security analyst).
Keywords: Law and Humanities , Pakistan's judicial system , Law enforcement agencies , National action plan , Criminal law , Law Enforcement , Law reform , Military courts , Supreme court , Legislation reform , Terrorism