The federal government on Monday deferred until Tuesday (today) voting on the two government bills aimed at setting up constitutionally protected military courts to try civilian terrorism suspects, as Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan sought to remove ‘misconceptions’ regarding the special trial courts.
Members of the National Assembly arrived in parliament on Monday to vote on the two bills – the Constitution (Twenty-first Amendment) Bill and the Pakistan Army (Amendment). But voting was deferred after the government fell short of the required two-thirds majority – 228 members – for the passage of the constitutional amendments after Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Fazlur Rehman expressed reservations on the bill, saying his party would not vote in favour of the amendment in its current form.
Fazl also staged a walkout from the session but was later talked into returning to the House by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid. However he remained stuck to his guns on not endorsing the amendment bill, which he said was aimed at targeting the religious seminaries.
However, government sources told Pakistan Today on condition of anonymity that Fazl was making a mountain out of a molehill as he had earlier endorsed the contents of the amendment bills in both the multi-parties moots held on Dec 24 and Dec 31.
“It seems Fazl is blackmailing the government for some vested motives as he had voiced support for the same bills in the two MPCs held over the issue,” said the sources.
Only 218 members were present during the National Assembly session today – 10 legislators short of the required number. Voting on the bills is now expected to be held in the National Assembly on Tuesday.
Addressing the session later, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said a few years ago, no one would have thought that military courts will be established through a constitutional amendment.
“In a functioning democracy, military courts are very unusual. These courts are being established because Pakistan is faced with an extraordinary situation,” the interior minister said, adding that after 9/11, military courts were also established in the US.
Recalling some of the most horrific incidents of terror that the country has faced such as the 2009 Meena Bazaar attack, killings of Hazaras in Quetta and even the attacks on army personnel, the interior minister said everyone had mobilised and united to end terrorism once and for all.
The interior minister underscored that military courts will be installed for a limited period of time. “These courts are not for civilians. The general public will not be tried in military courts; they will be tried in judicial courts which will continue to hear cases which are not related to terrorism,” he said.
Seeking to dissipate concerns relating to hanging of all those tried in military courts, the interior minister said the Army Act does not indicate kangaroo courts.
“There have been soldiers and civilians who were previously tried in army courts; not everyone was hanged,” he said.
Nisar said that if the federal government, provincial governments, Parliament, and the Army unites, then Pakistan will be able to overcome this problem of terrorism.
He said that Pakistan has been involved in this war for over 12 years, but that it was now time for everyone to unite.
“Various party leaders have shown unity and democracy has become stronger. I am convinced that where political leaders come together for their future of their country, no power in the world can make them fail,” he said.
The interior minister said that a counter-terrorism helpline has been setup where citizens can notify authorities if they witness suspicious activities.
The masses also need to come together and play their role in helping combat this scourge, he said.
Speaking on the floor of the House, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader Farooq Sattar said that the time had now come to draw the line.
“This is an ideological war. The time has come for us to throw hypocrites out of our ranks. It is time that we reject all those who preach hatred and violence,” he said.
He said that his party has long been a vocal critic of rising extremism and Talibanisation in the country, and that he was glad that parliament was now in agreement on measures that MQM chief Altaf Hussain had recommended almost a decade ago.
He also called on the government and opposition parties to remember former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer and former minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti, both members of the previous Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government, who were assassinated by militants for speaking against religious extremism.
Ironically, no member of the PPP present in the House spoke about their two former colleagues even after Sattar’s address.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has called all parliamentarians for a breakfast meeting on Tuesday morning at the National Assembly’s Speakers Lounge, a news channel reported late on Monday.
The breakfast meeting is being held on the day when voting on two government bills, the Constitution (Twenty-first Amendment) Bill and the Pakistan Army (Amendment) aimed to set up constitutionally protected military courts to try civilian terrorism suspects is to be held.