Need for continuation of military courts

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  • Extra-ordinary circumstances require extra-ordinary solutions?

The two year extension given to the military courts which were established through 21st amendment and duly endorsed by the apex court has already expired. The government and the security establishment feel that the purpose for which the courts were established has not been fully accomplished as yet and it is imperative to extend the tenure of the military courts to keep the fight against terrorism on track.

The vibes emanating from the opposition parties in that regard seem quite positive. The opposition leader in the National Assembly Shahbaz has indicated willingness of his party go along with the idea in consultation with other parties and PPP also sounds receptive to the idea. Zardari talking to the media said that the PPP would consider it when approached by the government. The fact is that fight against terrorism is a national cause and there should be no politicking on the issue. It is hoped that all the political parties represented in the parliament would show the same solidarity as they did when the courts were established and the last extension given to the continuation of military courts.

There is however no dearth of people who are opposed to extension in the tenure of military courts for various reasons notwithstanding the fact that there is a national consensus on the strategy adopted by the government and the military leadership to deal with terrorism. Some human rights groups, the legal fraternity and usual critics of the government still find it convenient to criticize the establishment of the military courts, terming the step as a breach of the fundamental rights. The observations and reservations of these elements could have been valid and beyond reproach in normal circumstances, wherein the constitution guarantees the fundamental rights. What they however forget to appreciate is that the enjoyment of fundamental rights by the citizens of a state is linked to an unqualified allegiance to the state and those who raise arms against the state lose the constitutional protection to their fundamental rights. If we look at the entire effort in the backdrop of the enormity of the threat to our existence and our way of life, it would start making sense. The entire nation would have to stand united like a rock with unflinching determination to uproot terrorism because Army and the government cannot succeed without the support of the masses. It is now or never situation for the nation. We owe it to the posterity to save Pakistan from any harm.

Pakistan is confronted with the phenomenon of terrorism for more than a decade and unfortunately it has rolled on unchecked due to lack of will on the part of successive governments to deal with it effectively. Even when the terrorists were apprehended they could not be punished by the courts of law due to flaws in the existing legal system and the non-existence of necessary legislation to punish them, with the result that they were either bailed out or released by the courts. That indeed was very frustrating and morale-sapping for the security and law enforcing agencies.

Terrorists are a faceless enemy and the elimination of the menace of terrorism not only requires military means to deny them the operating space as was done through operation Zarb-e-Azb and is being executed through operation Raddul Fasad but also legal backing to ensure that if caught by the security and law enforcing agencies, the terrorists get convicted.

The notion that the proposal to extend or re-initiate military courts as an instrument of countering terrorism or improving the quantum of justice is a bad idea simply reflects lack of understanding of the gravity of the situation

Extra-ordinary situations and circumstances require extra-ordinary solutions. That is what the pragmatism is all about. The nations are sometimes faced with situations and dangers that threaten their existence and way of life and have to go for responses which are beyond the normal and acceptable constitutional and legal framework. The world history is replete with such examples.

In Pakistan, the terrorists were not only confined to the tribal regions but their operatives and sympathisers have penetrated almost all the big and small cities of the country and from time to time keep on targeting the civil and military targets as well as diplomatic missions of friendly countries. The attack on Chinese Consulate in Karachi and workers employed on projects under CPEC in Balochistan are irrefutable evidence of the fact that we still have to go a long way in completely eliminating the scourge of terrorism.

The notion that the proposal to extend or re-initiate military courts as an instrument of countering terrorism or improving the quantum of justice is a bad idea simply reflects lack of understanding of the gravity of the situation and the impact that the establishment of military courts have had. The number of the convicted and executed for their crimes by the military courts may have been small and their existence may not have led to the elimination of terrorism from the country altogether but there is no denying the fact that they have led to substantial decrease in the terrorist attacks in the past two years. Their continuation along with other strategies evolved by the government and the security forces will surely help in fighting the menace of terrorism in the future and its eventual total elimination.

The elements who take umbrage at the government for not utilising the two year period to bring reforms in the judicial system and providing an enabling environment to the judiciary to deal with cases related to terrorism, are also trying to oversimplify the challenge. One of the overriding considerations behind the establishment of the military courts was the threat posed to the judges by the terrorist outfits and it was felt that the military officers were better equipped institutionally to deal with such threats and decide these cases on merit without any pressure from any side. That threat still exists and even if it would have been possible for the government to introduce reforms in the judicial system the scepter of threat would not have receded till the time the scourge of terrorism was completely obliterated. Further the reforms in the well-entrenched legal system and supporting administrative changes is quite an arduous and time consuming exercise and can only be brought through incremental process after thorough consideration and consensus among the political entities. We do need judicial reforms but those reforms need not be linked with steps to deal with terrorism.