Govt, opposition still deadlocked over military courts revival

ISLAMABAD: A deadlock over revival of military courts continues as the third round of talks between the government and opposition parties ended here on Tuesday without arriving at a decision.

Speaking separately to reporters after attending an in-camera briefing on the National Action Plan (NAP) and its achievements, several members of opposition parties expressed concern over the continued absence of Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan from these meetings. National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq presided over Tuesday’s meeting and the session will now be held on Feb 16.

Sources told Dawn that opposition members had expressed their dissatisfaction over the briefing given by Law Minister Zahid Hamid. They had asked the government to present its proposals and a roadmap in clear terms so they could discuss them within their parties before arriving at a final decision.

They were of the view that a decision on the revival of military courts should be made at a larger forum and that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should convene a multi-party conference (MPC) on the issue as he had done previously.

There is an impression among political circles that all political parties, including the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, are not willing to revive military courts and so the matter is being dragged intentionally.

Military courts were established and granted permission to try civilians accused of terrorism in January 2015, after a terrorist attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar in December 2014. These courts were given a two-year constitutional cover as both houses of parliament passed the 21st constitutional amendment with the inclusion of a sunset clause. There was the fear that these tribunals would not be able to ensure due process to suspects and could undermine democracy.

Talking to Dawn, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi said he had asked the government if it had taken its allies into confidence as the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) had expressed reluctance in supporting the military courts.

He said he had also questioned the absence of the interior minister and other senior security officials from the briefing. He said the PTI wanted to know if the government wanted to develop a consensus at the committee level since similar decisions had been made earlier at a meeting of parliamentary leaders and heads of all parties presided over by the prime minister. Lastly, he said, they wanted to know what steps the government had taken to reform the judiciary, since military courts were set up on the condition that the government would introduce judicial reforms.

The Pakistan Peoples Party’s Syed Naveed Qamar termed the meeting fruitless, while Law Minister Zahid Hamid claimed that the government had replied to all questions raised by the opposition.

The meeting’s participants were told that the military courts had awarded death sentence to 161 persons in two years, and 13 of them had been executed. A total of 56 cases were pending with the interior ministry and 92 cases were pending with provincial home departments.

The participants were told that 17,563 people — 12,400 civilians and 5,163 security personnel — had lost their lives in 17,704 terrorism-related incidents since 2001.

The participants were informed that there had been significant decline in terrorism and other crimes in Karachi since the operation was launched. There has also been an 80pc decline in terrorism incidents in the city.

They were told that there has been a 69pc decline in incidents of targeted killings, 50pc in murder cases and 30pc in robberies.