- NA, Senate pass 21st Amendment, Army Act Amendment unopposed paving way for immediate establishment of special military courts to try terrorists
- JUI (F), JI abstain from voting, remain unconvinced despite premier’s assurances
- PM says amendments would go a long way in effectively trying hardcore terrorists, hopes 20-point NAP would restore peace in country
- Says army leadership categorically stated that it was not their desire but need of the hour
The National Assembly and Senate Tuesday unanimously adopted the 21st Constitutional Amendment Bill and the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill 2015, paving the way for establishment of constitutionally protected military courts across the country for trying hardcore terrorists including civilian terrorism suspects.
As many as 247 members of the National Assembly voted in favour of the bills moved by Minister for Law, Justice and Human Rights Pervaiz Rashid. However, assembly members from Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) abstained from voting.
The constitutional amendment bill was required to be passed by two-thirds of the total participants in both the 342-seat National Assembly and the 104-seat Senate while for amendment in the Army Act, a simple majority was required.
The two bills were expected to have been passed a day earlier but voting was deferred after the government fell short of the required two-thirds majority.
In addition, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif wanted to address the concerns of JUI-F chief Fazlur Rehman while the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) members were also not in favour of the passage of the bill on the birth anniversary of their leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
The 21st Amendment is aimed at speedy conviction of terrorists through Special Trial Courts headed by army officers.
The preamble of the amendment says, “Extraordinary situation and circumstances exist which demand special measures for speedy trial of certain offences relating to terrorism, waging of war or insurrection against Pakistan and for prevention of acts threatening the security of Pakistan by the terrorist groups using the name of religion or a sect and also by the members of armed groups, wings and militias.”
The 21st Amendment provides for entering the Pakistan Army Act 1952, the Pakistan Army Act 1953, the Pakistan Navy Act 1961 and the Protection of Pakistan Act, 2014 in the first schedule of the Constitution.
The parliament also passed Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill to amend Pakistan Army Act 1952. A new clause was also inserted in the bill under which the provisions of this act shall prevail in case there is any conflict between this act and any other law.
Under amendment in clause D of the Army Act 1952, any person who belongs to any terrorist group or organisation and uses the name of religion or a sect and wages war against Pakistan will be tried under this act. Those attacking the armed forces, the law enforcement agencies and any civil or military installations will also be punished under this act.
The cases of kidnapping for ransom or the incidents causing death to any person or injury will also be brought to justice through this amendment. Those in possession of explosive material, fire arms, suicide jackets or vehicles will also be tried under the act.
The provisions of the two bills shall remain in force for a period of two years from the date of their commencement.
PM TAKES PARLIAMENTARIANS INTO CONFIDENCE:
Earlier in the morning, the prime minister hosted a breakfast meeting attended by around 150 parliamentarians from various political parties to address some of the reservations.
JUI-F chief Fazlur Rehman and Qaumi Watan Party Chairman Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao were among those absent from the meeting which was being held in the Speaker’s Lounge.
The premier took the guest parliamentarians into confidence on bills empowering military courts and assured them that the law would not be misused. He stressed that the measures were the need of the hour and reservations held by JUI-F would be adequately addressed.
ON CONVINCING JUI-F:
Separately, a government delegation comprising Kamran Murtaza, Barrister Zafarullah and Pervaiz Rasheed also met the JUI-F chief in order to convince him to vote in favour of the amendment bills.
Fazl’s objection remains on the specification of religious and sectarian groups in the bills.
Meanwhile, sources said lawmakers from Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and PPP have said that if specifications in relation to religious and sectarian groups engaged in terrorist activities were removed, the amendments would have no real meaning.
Later Tuesday, the Senate also passed 21st Amendment Bill with 78 votes in favour and none against. This is more than the two-third majority required to amend the Constitution. The House also unanimously adopted Pakistan Army Amendment Bill. Both the bills were moved by Senator Pervaiz Rashid.
The two bills would now be sent to the president for his assent to become part of the Constitution.
Earlier, responding to points raised by some members in the Senate, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed confidence that the 20-point National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism would help restore peace in the country.
The prime minister said that the two bills would go a long way in effectively trying hardcore terrorists who kill innocent people and security personnel.
Sharif also made it clear that the decision about referral of cases to the special court would be made by the government.
Moreover, the premier gave an overview of the need for these amendments, saying that immediately after Peshawar tragedy, the national leadership gathered in Peshawar at his invitation and decided to form a committee for formulating a national plan of action against terrorism.
The committee completed its task within the stipulated time of one week and the national leadership met once against in Islamabad where it was unanimously decided to amend the Constitution and the Army Act.
The prime minister said that parliamentary parties gave their input for drafting of these amendments and attempts were made till Tuesday noon to address reservations of the two parties.
He said their viewpoint was accommodated but still they did not take part in the legislative process in the National Assembly. They should participate in the process as their leaders too were targeted by terrorists, he added.
The prime minister expressed government’s resolve to enforce the new laws with full force to eliminate terrorism and restore peace in the country.
“There is no justification to remain in power if we cannot move decisively against terrorists,” he said, adding that the military leadership including the army chief was a part of the process that resulted into national consensus about establishment of the special courts to try terrorists.
The premier said that the army leadership categorically stated that it was not their desire but need of the hour.
THANK YOU PARLIAMENTARIANS:
Moreover, presenting his vote of thanks in the Senate after the passage of amendments, the prime minister said, “I have done my national duty. We have unanimously taken decisions for which all deserve credit. We have to move forward in unison by supporting each other and the mess will be cleared in two years.”
The prime minister also thanked those leaders who were not present in the All Parties Conference (APC) including Altaf Hussain and Asfandyar Wali Khan but extended their support on telephone, and those who were present including Sirajul Haq, Chaudhry Shujaat, Mushahid Hussain, Hasil Bizenjo, Dr Abdul Malik, Imran Khan, Begum Kasloom Perveen, Mahmood Khan Achakzai, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Aftab Sherpao, Afrasiab Khattak, Haji Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, Dr Mohammad Malik, Dr GG Jamal, Ejazul Haq, Syed Muzzafar Hussain Shah, senators from FATA, Abbas Afridi and Aitzaz Ahsan.
He said the results would come out as the cases proceed and there were many people who were in internment centres and others involved in the terrorism cases and all of them would be dealt with in accordance with the law.