The long arm of the law

Can the military courts be revived?


In a probable change of heart coming after a meeting with the army leadership, the government has decided to revive the military courts to try civilians charged with terrorism. It might not have taken the trouble to consult other parties if another constitutional amendment was not required to resurrect the military courts. That the government let the life span allotted to the courts under 21st Amendment expire on January 5 indicates it was in no mood to extend their tenure any more. This is also indicated by Rana Sanaullah’s statement a little before the high-level meeting, a stand that he revised after Nawaz Sharif’s change of stance. It is still not clear if the government really wants the revival of the courts. Maybe it is not, but would like the opposition to be held responsible for the failure to revive them.


To force the PML-N government to come out clean on the issue, the opposition told the Speaker that a consensus was not possible until the government put forth its proposals by January 17, when they would meet the Speaker again.


Creating a parallel judicial system is never commendable. It was resorted to because the prevailing system could not cope with cases of terrorism. Terrorist harassed the witnesses, prosecutors and judges. They made use of digital media to communicate with one another and tothreaten people. This sort of evidence was not permissible for prosecution under the existing laws. The government was required to make necessary changes in laws, redirect resources to improve the investigation side, de-politicise the police and prosecution department and provide complete security to witnesses and judges. The sunset clause in the 21st amendment was an inbuilt legislative inducement to upgrade the existing Anti-Terrorism Act and reform the criminal judicial system. The government had two years but failed to move an inch in the direction losing credibility. It is now required to explain its precise plans for reform and offer guarantee for their success before the opposition can agree to the revival of military courts.