Military courts

Though those guilty of vandalism on May 9, military courts are not the answer

The country took a further step towards military courts for the violence committed on May 9 against military installations, including arson at the residence of the Corps Commander Lahore and the attack on GHQ Rawalpindi, not to mention the arson at PAF Mianwali, among others. The Nation Security Committee met and endorsed the decisions of the special Corps Commanders’ meeting held the day before. It was decided by both that trials of the accused would be carried out under the Army Act, which meant that the guilty would not only face lengthy jail terms, but would also receive trials by Summary Court Martial, rather than by a civilian court. Such trial would also be swifter, but would not allow as much room for appeal.

Military courts have not had an unchequered history when they were applied to civilians, no matter how useful they have been internally in the military in maintaining its internal discipline. The end of the moratorium on the death penalty, and the moving of the trials of sectarian terrorists to military courts came after the horrible 2014 APS massacre, but that did not lead to the elimination of the terrorists, who are still active enough to be used as an ecue by the government, as well as the Election Commission of Pakistan, for not holding election to the KP and Punjab Assemblies. Even before this, experiences under martial law of military justice showed that it left much to be desired, especially in its ignoring of the rights of the accused to due process of law.

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While those guilty of the outrages of May 9 certainly deserve to be punished, the accused do not deserve to end up in the sort of limbo that might result if the superior courts stayed trials while examining their legality. The military also should be careful that it does not, like that superior judiciary, fall in the trap of being labelled as pro- or anti- any particular political party. Except when it has imposed martial law, the military has not appeared to take action against members of a political party. As all of those accused will turn out to be Pakistan Tehrik Insaf activists, the optics are going to be awkward. At root, the problem seems to be that of a lack of trust in the ordinary courts, in the justice system, with its interminable delays, and myriad ways of being sidestepped. Instead of taking its case to the ordinary courts, the military is apparently relying on its own justice system.

The Editorial Department of Pakistan Today can be contacted at: [email protected].


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