Should military courts be revived? Unfortunately, however, this question has no easy answer. If the parliamentary leaders’ in-camera meeting on Tuesday is any indicator it is not going to come anytime soon.
Met for the second time to find an answer to the question of reviving the military courts they had put “more questions” before the government. And as if the government too is equally undecided it called for third such sitting on January 31. At the expiry of a mandated two-year term, the military courts stopped functioning on January 7. At the time of their establishment it was decided that by the time of their expiry there would a whole host of legal reforms obviating the need to extend the term of the military courts. But that was not done; in fact, only a day after the expiry of military courts the interior minister hinted at the possibility of establishing special courts for speedy trial of terrorist elements.
The interior minister, who was supposed to speak about the conceived or planned special courts, was, however, conspicuous by his absence in the latest in-camera meeting of the parliamentary leaders. No question then there is an air of duplicity to the whole issue of reviving the military courts, with government and opposition both playing hide and seek on this vital issue. If a decision to set up military courts was taken in the open, following a comprehensive debate in parliament and with total political consensus, why then their future should be discussed in secret? Is it that in the eyes of parliamentarians the justice dispensed by the military courts falls short of pristine principles of free and fair trial?
Or, is it that these courts failed to stem the then rising tide of terrorism? None of it. Their verdicts are subject to judicial review by the apex court in the country, and that they have by and large succeeded in instilling fear in terrorists.
Times do come in the life of nations when exigencies of national security dictate out-of-the-box solutions. The United States introduced special laws to deal with the aftermath of the 9/11. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto assumed the charge of chief martial law administrator in 1971 because it was the need of the hour. And the Supreme Court of Pakistan dismissed petitions of bar associations against military courts.
In the absence of judicial reforms, which were expected to be in place during the two-year term of the military courts, these courts may again be viewed as the need of the hour. But as to what are the parliamentarians’ reservations the people would like to know. Let their January 31 meeting be an open affair with media in the press gallery. -Business Recorder