Islamabad: The PML-N Government intends to resuscitate controversial military courts for speedy trial of terror-suspects while the rights organisations and opposition parties are resisting the government’s bid.

“The government held a meeting last week and decided to enter consultation with other political forces to revive controversial military courts to trial suspect militants,” an official statement of the PM office further said.

Country’s 11 military courts ceased to work on January 7 at the conclusion of the designated period of two years.

Local and global human rights defenders and legal experts are opposed to these exclusive courts to try alleged terrorists in the country with more than a decade old conflict with Islamic militant groups.

These military courts were set up in January 2015 as a result of a unanimous agreement between the civil-military leaderships. The courts were set up for a period of two years through a constitutional amendment adopted by country’s parliament without any opposition.

The military courts were introduced in Pakistan under a 20-point National Action Plan (NAP) to counter terrorism and militancy. The civil-military leaderships jointly adopted the NAP following a terrible attack of militants on the Army Public School Peshawar resulting in a brutal killing of nearly 150 people – mainly students. Point two of the NAP called for setting up “special trial courts” under the supervision of Pakistan Army for a period of two years.

Last week, federal government announced to enter a fresh consultation with all political parties aiming another constitutional cover to the suggested military courts for another certain period “to implement NAP in true spirit,” as stressed by political leaders in the Pakistani media.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and country’s newly appointed Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa attended the meeting among other ministers, military leadership and executives of intelligence agencies. The members of the meeting, an official said, agreed the military courts played an extremely important role at a very crucial juncture of the action against extremism and terrorism and these courts should be set up again.

On the other side, human rights bodies and many lawyers and former judges believe government must not set up the controversial military courts again.

“We should not have military courts. Instead, we should improve our current criminal justice system,” Nasir Aslam Zahid, a former judge of Supreme Court of Pakistan, said, adding, “such judicial reforms and improvised system is impossible without educating the society.”

Zahid says the record of the normal courts clearly show awarding of death sentence to hundreds criminals every years according to the law. “Only education, a strong political will to overhaul criminal justice system and parliament can lay a pivotal role in making society refined and better civilized where they feel there is no need of such extraordinary special military courts.”

He noted that civilized societies have education and the rule of law there are no military courts. “And if we continued this way without revolutionizing society and system we will become a dark country like Senegal in Africa and I can see this as writing on the wall,” he feared predicting a bloody revolution after some decades to correct the system.

“There is no need of a separate judicial system or procedure through these speedy courts because without overhauling the whole system and feeling a collective responsibility such isolated attempts like military courts cannot crate deep impact,” Zahid, former SC judge further maintained.

Former Senator and senior leaders of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) Zafar Ali Shah also opposed the concept of military courts. “I am against the setting up of these courts from day-one. We should follow the normal course of law to try civilians and terrorists and improve the standards of investigation and prosecution,” he says.

However, a number of the vulnerable groups and victims of terrorism believe in military courts. Many are frustrated and have little hope for the improvement in the judicial system and rule of law because of lack of political will. They believe there is no other way but to get hold of the militants and sentence them through such speedy military courts, particularly, when normal courts fail to conclude these cases properly.

“We are all for such special (military) courts to dispense justice and award sentence to the terrorists involved in killing innocent people of Pakistan,” a former judge of Lahore High Court says, asking not to be named. “When there is no hope of improvement in judicial system and end to corruption there is no other choice except to accept these military trials of terrorists,” he said.

Therefore the judge emphasized that we must also think of human rights of those innocent people being killed in terror attacks for the past several years and the suffering of their families caused by the absence of justice and improper action by the state amid fears of backlash.

Following the wrapping up of the military courts, the trails pending in these courts have been transferred to Anti Terrorist Courts, country’s Interior Minister Ch. Nisar Ali Khan said.

According to Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), the press department of Pakistan Army, in the past two years the military courts heard 274 cases, awarded 161 death sentences while 12 executions were carried out since January 2015. “The military courts ceased to function upon expiry of its mandated period and the swift disposal of cases through the military courts yielded positive effects towards reduction in terrorist’s activities in an environment of heightened terrorism”, the ISPR statement said.

In August 2015, Supreme Court (SC) dismissed many constitutional petitions against the establishment of these controversial military courts in a majority vote. The SC, however, maintained all decisions of military courts would be subject to judicial review by the appellate courts.

Following the course, the SC on Aug 29, 2016 dismissed appeals of 16 convicts of military courts.

Military courts have remained controversial throughout Pakistan’s history. Such courts have mainly introduced in martial law regimes.

A global human rights group, International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), in his latest statement urged Pakistan to stop these military courts and should not extend legal provisions that empower such courts to try civilians for terrorism-related offence terming such trails “disastrous for human rights in Pakistan.”

The ICJ viewed these trials in military courts “secret, opaque and that they violate even basic fair trials rights — and don’t do anything to protect people from acts of terrorism.” The ICJ urged Pakistan to not extend the military courts and ensure that all counter-terrorism laws and procedures are in accordance with Pakistan’s human rights obligation.

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