Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Getting down to the finish line, a suggestion for the PPP

Zahid Hussain has written this sound op-ed for Dawn on the military courts question that is currently front-and-center in Pakistan. Excerpt:
While some may still argue that the military tribunals were useful for a limited period of time it has become an excuse for not undertaking reforms. Now the government is seeking a two-year extension for military courts saying it requires more time to overhaul the criminal justice system. But a major question is whether the government is serious about its intentions. There is much doubt, given that the last two years have been wasted.  
For sure, the government does not have the numbers to pass another constitutional amendment for the extension of the term for military courts. To get a two-thirds majority in both the houses of parliament, it requires the support of other political parties who are divided on the issue. Indeed the support of the [Pakistan People's Party] that enjoys a majority in the Senate is most critical. 
It is apparent that the PPP in principle is not opposed to the extension, but it has stated its own terms for the support. Asif Ali Zardari, who has reappeared on the political scene after a long absence, has presented nine recommendations including the reduction of the sunset clause to one year. 
Many see these as a political bargaining ploy as most of the points do not make legal sense. The suggestion to have a sessions judge along with a military officer sit on the bench cannot be taken seriously. It is clear that these proposals are meant to appease the liberal voices in the party opposed to the extension of the Military Act to civilians. The creation of a hybrid civil-military court would not be workable and would instead create more confusion. 
Instead of seeking to civilianise the military justice system, the PPP leadership must stress on linking a one-year extension, if it deems it absolutely unavoidable, to a mandatory time line for upgrading the anti-terrorism courts and taking substantive steps to reform the overall criminal justice system. It is certainly not a big deal if efforts are sincere. The onus is not only on the government but also on the apex court to make sure it happens.
Experience from 2015 unfortunately teaches that relying on the Supreme Court of Pakistan to keep things in check is, with respect, unjustified.

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