Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Daily Times Editorial Dec 31, 2014

Military courts Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and COAS General Raheel Sharif were scheduled to meet on Tuesday to discuss, amongst other things, the 21st Amendment to set up military courts. The government is said to have done its homework on the Amendment, whose draft will probably be presented in the National Assembly and Senate on January 5. But whether the Amendment will have the smooth sailing that was earlier expected because of the consensus in the All Parties Conference (APC) is now open to question literally days after that unanimity. To illustrate, the Senate’s session on Monday produced a great many reservations on the very concept of setting up military courts. Senator Raza Rabbani of the PPP led the charge with some trenchant criticism of the idea, which he said would hit at the basic structure of the constitution. Quoting from the past history of military courts set up by civilian governments in 1977 and 1998, he underlined that in both cases they were struck down by the courts and ironically led to the overthrow of both prime ministers by military coups. Military courts’ summary procedures, Rabbani argued, while trying civilians, ran the risk of serious miscarriages of justice, referring to the issue of missing persons to illustrate his point. He said the flaws in the civilian judicial system vis-à-vis terrorism cases should not be placed at the door of the judiciary, since judges could not convict accused against whom the prosecution failed to provide clinching evidence. However, these flaws should not rush us into an ill-considered reliance on military courts. He roundly criticised successive governments, but particularly the present incumbents for their failure to implement laws that were already on the statute books. His reference was to the laws governing anti-terrorism courts, laws that remain unimplemented. Another example he gave was that the government in its National Action Plan had talked about curbing hate literature although laws to that effect existed but were never implemented. He said he looked forward to seeing how many printing presses spewing out such literature would be raided and taken to task by the executive in coming days. Rabbani also challenged the statement of Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar that 90 percent of seminaries were registered, quoting the number of unregistered seminaries in Islamabad alone, let alone the rest of the country. Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, lent his weight in similar fashion, later dilating on television on his stance that setting up military courts should not distort the basic character of the constitution and must be confined to trying religion-based terrorists alone, and not, for example, Baloch nationalists. He was particularly at pains to emphasise that there must be no curbs on fundamental rights. In an interesting development while the debate about the setting up of military courts rages, reports say a proposal has been floated to hold an APC on the issues of Balochistan and Karachi. The proposal is said to have the backing of COAS General Raheel Sharif. The significance of the floating of this idea is that critics blame the heavy-handed tactics of the security forces in Balochistan for deepening the alienation and anger of the Baloch nationalists. In the wake of the Peshawar tragedy, some hotheads seem to have got carried away in lumping the Baloch nationalist insurgency with terrorism and demanding ‘all’ be wiped out. Even making concessions for high running emotions in the aftermath of the Peshawar massacre of schoolchildren, this lumping of all dissident movements in the basket of terrorism obliterates the significant difference between religion-based fanaticism and a political rights-based nationalist insurgency in Balochistan. No ‘one-size-fits-all’ concept, attractive for its ‘ease’ as it may be, will do. A nuanced approach to discrete problems is in our interest. The abortive attempt last year to negotiate with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan showed the virtual impossibility of negotiations succeeding with fanatics. However, the Baloch have long standing political and economic grievances that could be so addressed. Even if the state cannot concede the demand for separation of Balochistan from the country, there is some room for manoeuvre in the space between the insurgent position and the use of force by the state. That space has not so far been explored, largely because the moderate nationalist government of Dr Abdul Malik Baloch has failed in its attempts to kick start any process of talks with the angry Baloch leadership in exile, let alone with the insurgents in the mountains. If General Raheel Sharif has seen the chink of light between the approach to religion-based terrorism and the nationalist insurgency, this can only be considered a good portent and welcomed. We have argued in this space for a very long time for this considered approach rather than the knee-jerk reaction to the Peshawar tragedy that wants to obliterate the difference between the two phenomena the state is faced with. Whether the APC on Balochistan and Karachi can or will yield positive results is difficult to say, but its deliberations can do no harm and may even lead to solutions to these conundrums that can only help the country move forward.

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