Thursday, January 1, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Jan 2, 2015

Ring in the new It is customary at the start of a new year to cast a glance at the year that has gone and make resolutions about the coming one. This custom operates both at the individual as well as the level of countries. Pakistan in this regard has much to reflect on. Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif delivered a message to the country on the eve of New Year, promising better things now that the entire country seems to be united behind the challenge of combating terrorism. Although it is undeniable that battle has finally been joined against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), first after the Karachi airport attack that triggered Operation Zarb-e-Azb and now the coming together of all the political forces and the military to chalk out a comprehensive counterinsurgency and counterterrorism strategy titled the National Action Plan (NAP), no one should be lulled into complacency since this is arguably the greatest test of resolve and determination over a protracted period. The examples of other insurgencies and terrorist movements indicate clearly just how long and difficult such campaigns can prove. Having said that, it needs to be understood that as predicted in this space, the military courts are unlikely to be set up through a constitutional amendment. This much became clear after the PM wound up the debate in the Senate on Wednesday about the Peshawar attack. Although he reiterated the government’s intent of moving a constitutional amendment in the National Assembly on the military courts, reports speak of the government having ‘shelved’ the idea after it became clear that some political parties were digging their heels in against such a move. A Karachi-based party is said to have indicated its opposition because many of its members are charged with political violence and some of them are on death row. While the government would like to extend the scope of the military courts to all kinds of terrorism including politically motivated violence, the rejection of any such notion by the party in question seems to have put paid to the constitutional amendment project. Now reports say the government may instead amend the Army Act 1952 to allow military courts to be set up to try religion-based terrorism. In this space we have already pointed out the seeming lack of a fallback option with the government if their preferred path of a constitutional amendment proves impossible. Now that we may have come to this pass, the obvious recourse to amending the Army Act 1952 still does not seem to be problem-free, since it could easily be subject to legal challenge and run the risk of being struck down as violative of the constitution and its scheme of an independent civil judicial system. Meanwhile Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar has chaired a meeting of the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), from which flowed the following. First, Niaz Mohammad, a convicted prisoner in the Musharraf attack case was hanged in Peshawar on Wednesday. Whether this has anything to do with it or not, the minister has directed that all those convicts on death row whose mercy appeals have been rejected should be executed post-haste. While this may be intended as a strong message to the terrorists that the government now means business, it is questionable whether this is the best way forward since it smacks of retaliation rather than a considered approach to justice. The NACTA moot discussed the NAP with all stakeholders, including provincial authorities. The minister wants intelligence sharing with NACTA to develop the centralised database so crucial to the fight against terrorism. He has promised all the resources required to make the hitherto moribund NACTA fully operational. Chaudhry Nisar said the military is offering sacrifices in the struggle and now the civil side must also contribute. Watch this space, but don’t hold your breath. Time is now of the essence. All sides, civil and military, must gear up for the difficult long haul ahead.

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