Friday, January 2, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Jan 3, 2014

APC consensus Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had recalled the All Parties Conference (APC) on Friday to bring to a conclusion the whole conundrum on the setting up of military courts. The government’s preferred option was to amend the constitution in order to provide legal protection to such courts. Whereas before the five-hours long sitting of the APC, there was considerable scepticism regarding the ability of the APC to return to its original consensus on setting up military courts through a constitutional amendment that it had expressed on December 24, at the end of yesterday’s long session, the participating parties surprisingly emerged precisely with such a consensus. The constitutional amendment bill for this purpose will be presented in the National Assembly today and in the Senate on Tuesday. Any constitutional amendment has to be passed by a two-thirds majority in both houses. At the time of writing these lines, the details of the constitutional amendment bill are not available, but the intriguing questions are how the reservations of various parties regarding the very idea of military courts were overcome (the Jamiat-i-Ulema-e-Islam of Maulana Fazlur Rehman found particular mention in this regard) and what provision if any has been made for the possible legal challenge to the amendment under which military courts will be created. The lawyers community and civil society seem ready to go to court against the amendment. After the APC, the MQM and other parties clarified that agreeing to military courts was the need of the hour, and that their scope and duration had been limited to just terrorists and two years respectively. COAS General Raheel Sharif, who attended the APC, said that military courts were not the demand of the army but the necessary measure of the time if the fight against terrorism was to be pursued effectively. There are reports that the Army Act 1952 may also be amended to allow trial of terrorists by military courts, although how the constitutional amendment and the amendment in the Army act 1952 will coexist is not clear. On Thursday, one day before the APC, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had stated that the civilian and military leadership were united against terrorism. The Corps Commanders’ Conference on the same day had argued for not allowing the anti-terrorist consensus to be lost on smaller issues. As it turned out on Friday, it was the big picture that the entire national leadership kept foremost in view. Let us remind ourselves once again that the Peshawar attack, no matter how heinous because it targeted innocent schoolgoing children, was not the beginning of terrorism in Pakistan. Anger over that massacre evoked a consensus in society generally, and amongst the political class in particular, on the need to grasp firmly the nettle of terrorism and scotch it once and for all. Peshawar in that sense proved a tipping point. All differences were subsumed in the universal condemnation of and anger against the terrible tragedy of Peshawar. The political class, whatever its otherwise genuine reservations about military courts per se and the possibility of the misuse of their broadened scope, could not but bend their backs to find a way out of the conundrum and come up to the expectations of the people. Not to do so would have invited massive opprobrium for the political forces for being disunited, weak and indecisive. That would have provided more grist to the rumour mills predicting expanding space and power for the military. If the civilian politicians have risen to the expectations of the people, General Raheel Sharif has attempted to allay the apprehensions regarding the extraordinary step of setting up military courts to meet the exigencies of an extraordinary situation: war. He has stated after the APC that this extraordinary step is of limited duration (the sunset clause is said to be two years) and the system will return to normal as soon as the situation stabilizes. Let us hope the sunset clause limit and the sufficient weakening if not total elimination of terrorism coincide.

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