Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Jan 7, 2015

Predictable divide Not unexpectedly, the seeming consensus as expressed in the All Parties Conference (APC) on amendments to the constitution and the Army Act 1952 quickly unravelled on Monday when the relevant bills for this purpose were introduced in the National Assembly (NA). The religious parties with ties going back in time to various jihadi groups quickly backtracked on their commitment to support the measures. The Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), out of conviction as much as fear of upsetting its ‘constituency’, adopted discretion (or rather absence from the session) as the better part of valour. The Jamiat-i-Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) on the other hand, did attend but only to press its objections to the narrowing of the definition of ‘terrorism’ to only those acts carried out in the name of religion or sect, or those sought to be justified by misusing the tenets of Islam. Maulana Fazlur Rehman tried desperately on the floor of the house to muddy the waters by arguing that “terrorism is terrorism”, whether carried out in the name of religion or on the basis of ethnicity and language. However, the mood of the house was against this ‘expansion’. Monday also saw the PPP reluctant to pass the constitutional and legal amendments on Zufikar Ali Bhutto’s birth anniversary. As it is the parliamentarians of the PPP, meeting after their co-chairperson former president Asif Zardari had already committed the party to supporting the amendments in the APC, were very agitated for their meeting being convened after the decision by the leadership rather than being consulted on it before. One of the PPP’s leaders, Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, having been in the forefront of expressing reservations regarding the setting up of military courts, now found himself in the uncomfortable position as Leader of the Opposition in the Senate chairing the meeting with Leader of the Opposition in the NA Syed Khursheed Shah. Nevertheless he tried manfully to point to the contributions of the PPP in ensuring that the wording of the amendments was restricted to religion-based terrorism, thereby rescuing the nationalists and politicians from the malign shadow of military courts, and insisting on the sunset clause of two years. However, his efforts failed to mollify those like Raza Rabbani who thought it a sad and perhaps the “last day” for parliament. This angst is understandable. The religious parties apart, none of the other parties see the military courts as anything but a compulsion and a ‘bitter pill’. All this palaver however did not prevent both the houses of parliament from passing both amendments unanimously on Tuesday. So two and a half cheers, we finally have military courts again. The problem of terrorism has been allowed to fester and grow for so long because of the misplaced concreteness of our security and foreign policies that nothing short of drinking from the poisoned chalice of military courts is seen as even close to a panacea, particularly in the climate of opinion post-Peshawar. Fazlur Rehman’s party followed the lead of its ideological sister the JI in absenting itself from Tuesday’s session, no doubt because the Maulana’s arguments on Monday had failed to cut much ice against the solid consensus on the other side. Maulana Fazlur Rehman remarked to the media on the day that his party had “thank God” not participated in the ‘sin’ of passing the amendments, which he and the JI see as targeting only the seminaries in a foreign and domestic conspiracy to turn Pakistan into a secular state. We wish the Maulana had also dilated on his party’s and the JI’s role in the ‘original sin’ of creating, supporting and facilitating jihadi terrorist groups over long years. It is another matter that in true ‘proxy’ style, such groups have not hesitated to bite the hand that fed them and turned to deadly attacks on their erstwhile mentors. The military establishment too has suffered more than its share of such ‘betrayals’, hence its turn towards taking out at least the domestic component of jihadi terrorism. The religious parties too may find that their ‘pot of gold’ under the jihadi rainbow is fast vanishing into the sunset. Now the real task is to keep a close watch on the functioning of the military courts to monitor any violations of the law and miscarriages of justice. Neither should we rule out in such instances appeals to the civilian higher courts if a case of failure of due process or miscarriage of justice can be made out.

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