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PAKISTAN’S MILITARY COURTS: ARE THEY REALLY RELEVANT?

“Military courts have no business trying civilians. There is no fair process involved where trials are held in secrecy, there is no right to appeal, and judges may be unqualified to preside in judgment,”- Amnesty International.

On December 16, 2014, Pakistan was shaken from within as the Islamist terrorists belonging to Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Fazalullah faction targeted Army Public School, Peshawar and cold-bloodedly murdered 145 school children.

Incidentally, Taliban was the creation of the Pakistani intelligence agency (the ISI) funded by the U.S. They were provided with all the initial assistance and training to take on the Soviets in Afghanistan. However, once the Soviets moved out in 1989, these very Taliban turned their guns towards their mentors.

The incident not only shook Pakistan but was also condemned by the whole world. The killing of innocent children was just not accepted.  It woke up the Pakistan Army out of its slumber and they went out all guns blazing eliminating and apprehending the perpetrators. However, it was realised that civil courts were not suited to deal with the apprehended terrorists due to security problems. As a result, the Pakistan Parliament, on January 5, 2015, in a joint session of both Houses passed the 21st Amendment to the constitution of Pakistan, establishing military courts for trying Islamist terrorists.

Military courts, as expected, started the proceedings and began dishing out death sentences to the alleged offenders. As a rough estimate, as per the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Military Courts, since their establishment, have had 717 cases referred to them by the federal government. Out of the total, 546 had been finalised by the military courts, with 310 sent to the death squads, 234 sent for rigorous imprisonment and acquittal for two.

However, all said and done, these courts have also come under a lot of criticism for flouting the basics of a justice system and their high handedness while dealing the cases. Though Supreme Court of Pakistan endorsed the relevance of these courts but the Peshawar High Court (PHC) has questioned the very relevance by setting aside the convictions of 73 persons convicted for terrorism charges including suicide attacks and killing of security personnel. As a result, only 56 people from among 310 convicts have been executed after completion of the legal process which included their appeals in superior courts and rejection of mercy petitions both by the army chief and the president. Execution of the remaining 254 terrorists is pending completion of the legal process in higher courts.

These courts were constituted with a special clause known as ‘sunset clause’ implying that their existence terminates automatically after two years unless extended by the Parliament based on the need projected by the government. The first extension, promulgated in January 2016 expires beginning January 2019 and the questions, asked before the first extension, are once again asked – Are these courts relevant now? Are they better qualified than the civilian courts? These courts were supposed to be a temporary phenomenon and grant of a further extension will only be an embarrassment to the ruling government for failing to institute necessary judicial reforms to make the anti-terrorism courts more effective.

Even the Amnesty International’s Senior Adviser David Griffiths had said that “Military courts have no business trying civilians. There is no fair process involved where trials are held in secrecy, there is no right to appeal, and judges may be unqualified to preside in judgment,” “By surrendering the judicial system to the military, Pakistan’s lawmakers have failed in their duty to support an independent civilian judiciary. They are recklessly abandoning people to a court system that has in the last two years produced coerced confessions, unfair trials, and executions.”

So, the question remains, who needs the Military Courts, the Civil judicial system, the Pakistan Government or the Military?

21 Dec 2018/Friday                                                 Written by Azadazraq

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