To be or not to be

The government is making preparations to bring the issue of Military Court’s (MC) extension to the parliament floor. The news has many members of civil society worried. Bilawal Bhutto has categorically opposed the said extension, however, PML-N leadership, like some others, have not been decisive on the subject.

Why aren’t we fans of the military courts?

Rights-based organisations have been critical of the military courts, criticising it for undervaluing the significance and role of the civil judiciary in the country. But the proponents of the 21st Amendment to National Constitution regard military courts to be most effective. They claim that, in the absence of adequate security for lawyers and judges and not to mention secure witness-protection protocols, civil courts have experienced a lag in deciding terrorism-related cases.

The processing expediency of the military courts has been its biggest quality. Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) claims that out of total of 717 cases, 546 have been finalized since the inception of MCs in 2015. Over 300 terrorists have been awarded death punishment: 56 of these terrorists were executed, while the penalty of those remaining is pending completion of legal process in the higher courts. In 234 cases rigorous imprisonment has been given. ISPR reported two acquittals in the last 4 years.

Significantly, National Action Plan (NAP) was all about brining the government and army together to secure the country and rid the land from harmful elements and the military courts only provide respite for the already enervated civil judiciary.

A National Action Plan without the political will

Is it possible, however, to envisage a National Action Plan without the military courts? Our democratic institutions will have to decide if and how they can improve the democratic institutions to safeguard our national interests and the NAP. Military is an important organ of the State, but does it have to be encumbered with more than its role in a democracy.

Here comes the responsibility of the serving government. When the MC extension is brought to the parliament, PTI should visit all questions around the ambiguities of MC’s mechanisms. Are they ready to defend the secrecy around the cases and criteria of the cases, lack of transparency and access to media and, most of all, concealing identities of those on trial, without their family’s knowledge that are contrary to the basic rights of the accused? It should also be discussed whether Pakistan’s inherent problems cannot find solutions, weak institutions and political parties have not and cannot save the country. In this case the army remains the sole sovereign and savior of the people.

The PTI government’s latest bid to amend NAP concentrates on cyber-related crime. This is a welcome suggestion, but if the government isn’t ready to eliminate terrorists’ outfits in our folds and assumes the role of good cop-bad cop among the extremists, we are much poorer.

The government’s biggest determination at present is to make financial ends meet, however, no amount of financial investment in Pakistan is safe until the National Action Plan’s success is ensured—with or without the MCs.

It is time for PTI to show their will and decide for Pakistan. Otherwise in Jean-Luc Goddard’s words, To be or not to be. That’s not really a question.

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