Parliamentary leaders agree on two-year extension of military courts

The lawmakers of major political parties on Tuesday announced that they had agreed to reinstate military courts for another two years.

Talking to media after a meeting of parliamentary leaders, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) senior leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi said those present at the meeting had agreed on a two-year extension for military courts.

The meeting, however, was not attended by leaders of the PPP, who had earlier called a multi-party conference on March 4 to discuss the matter with other politicians.

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Dar, however, expressed hope that the PPP will support the decision after their conference, and that the decision will be agreed on in a parliamentary session scheduled for March 6.

Qureshi told media that support for the reinstatement of the controversial courts had been given because it is “the need of the hour.”

Military courts have been an issue of conflict between the government and the opposition. The primary concern of critics is the mystery surrounding military court trials: no-one knows who the convicts are, what charges have been brought against them, or what the accused’s defence is against the allegations levelled.

“The parties have agreed that the conditions [in the country] are still unusual. Circumstances threatening Pakistan’s integrity are still prevalent. We have all agreed on this and there is a need for the extension.”

He said that after the two years are over, however, cases pending in military courts would be transferred back to anti-terrorism courts.

The PTI leader further said an implementation plan will be formed and signed by all parliamentary leaders to ensure that the government is bound to whatever agreement is finally inked.

“The implementation plan will be formed so that two years later we do not return to this stage to discuss [another] extension in military courts,” he said.

He added that a parliamentary committee will be formed to oversee the process of the extension and will meet once a month.

Qureshi maintained that reinstating military courts was not a preferred solution; adding that it was due to “capacity limitations” that the government had to seek the assistance of Rangers and Army.

“The world over, the police battles terror, and laws are formed to this effect. Our normal legal situation should address terrorism as well.”

Commenting on the matter, Muttahida Qaumi Movement leader Dr Farooq Sattar said: “No steps were taken for the success of the military courts or to better the performance of the anti-terrorism courts.”

Former interior minister and Qaumi Watan Party chief Aftab Sherpao hoped this would be the last time an extension was sought for military courts. “We don’t believe that giving an extension to military courts over and over is a good thing.”

“In two years, we hope that the government will take the required steps and ensure military courts do not have to be extended again,” Sherpao added.

The 21st Amendment under which military tribunals were established expired in January 2017 after a two-year sunset clause contained in the legislation took effect.

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