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All parties agreed on Military courts

17 March, 2017

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ISLAMABAD: An impasse between the government and the PPP over the issue of extension to military courts ended on Thursday after parliamentary parties agreed on a two-year extension to military courts following withdrawal of five of the nine recommendations the opposition party had initially demanded to be included in the draft bill.

Speaking after a meeting of the parliamentary parties held in Parliament House, National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq said that agreement has been reached on four of the nine points presented by the PPP. He said a national security committee comprising National Assembly and Senate members would be formed to oversee the military courts as well as other matters related to curbing terrorism in the country.

Sadiq said that Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) had reservations regarding the language of the bill, specifically with the phrase 'terrorism in the name of religion'. Their reservations would be addressed in the final draft, he added.

Sadiq said the amendments to the legislation will be tabled in the National Assembly today (Friday). "[The bill] will then be approved on Monday in the National Assembly, after which it will be tabled in the Senate on Tuesday," he added.

Sadiq said though the law relating to the courts had not been changed, the extension is conditional.

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar on the occasion said that all the political parties have agreed to further amend the constitution in order to revive military courts for two years. "The decision was made in view of the fact that the country is fighting a war against terrorism," he added.

PPP leader Aitzaz Ahsan said that his party has agreed to a two-year extension of the military courts after the ruling party accepted its basic points. Ahsan, who headed a four-member PPP team at the meeting, said four of the nine recommendations proposed by his party would be incorporated in the draft bill. He said that one of the conditions the PPP withdrew was that military courts should be presided over by a Sessions Judge along with a military officer. He said the recommendations of his party to be incorporated in the final draft are: accused will be produced within 24 hours before the court concerned; accused will be provided with grounds of arrest within 24 hours; accused shall have right to engage a counsel of his own choice and provisions of the Qanoon-i-Shahadat 1984 (Law of Evidence) shall apply.

PTI leader Shah Mahmood Qureshi said all the political forces of the country have shown flexibility in reaching a consensus on extension to military courts. He said spirit of the consensus is that any particular religious community will not be targeted. "No one should be targeted [after reestablishment of the courts] based on which religious beliefs they hold," he said.

Military courts had been disbanded on Jan 7 this year after a sunset clause included in the legal provisions under which the tribunals were established, expired. The government and the opposition had struggled to reach a consensus on reviving the courts despite frequent discussions.

The primary concern of critics was 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.

Proponents say the courts act as an 'effective deterrent' for those considering violent acts.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court declared that civilian laws were not applicable in military courts.

Hearing a review petition seeking acquittal of three persons, who were awarded death sentence by military courts, the three-judge bench headed by Justice Amir Hani Muslim maintained that provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) would not be relevant in a case involving an offence dealt by the Field General Court Martial under the Army Act of 1952.

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