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PPP end the boycott of military courts

24 February, 2017

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ISLAMABAD: Despite a late-night decision by the Pakistan Peoples Party to end its boycott of the committee of parliamentary leaders, the stalemate over revival of military courts persisted on Thursday, with the opposition parties vowing not to extend “unconditional support” to the government’s proposed draft of the constitution amendment bill.

The PPP, which stayed away from Thursday’s meeting presided over by National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq, finally agreed to attend the meeting on Friday (today) after the government established direct contact with party chief Asif Ali Zardari.

“Yes, we will attend tomorrow’s (Friday) meeting,” PPP’s parliamentary leader Syed Naveed Qamar told Dawn, after reports that the government members had made hectic efforts to bring the party back to the committee.

Without naming anyone, Mr Qamar confirmed that he and other members of the PPP, including Mr Zardari, had been approached by several government ministers and high-ups with the request to end the boycott.

Saying that he had received a green signal from his party chief to attend the meeting, Mr Qamar, however, made it clear that it did not mean that the party had changed its “principled stance” on the issue.

Sources in the government and the opposition said the NA speaker had talked to Opposition Leader Khurshid Shah whereas a senior member of the federal cabinet had managed to establish direct contact with Mr Zardari. Similarly, the sources said that JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman had also contacted the PPP leadership on behalf of the ruling PML-N.

Earlier, talking briefly to reporters after presiding over the in-camera meeting of the parliamentary leaders, Mr Sadiq claimed that the parties had agreed on revival of the military courts, but “there are reservations over the way forward”.

The speaker said that everyone knew the military courts were the country’s requirement “but they want timeframe for different things so that these [military courts] could not acquire permanent status,” he said, adding that the parties wanted constitution of a parliamentary committee for monitoring the performance of the courts.

Military courts were established and granted permission to try civilians charged with terrorism in Jan 2015 after a terrorist attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar in Dec 2014. The courts have been non-functional since Jan 7 after the expiry of the two-year constitutional cover given to them.

Meanwhile, after the PPP and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) has also declared that it will not endorse the government-proposed draft of the constitution amendment bill in its present form.

The opposition leaders allege that the government has changed the draft without taking them into confidence in order to appease its ally Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F), which was earlier opposing the government move, but now had agreed to support it after the government introduced an amended draft of the bill.

The opposition parties basically have objections to the government’s move to amend Article 175(3) of the Constitution which had allowed the military courts to hold trial of persons “belonging to any terrorist group or organisation using the name of religion or a sect”. In the new draft, the government has removed the words “using the name of religion or sect”, creating apprehensions among political parties that the law could be used against them for “arm-twisting or political victimisation”.

It may be recalled that JUI-F member Naeema Kishwar had stated on Wednesday that her party would back out from its support to the government’s move, if it reverted to the previous draft.

The proposal for giving a three-year extension to the military courts is another stumbling block in the way of developing a consensus as the opposition parties believe that the present parliament cannot extend the period beyond its own tenure which will be ending after 15 months.

When contacted, PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar said that Mr Zardari had decided to convene an all-party conference (APC) on the issue in an effort to develop a consensus. He said so far the party had not finalised the date and venue of the APC.

When asked about Fazl-Zardari contacts, Mr Babar said that he could not say whether the two had talked on Thursday, but could confirm that the two leaders had been in contact over the issue of Fata reforms.

Meanwhile, talking to reporters after the parliamentary leaders’ meeting, PTI’s Dr Shireen Mazari said there had been no breakthrough over the issue of the military courts and a majority of the participants had asked the government to present before them the same draft which they had endorsed in the form of the 21st Constitution Amendment.

MQM’s Dr Farooq Sattar said his party wanted the government to take steps for curbing extremism from the country in real terms. He was of the view that simply approving setting up of military courts in the wake of fresh terror attacks would be of no use.

“The government should categorically resolve that elimination of extremism will be its first priority,” he said, alleging that the government was using the parliament to hide its failure in implementing the National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism.

The MQM leader called for setting up of a parliamentary committee for monitoring of the implementation of NAP by the federal and provincial governments.

Dr Sattar declared that his party had extended unconditional support to the 21st Amendment in the past, but this time they would do it “conditionally”. He said the MQM wanted powers for the local governments and the party would seek written assurances from the prime minister as well as the (Sindh) chief minister that they would do it.

The MQM leader also called for ending the discrimination between “good and bad terrorists”. He said the MQM would not accept the present draft of the bill circulated by the government after deleting the words “religion” from it. He said that he had suggested that the military courts should only be given an extension of one and a half years.

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