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Senate,NA approved Military court bill

07 January, 2015

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ISLAMABAD - Both the houses of the Parliament on Tuesday 6,January,2015 approved unopposed the setting up of military courts to hear terrorism-related cases.
The measure would allow for speedy trial of offences relating to terrorism, insurrection and rebellion against the state. Two amendment bills passed by the parliament for the purpose would be sent to the President this week for his final approval.

The National Assembly was first to pass the 21st Constitutional Amendment Bill, 2015, and Pakistan Army Act (Amendment) Bill, 2015, with over two-thirds majority despite boycott by religio-political parties, JUI-F and JI, as well absence of some lawmakers from treasury and opposition benches. The government required 228 votes, the two-thirds majority mark, which was easily achieved as 247 lawmakers cast their votes in favour.

The Senate also unanimously passed the two bills as all the parliamentary parties, except JUI-F (which abstained from voting), voted in favour. Total 78 votes out of the 104-member house were in favour while no vote was polled against it. As many as 70 votes are needed for passage of any constitutional amendment in the upper house.

The bills will remain in force for a period of two years from the date of commencement and shall cease to be part of the Constitution and be repealed on the expiration of this period. The period of operation of ‘Pakistan Army Act, 1952’, is however extendable through a resolution passed by each house of the Parliament.

In the lower house, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) boycotted the sitting as they had already expressed reservations over the inclusion of the words ‘religion’ and ‘sect’ in the bills. Some key lawmakers from both sides of the aisle also did not participate in the proceedings. Even three federal cabinet members, Khawaja Saad Rafique, Ghulam Murtaza Jatoi and Akram Durrani, were absent for different reasons. In all, around 11 lawmakers from the ruling PML-N and 10 lawmakers from PPP, the main opposition party, did not participate in the proceedings.

The PPP absentees included Makhdoom Amin Fahim and Faryal Talpur. Other notable lawmakers who did not appear to vote included Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, Zahid Hamid, Usman Tarakai, Sheikh Rasheed and Pervaiz Elahi. Though Pakistan Tehree-e-Insaf (PTI) had given its nod for the establishment of special military courts at the All Parties’ Conference (APC) held on Friday, it preferred to stay away from the proceedings as its MNAs had tendered their resignations from the assemblies several months ago.

The amendments introduced in two pieces of legislation did not change the basic spirit of the bills and the government rejected the demands of both JUI-F and JI to generalise the definition of terrorism in the 21st Constitutional Amendment. An amendment introduced by the government explained that ‘sect’ means a sect of a religion, but did not include any political party regulated under the law, which was seemingly an attempt to appease JUI-F and JI, but it did not work as both boycotted the session. Later, Speaker Ayaz Sadiq dropped the amendments of both the parties from the bills, which were passed amid desk thumping.

The Senate witnessed moving scenes soon after the passage of the constitutional amendment when senior PPP leader Mian Raza Rabbani burst into tears before he said, “Today, I have voted against my conscience; (but I did so) as it (vote) was a trust of the party (PPP)… However, I am embarrassed to an extent I have been never before.” He said he had passed the last 12 years in the house. Rabbani also said that he would soon think over his next plan of action, and then sat down with tears rolling down his cheeks.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif later said in his speech that he could understand the feelings of Rabbani as a democrat. He told the Senate why it was necessary to pass the amendment bill. “This bill is about military courts trying hardcore terrorists who kill Pakistanis...this is an important day for Pakistan when the nation decided that terrorists will be taken out from the roots,” he said.

“I want to thank all the party heads and their parliamentary representatives for attending committees and sharing their thoughts and advice on this highly important bill. This bill was created with the help of everyone’s common agreement,” the PM said. “Through this bill, we can overcome the last 60 years of unrest which should have ended years ago,” he said.

Earlier in his speech in National Assembly, PM Nawaz Sharif also expressed a conciliatory approach to political parties that did not vote in favour of the bill in the lower house. “The parties that were in disagreement of this law, we understood their point of view and tried our best to address their reservations and their point of view was also accommodated. Therefore if they could not vote for it at the National Assembly I would urge them to vote for it in the Senate,” he said.

Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah said these bills were only against anti-state forces. “This law will be against the terrorists,” he said, adding though they had opposed the establishment of military courts in the past, but now it was need of the hour. “There would be no discrimination as far as implementation of these bills is concerned,” he said and demanded the Punjab government take action against those who sabotaged commemoration of the slain governor Salman Taseer.

In the Senate, after the passage of the bill, Leader of the Opposition Aitzaz Ahsan also remarked that January 6 was a difficult day for him to speak. Recapping some past incidents of terrorism, including the assassination of his party chairperson Benazir Bhutto, he said he never thought about establishing of military courts at that time. “But on Deceber16, I thought the worst came about and the answer should be worst,” he said. He said that while remaining in the technical committee, he tried his best to narrow the scope of the military courts.

“For this purpose the definition of terrorists was narrowed down, it was made possible that political and religious parties would not be victimised through this law and the civil authority was not abdicated to the army through these military courts,” he said. It is wrong impression that the Parliament abdicated its authority to the army through this amendment as no case of terrorism could be sent to the military courts without approval of the civilian government, he added. “There are terrible times and the enemy can strike anywhere,” he said.

Senator Afrasiab Khattak of ANP termed the day as an important day in the history of Pakistan. “Unluckily, we made late decisions in the past and the state policy was not clear.” He said the establishment of military courts was not a good decision but these courts would be different from military courts of martial law regime.

Tahir Mashhadi of MQM said that it was the strongest ever government in the history who had military courts, PoPA and Anti-terrorism Act (ATA). Hasil Bazenjo of National Party termed it the unique day of Pakistan’ history. “We are not so happy as the Parliament had given his powers to the army but we had no other option... This amendment was our requirement... now there is no room for failure,” he said. Mushahid Hussain Syed of PML-Q said that December 16 had changed the direction of the political and military leadership of the country and it was good that “Khahki Sharif (General Raheel Sharif) and Mufti Sharif (PM Nawaz Sharif) were on the same page.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had to face embarrassment over the absence of his senior cabinet member Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan in the Senate. A number of lawmakers from the opposition benches were not ready to calm down over the absence of interior minister while one of them suggested that the PM should sack his senior cabinet member. Haji Adeel of ANP said that the interior minister should have briefed the house about the amendment bill in the same way as he spoke on the floor of the National Assembly the other day.

“The minister had become fugitive of the house,” he said, adding that a minister should not make it a matter of his ego, as this was a matter of survival for Pakistan. “The minister should resign or he should be sacked,” Adeel said. Babar Ghauri of MQM opposed the suggestion saying that all representatives of parliamentary parties were part of the committee that finalised the amendment bill and there was no need for a detailed briefing any more.

However, Leader of the Opposition Aitzaz Ahsan was of the view that the prime minister himself should brief the house on the matter in the absence of the interior minister. Mouala Bukhsh Chandio in his critical remakes amid slogans of ‘shame shame’ said when the PM accepted the sanctity of the house then why his ‘beloved’ minister was not ready to accept the Upper House.

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