Sometimes a civilian government acts as its own worst enemy, and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is especially adept at undermining itself. Having spent the majority of its term in a tense balancing act with the past military regime, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif seems set to lay down his arms at moment’s notice to this one too. One meeting with the new military regime, and a few loud TV analysts were all it took for the government to put its weight behind the revival of the controversial military courts – despite having promised the nation in the most gravest of tones that the stipulated two-year period will be final.
This sense of acquiescence is heightened when we consider that no one in the government was calling for an extension before this meeting. There were no calls for an extension, nor was there political will for it, despite attention being drawn toward the imminent demise of the military courts in the parliament. This talk of revival has caught everyone unawares because the government too was perhaps unaware of such a demand.
What is the demand, stripped from its surrounding notions? Hand judicial power to the military once more, allow it to arrest its own people – which includes civilians – and try them in secret hearings by its own procedures? A mutilation of the democratic principle of separation of powers, which prevents one body from becoming too powerful in a nation.
The greatest problem in this talk of revival is not the ever-expanding powers of the military, it is the simple fact that there is absolutely no need for it this time around. The previous military courts were constituted in the middle of an active and extensive military engagement on the borders. The argument was that these courts can safely and swiftly deal with the stream of “hardcore terrorists” captured in the operation while the government gets the Anti-terrorism court structure updated. The operation is over, and the prime targets captured and convicted. The anti-terrorism court in the meanwhile has successfully and safely convicted popular terrorists like Mumtaz Qadri. There is no new batch of militants to be tried – there is no pressing need that the civilian judicial system cannot handle.
This “need”, sold to us in the emotionally charged environment following the APS Peshawar attack, was the only reason people tolerated the violation of legal norms, and constitutional safeguards in these courts. We were convicting the murderers of children, and after two years these evidently unfair trials could be over.
Yet the government seems to pay no heed to these concerns. To them, the military is an easy solution always there. Why improve law enforcement when the Rangers can take care of it? Why fix the justice system when the military courts can handle the difficult cases? This “crutch” – as described by Shah Mehmood Qureshi – is keeping the government lame. And yet it wonders why the military is so powerful?