ISLAMABAD  - Failing to secure required legislative strength, the government on Monday deferred until Tuesday voting in the National Assembly on two bills aimed at setting up military courts.

The government requires two-thirds majority – 228 members – for passage of the two bills – the Constitution (21st Amendment) Bill and the Pakistan Army Act (Amendment). But only 218 members were present during the National Assembly session– 10 legislators short of the required number to pass.

Another cause of delay was opposition from some lawmakers, mainly those from religio-political parties (JUI-F and JI), who expressed reservations on one of the clauses and sought some more time to sort out the matter.

The House started with the maximum presence of lawmakers from treasury, and the opposition benches too were seemingly agreed to pass the bills for the establishment of speedy courts to try hardened terrorists but the matter was delayed to avoid disagreement from any political faction.

Except MQM, other political parties from both sides of the aisle were however not jubilant over the establishment of special military trial courts as they termed it a ‘bitter pill to swallow’ under compulsion.

The amendment in the bill ‘Pakistan Army Act,1952’ proposed by JUI-F was in Clause 2, sub-clause (1), in paragraph (a), in the proposed sub-paragraph (iv). They sought insertion of words, “and raises arms or wages war against Pakistan”, after the word “sect” occurring in the third line.

Justifying the need for the establishment of speedy courts, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali said military courts are going to be established due to extraordinary situation in the country. “Though it seems undemocratic… but due to compulsion (this) step has been taken,” he said, adding that over 40,000 innocent people have died in last some years.

“Pakistan Army is fighting against these terrorists in certain limits but these terrorists have no limits... If Army had not followed the accord it could have flattened Miran Shah area,” he said, arguing against the blames that terrorist had fled from the scene.

“These (military trial) courts are for certain period and will not be used against politician, businessman, media persons... These courts are purely for terrorism related cases,” he reassured the members, and said that these are not Kangaroo courts. “Military courts are not only for (carrying out) hangings (alone) but (other lesser) punishments would be given in certain cases,” he said, adding that proper investigation would be carried in the cases.

He further said if parliament, federal government, provincial governments and army are on same page then nobody could dare cast evil eye against Pakistan. “We need peace in the country and they (Taliban) want to forcefully bring their system on gunpoint,” he added. “We need unity... We have to face more challenges but unity is need of the hour,” he added.

“A strong mechanism would be established to filter the cases to be referred to military courts,” he said. The minister said that one should not be in illusion that there is any quick fix to terrorism as ‘’it would be a long fight and all should be prepared for it’’. He also urged religious seminaries to come forward and cooperate with the government.

Both the religio-political parties, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) and Jamat-e-Islami (JI), expressed their reservation with the complaint to target religious seminaries in the country.

Nisar criticised his own government for terming 90 percent seminaries ‘cleared’. “Even Musharraf mentioned two percent rogue seminaries but did not properly identify those,” he added. “If there were any seminaries working against the country then it should be identified,” he said, adding that registration of religious seminaries had also been banned for ten years.

In response to MQM’s criticism, he said they would not be in need to give certificate to any party for their deeds. “Though Altaf Hussain cautioned about terrorists around ten years ago but he was abroad due to fear of terrorism for last 30 years,” he added.”Being a democrat, it was a difficult decision to support the military courts,” he said, adding that they supported it when all other parties agreed to do so for national unity.

Adding his share, JI leader Sahibzada Tariq Ullah said that they would support government for the establishment of speedy court due to compulsion of the situation. “There is no need to make it controversial,” he said, supporting a point identified by JUI-F. Ghous Bux Mahar from PML-F also supported these political-religio parties.

Earlier, MQM lawmaker Dr Farooq Sattar expressed happiness for the unity of political parties against terrorism. “It is happiest moment and credit goes to Altaf Hussain as he had cautioned about these fears (long before),” he said, suggesting that apart from de-radicalising the society, country should also be de-weaponised.

He even called for taking action against those who tried to stop forcibly the commemoration of death anniversary of former Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer in Lahore and said that ‘Masjid-e-Zarar’ type mosques should also be levelled to ground. “This is the time to kick out hypocrites. This is the time to take action,” he said, adding that why religious factions were not agreeing on Madrassa reforms.

Religious parties should come forward in this cause, he said. Naming Fazalur Rahman, he added that he should now openly come forward against terrorism. “There is need to draw ideological line between those with the country and those with terrorists,” he said.

Taking part in debate, PkMAP chief Mahmood Khan Achakzai said that they would pass the bill for the establishment of military courts in this compelling situation, but, he added, “This is not happy moment at all... There should not be any extension of these courts as it would be betrayal with those who sacrificed their lives for the sake of democracy in the country.” He said terrorism could be controlled by uniting Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and China.

PM calls MPs for breakfast

Monitoring adds: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called all parliamentarians for a breakfast meeting on Tuesday morning at the National Assembly’s Speakers Lounge, according to a media report.

The breakfast meeting is being held on the day when voting on two government bills, the Constitution (Twenty-first Amendment) Bill and the Pakistan Army (Amendment) aimed to set up constitutionally protected military courts to try civilian terrorism suspects, is to be held.