As the first week of January comes to a close so does the timeframe of the military courts. Established by the 21st Amendment in January 2015, and extended by the 23rd Amendment on March 31, 2017, the ‘sunset’ clause – stipulating that they were due to lapse two years after their date of ‘commencement’ - has come into effect.

An extraordinary measure taken in response to the horrific tragedy of the APS Attack, the courts were always imagined as a temporary measure; a stop-gap till normalcy returned; a desperate act in desperate times. 

Now that we seem to be out of those desperate times, it is perhaps proper to let this expedient measure fade away and shift our focus towards actual and effective judicial reform.

We have come a long way since that tragic day in 2014. In the ensuing half-decade direct military operations in the tribal areas have been successfully concluded, FATA has been principally merged with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP), and the process of rehabilitation of the displaced people is already underway, as is the much awaited ‘mainstreaming’ of the neglected region. Furthermore, according to the Pakistan Security Report 2018 released by the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS), the rate of terrorist attacks has been consistently falling by double digits year after year. The resumption of the military parades, the success of the Pakistan Super League (PSL), all point to one simple fact – the worst is behind us.

Our focus should now pivot towards the facet of our government that has been neglected in this period – the judicial system. When the military courts were envisioned under the National Action Plan (NAP) the underlying logic was that while the military courts will pick up the slack in trying hardcore terrorists, the parliament will focus on judicial reform, so that in the future the judiciary itself can handle these trials as it is supposed to. The Anti-Terror Courts (ATC) already exists as the “speedy”, secure and stringent alternative to civilian facilities, and it was envisioned that in the two years since the 21st Amendment, these would be strengthened.  

Yet the comfort afforded by the courts lulled the government into apathy, and judicial reform, like many other important issues, fell by the wayside. We must not repeat that mistake again.

Only by forcing our civilian institutes to try challenging cases will we create the impetus necessary to bring reform. The new government has an excellent opportunity to initiate its first major legislative project, and it can only be done by not giving another extension to military courts.