The absence of legislators belonging to JUI(F), JI and PTI from the parliament at the time of the passage of the 21st Constitutional amendment and changes in the Pakistan Army Act with regards to the setting up of military courts to ensure speedy trials of terrorists is a conscious effort to dent national consensus on the issue. The purpose and the rationale for setting up military courts was repeatedly explained to political leaders by the Prime Minister and the COAS and their reservations and misgivings adequately addressed during those interactions before they unanimously voiced their support for the National Action Plan.

The conduct of these parties also constitutes an affront to the genius and will of the people of Pakistan who want an end to the scourge of terrorism at all costs and by all means as it poses a grave threat to the very existence of the country. They seem to have played for their constituencies at the expense of the national cause. Both the legislations have been unanimously passed by a two third majority in the parliament. It would have been an ideal situation if these parties had stood by their commitments which in the long run could have also done a lot of good to their credentials as custodians of the interests of the motherland.

There are no two opinions about the fact that Pakistan is fighting a war for its survival and in a situation like this, an impregnable unity and commitment amongst all segments of society is a necessity. When we expect our soldiers to sacrifice their lives for securing our future and the territorial integrity of the country, it becomes our national duty to fully support their campaign against terrorists and provide legal cover to their actions. Our inability to take tough decisions would have had a morale-sapping impact on our valiant soldiers. The establishment of military courts to ensure a speedy trial and justice outside the existing judicial system, is indeed a tough decision taken by a representative government but it is not a rare phenomenon. History is replete with examples where nations faced with extraordinary situations have resorted to extraordinary and even extra-constitutional measures for the greater good of the nation.

The existing judicial system needs drastic reforms to dispense speedy justice and had the government opted for initiating a process of required reforms, it would have taken a fairly long time to review the whole system and draw up recommendations for necessary administrative and legislative measures. The nation was at war and it needed to firm up its responses to the challenge on war footings. Under the circumstances, there was no choice for the government and the military leadership other than to win the support of the entire political leadership for the National Action Plan and the establishment of the military courts. It is said that justice delayed is justice denied and that is why all the constitutions of the world including ours, guarantee speedy justice to their citizens. The jurists contend that speedy justice protects the defendant as well as society and the state.

It is also regrettable to note that there are still some political analysts and media commentators who are trying to create misgivings about the ability of the government to cope with the confronting challenge and questioning the efficacy of the plan drawn up through collective wisdom of the entire political and military leadership. It may not be a perfect recipe for tackling terrorism in all its manifestations, but something is better than nothing. It can be changed and amended if any discrepancy or inadequacy reveals itself. This is not the time to be cynical.

Some human rights groups and members of the legal fraternity are also opposing the setting up of military courts; one can hardly argue against the independence of the judiciary, democracy and fundamental rights. However, they can be protected and strengthened only when the state is safe from the challenges to its territorial integrity and its way of life. I could not agree more with the observation of the DG ISPR that the military courts will strengthen democracy, though it may sound ironic under normal circumstances. If we can save Pakistan and extricate it from the clutches of terrorism, it will create an ambience of peace and tranquility; essential ingredients for strengthening democracy and state institutions. In our situation, Pakistan comes first and we must all look at the prevailing situation from this perspective.

Somebody has also challenged the 21st amendment in the Apex Court maintaining that the step purports to limit the jurisdiction of the High Courts and the Supreme Court. What position the Supreme Court takes on the issue in the presence of Article 239 (5) of the Constitution which stipulates that no amendment in the Constitution made by the parliament can by challenged in any court of law, remains to be seen. However, my considered view is that not only civil society but state institutions including the judiciary are under obligation to protect and safeguard the interests of the state even if the buried ‘Doctrine Of Necessity’ has to be exhumed. We as a nation cannot afford to fail in the fight against terrorism.

The writer is a freelance columnist.