LAHORE - The matter of establishing military courts to try those involved in terrorist activities was taken up with great fervor, but delay in making them operational seems to have evaporated the initial exuberance.

However, at the government level no such impression is being given. A senior official of the government, in an interaction with The Nation, said the process of making the military courts operational was on after notification of their establishment. But the picture is not clear as to how long it will take to see them functional.

The government, after lifting moratorium on the executions, is going to speedily act on death conviction to terrorists, but absence of the courts for expeditious decision on the pending terror cases in this background does not suit the scheme of counterterrorism measures. Judicial scrutiny of the law relating to the military court and political expediencies seem hampering the setting up of the military courts .

The 21st Constitutional Amendment was carried by the Parliament after developing consensus through hectic efforts at the political level to see the military men presiding over special courts and hearing the cases of terrorism as well as other heinous offences without delay and fear of terrorists, which otherwise haunts the prosecution, witnesses, lawyers and the judges at the level of civil courts.

While talking to this scribe, Federal Information and Law Minister Senator Pervaiz Rashid made it clear that the military courts had been established following issuance of a notification in this behalf and now terrorism cases to be placed before these courts were being vetted and evidence as well as other material was being collected while their documentation was fast underway. He said as soon as this process was completed, hearing of the cases before the military courts would be started.

The minister said both federal and military sides were sharing their information regarding terror cases and acting in cooperation in this regard. To a question, he said establishment of military courts was a common decision of all political forces and stakeholders, so there was no question of entertaining political expediencies about them. The establishment of the military courts was necessitated after the worst terror attack on Army Public School, Peshawar, which jolted the whole nation and awakened all institutions of the state to the need of quick decisions on terror cases by showing no leniency towards militants and nefarious elements. Not only a law was passed for the establishment of military courts , but a national action plan was also approved to sternly deal with the elements involved in disseminating extremism, sectarianism or facilitating terrorists in the execution of their nefarious acts.  The plan is effectively operational through the apex committees at provincial and lower level, but the military courts have yet to become functional. These courts are supposed to work for a limited period of two years of which over two months have already elapsed.

It is also to be noted that the amendment effectuating the military courts was challenged before the apex court which did not stay the implementation of the act though an interim relief was sought by the petitioners. The question is whether the time stipulated for the military courts is being cut down under the garb of litigation or provision of infrastructure for the same though a formal announcement has already been made for setting up three each in Punjab and KP, two in Sindh and one in Balochistan. The provinces have to sift the cases from among those before anti-terrorism courts for placing them before the Interior Ministry which, after preliminary scrutiny of the same, would put them before the military courts for their speedy trial.  Of thousands of cases Punjab has selected 77, including Benazir Bhutto assassination case, for referring to the Interior Ministry while Sindh has also shortlisted cases, including Karachi airport attack, Mehran Base attack and Karsaz terror hit of 2007.

On the political side, pressure is being exerted for referring the Baldia factory inferno case to a military court for about 300 innocent people had been killed allegedly by Bhatta mafia in Karachi.

It is also noteworthy that religio-politico parties, particularly JUI-F, are not happy with 21st Constitutional Amendment allowing formation of military courts . These parties express reservations over singling out seminaries for picking up terror cases and want their application to everyone having any nexus with terrorism.

In this connection, Pervaiz Rashid said JUI-F had no objection to the establishment of military courts , but to the definition of terrorism to give this term vast meanings. However, it was hypothetical at this stage to surmise whether the implementation of the 21st Amendment would be affected if another amendment was introduced to address concerns of JUI-F, the minister said. He asserted establishment of military courts was the decision of all and it was being implemented without any letup.