LAHORE - A controversy has started over the need for allowing the military courts to stay in the field even after they have served out their mandated two-year term. The ruling PML-N is in favour of these courts while the PPP and the government’s coalition partners JUI-F and MkMAP are opposing the idea.

There are also reports that the ruling party will approach the opponents of the military courts to convince them that they should review their thinking. But before taking practical steps to revive military courts, the government should carefully examine whether these courts were really needed, and if so, how they would affect the working of the civilian courts.

Logic suggests that there is no need for courts headed by military officials. And the performance expected from these courts can also be achieved by ‘oiling’ the country-wide network of civilian courts.

People argue that Mian Nawaz Sharif has been ruling the country as prime minister for a third time, an honour no other leader can dream of even in the distant future. And if he has not been able to give the country an efficient judicial system - and has to rely on the military courts – to curb terrorism, he must admit his failure.

It is said if the civilian courts are given a timeline to decide cases of various categories and are also made to adhere to them, disposal can be expedited and nobody will have a complaint for delayed justice. But if these courts are unable to deliver for one reason or the other, the government should better wind up all these courts across the country and set up military courts for all kinds of cases. And judges who can’t decide cases against terrorists for security reasons should better choose some other profession for themselves.

Judges have to face threats because of their judgments. It’s part of the game. And the ones unable to face the concomitant challenges cannot be expected to meet ends of justice.

The point is that there is no need for military courts at present and they are not compatible with the democratic setup. Army has already delivered by uprooting terrorism to a large extent and now it for the political government to deal with the situation by taking appropriate measures.

It may be recalled that during the era of then chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry a judicial policy had been announced which had set timelines for decision of cases of various categories. It was projected as a major achievement.

But, unfortunately, the policy died its own death. The judges failed to meet the deadlines. Courts take decades to decide various cases. At times important cases are also brushed under the carpet because the judges are not willing to decide them one way or the other.

The real need is to make the judges accountable. They should decide the cases within the deadlines.

Military courts are supposed to be the last resort in emergency situations. And if they become ineffective for whatever reasons, it would be very unfortunate, to say the least.

During their two years of existence the military courts were referred some 274 cases. They had awarded capital punishment to over 160 people. But not more than a dozen convicts were actually executed. (Over 110 accused were awarded imprisonment of varying terms)

Executions are not being carried out for a long time now, apparently because of international pressures. Condemned prisoners are there in several jails and the government has to spend public resources to meet their food, medical and other requirements.

If the executions are not to be carried out, what purpose will the mere award of capital punishment serve? This being so, what will be the utility of the military courts?

In the past, the PML-N government had inducted the army in WAPDA, which also traced ghost schools in the country. This was task not meant for the army.

And the National Security Council – an institution set up by Gen Musharraf for closer coordination between civil and military leaderships – was wrapped up by the PPP government, with a clear support from the PML-N. The argument was that it was for the civilian government to take all policy decisions.

This being so, the army should not be asked to perform judicial functions.