The Supreme Court has ordered a stay of execution of six militants convicted by military courts. The order comes after the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) filed a petition seeking a halt to the implementation of death sentences awarded by military courts. This means that the death sentences, which have already been awarded and those that will be awarded, are all suspended. Those convicted by military courts can now appeal against their sentences. The cry raised from most conservative quarters is, “why the delay?” The answer is, “for human rights”.

Human rights activist Asma Jehangir on behalf of the SCBA filed the petition. She requested the SC to halt the implementation of death sentences awarded by military courts until a 17-judge full court took up challenges relating to the 21st constitutional amendment, especially the establishment of military courts. According to her petition, if the convicted militants are sentenced to death before the Supreme Court disposes the case challenging the establishment of military courts, justice will be compromised. We have seen “justice” being awarded again and again to men, who are known to have blood on their hands. While the military courts go after the small fish, without them having recourse to due process, men like Lakhvi walk free. The system of military courts and the civilian judicial process needs to be reconstructed and streamlined, and above all, it needs to be just, rather than just appearing to be just.

Asma Jehangir raised a number of pertinent questions. Were those arrested enemy aliens? Were they informed about the reasons for the arrest? Were they given the right to consult a lawyer? Where the principles of due process as guaranteed under Article 10A of the constitution followed at all? As a guardian of the Constitution, the Supreme Court has to ensure that fundamental rights were extended to persons arrested and tried within Pakistan, so the stay order is completely understandable. The military trials have not been transparent, or public, and that might have just been the reason for their existence; that they could dispense justice swiftly, without any eyebrows raised. But even the man on death row is a Pakistani and is afforded rights by the Constitution.

There is hue and cry that this delays the end of terrorism, but what needs to be realised is that the people who are behind this petition, are the most consistent and vocal critics of terrorist groups and the way that the civil and military setup has managed the problem of religious fundamentalism in the last two decades. If we start killing people without proper trials, and applaud mass executions, we cannot claim to be any better than those we are fighting against. A system of rights and justice separates us from those who bomb our minorities and our children.