ISLAMABAD -  All political parties Thursday gave a nod to revive the military courts for a fresh two-year term to try terrorists.

The political rivals reached consensus during a meeting of the parliamentary parties held here with National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq in the chair.

Speaking after the meeting, Ayaz said four out of nine points proposed by the Pakistan People’s Party had been accepted by the government.

He said right-wing Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl and the Jamaat Islami still had reservation over the use of phrase ‘terrorism in the name of religion’.

“These reservations would be settled in the final draft. Apart from this, all issues have been resolved. All parties have reached an agreement on the military courts,” he added.

He said the National Security Committee of the parliament will also be formed.

The military courts, established for two years previously in 2015, were disbanded on January 7 after their term expired. Later, the government and the opposition locked horns on their revival. The government was in a rush to re-establish the military courts as terror attacks increased in the recent weeks.

PPP was not ready to support the government’s move claiming the courts were misused in the past. Former President Asif Ali Zardari said rights should not be denied to the accused even if the military courts were inevitable.

This month, he proposed extension of the military courts for one year which should be presided over by a Sessions Judge or Additional Sessions Judge along with a military officer.

Zardari maintained the military courts were established to try terrorists but his aide Dr Asim Hussain was also drawn in.

Ayaz Sadiq said agreement had been reached on four out of nine points presented by PPP. These proposals included: the accused will be produced before court within 24 hours [of their arrest], the accused will be supplied with grounds of arrest within 24 hours, the accused shall have the right to engage a counsel of choice, and the provisions of Qanun-e-Shahadat (law of evidence) 1984 shall apply.

The speaker said the bill to revive the military courts for two more years will be tabled in the National Assembly on March 20 to get it passed unanimously and then put before the Senate on March 21.

Speaking on the occasion, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said all the parties had reached an agreement to amend the constitution for the revival of the military courts for two years.

PPP’s Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan and Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi said their parties had agreed to revive the military courts for defeating terrorism.

Aitzaz said his party agreed to the extension in military courts’ mandate as the country was in a state of war. He said the PPP stood firmly against terrorism.

Qureshi said all the parties had shown flexibility on their demands to reach consensus. “There is a consensus that no particular religious community will be targeted. There is unanimity against terrorism,” the PTI leader said.

Sherry explains PPP’s position

PPP Vice President Senator Sherry Rehman said the military courts were formed after the Army Public School attack on December 16, 2015 after the All Party Conference agreed on 20 points with the government to form a National Action Plan against terrorism and violent extremism.

She added, “The government has yet to demonstrate what its national strategy is pivoted on, other than outsourcing the fight against terrorism as a kinetic one to the military, which has initiated one operation after another in an attempt to clear territory.

“That is what militaries do, and in an attempt to fight the war with constitutional cover, in the absence of judicial reform, they continue to ask for an extension in the military courts timeline, in order to try terrorists that they apprehend.”

The Senator said the PPP naturally had apprehensions about the curtailment of fundamental freedoms that this entails. “We have stuck to the point, which is restricting the scope of the definition to religious terrorism,” she added.

The lawmaker said the PPP was the only party to stand up for any due process caveats to be added; “no other party was interested in protecting any fundamental rights”.

She said the PPP put the “four main points onto the old draft of 2015, on which everyone had agreed, not the government’s new draft”. The National Security Committee of the parliament, she said, will be formed right away, “parallel to this legislation”.

She added: “Our own preference as party would be to add more mitigations and protections, but none of the other parties were either interested or willing. We even called an APC on getting some democratic burden-share on this, but the PPP remains alone in fighting for rights protections. There is no negotiability on the definition of terrorists that will be apprehended.”

Senator Rehman said the PPP’s proposed amendment to Article 199 was re-examined due to the principle of separation of powers, as it was understood that the Chief Justices will not allow sessions or additional judges to sit on executive courts.

“In the judgment on the 21st Amendment by the Supreme Court (PLD 2015 SC 401, DB Association Rawalpindi Vs Federation of Pakistan) it has been decided that the accused has a right to appeal in the higher courts. Many cases have been sent up to the higher courts, and are under review,” she said. She said the PPP was the only party standing for due process and fundamental protections. “Pakistan is fighting the largest inland war against terrorism. PPP is the only party standing for a sustained, unequivocal fight against those who threaten our motherland through terror, militancy and violent extremism,” she contended.

The lawmaker said the PPP sacrificed its leader – Benazir Bhutto – in this fight, “who swore in her last public rally to never allow the flag of Pakistan to be uprooted from its territory.”

She said the 2009 operation was started in her name and by the government of Benazir Bhutto’s party. “The government of the day, under Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and President (Asif Ali) Zardari’s stewardship held a two-day joint session of parliament in order to build the first national consensus against terrorism and violent extremism,” she recalled.