Senate Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani at the outset of the proceedings of the house on Friday invited the attention of the government towards the expiry of the 21st amendment on January 7. The amendment gives the military courts it’s powers to try terrorism suspects and is expiring due to the impending activation of the 2- year ‘sundown’ clause mentioned in the original act. And while Mr Rabbani and other legislators fought fiercely to resist the “handing over of legislative powers to the military” and the inclusion of the 2-year time period initially, it seems they are singing a different tune today. They want legal cover for the military courts reinstated, and they want it fast.

Warning of a “legal vacuum” the Senate Chairman informed the government that the Senate had already passed the anti-terrorism bill and the witness protection bill to fill the gap and the two bills have already been sent to the National Assembly. It was now their job to take up the bills and see them become law. While this bit of legislative vigilance from the Senate needs to lauded, in the context of the original 21st amendment and the National Action Plan (NAP) that spawned it, it seems anything but vigilant.

NAP envisioned military courts to be a short-term “solution” to try “terrorists”, to be operational only for a two-year period during which the government would bring about necessary “reforms in criminal courts system to strengthen the anti-terrorism institutions.” As the desperate calls for the renewal of the courts demonstrate, none of this has even been attempted. Since the passage of the 21st amendment the government has failed to address the problems in the criminal justice system - which were the justification for the military courts in the first place - and now seems content to let the military shoulder the responsibility it was so loath to give up.

The fact that the Senate Chairman draws attention to renewal of the legal cover for the courts, and not the long overdue reform of the justice system, shows how unwilling the parliament is to tackle this problem.

In the end this too will be chalked up as another “failure of the NAP”, which seems to be in abundance these days. The judicial commission on the Quetta hospital attack headed by Justice Qazi Faez Isa has already criticised the government for its inaction on the National Action Plan, and the gross negligence of it’s executive departments. Now we can add the legislature to that.