As the debate surrounding the extension of military courts picks up and stakeholders have begun outlining their respective stances, on Friday perhaps the most influential stakeholder in the process, the military, outlined its stance for the first time. Talking to a television channel on a Friday evening show, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) chief Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor laid down a clear line – the courts were not the military’s demand, but the need of the nation, and that the decision to extend their tenure solely rests with parliament.

Many will undoubtedly praise the constitutionally correct and deferential position taken by the military; it will allay fears that the courts are something aggressively sought by the military for its own purposes. If we compare this statement with the efforts made by the military to push for an extension the last time it came up for renewal, if can see a clear difference. There are no imperative demands or any widespread campaigns to win the support of the Parliament. Make no mistake; the military still feels that the courts are “the need of the nation”, but perhaps reflecting the improvement in the nation’s security environment it seems that it is not that great a need anymore.

However, judging if the military courts will get another extension or not based on this rather muted stance taken by the military is a problematic proposition. Much of the advocacy for such moves is done outside the public eye, and the current shape of the Parliament, its fault lines and leverage each party can bring to bear in this debate all factor into this. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), which has presided over a log-jammed and broken legislature so far, seems to be clearing it’s plate to push this piece of legislation through – its first major one. Meanwhile the opposition, realising the bargaining chips their numbers are, are busy outlining their own points of view from which the negotiation will start. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) stands firmly opposed – the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), non-committal.

It is certainly a shame that the government has not even tried bringing judicial reform before falling back on the “extraordinary measure” that is military courts. With a new, competent and reform-minded Chief Justice in charge of the apex court, this is the perfect opportunity to bring the civilian courts on par with advantages offered by their military counterparts.

This responsibility now falls on the opposition. If is not enough for the PPP and the PML-N to simply reject the proposal for an extension – they need to provide a responsible alternative. That alternative is legislation that brings judicial reform – that is the true need of the hour.