While the government is trying to complete the constitutional formalities to extend the term of military courts for another two years to effectively deal with terrorism cases, the Anti-Terrorism Courts (ATC) of Punjab, have failed to decide the cases within the timeline set by the law and over 600 cases are pending. The military courts are a drastic solution to the problem of swiftly prosecuting terror suspects and the clamouring for them makes some sense considering the ineptness of the current judicial system.

The problem is not just in Punjab. In 2015, Sindh ATCs disposed of only 677 cases during the first half of the year while over 3,300 cases were pending – the overburdened ATCs were unable to decide them within the stipulated period. In 2016, after making claims of establishing 30 Anti-Terrorism Courts (ATC) in the province, the Sindh government was only able to institute ten courts.

There are many causes for the failure and it is not just the judges that are confused and lethargic. The law under which these courts were established failed to provide a clear definition of terrorism. Lawyers have accused the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) of registering fake cases and showing fake recoveries to show its performance. Investigation officers do not fulfil their responsibilities either.

Had the ATCs done their job, the military would not be required to step in. To generate confidence in Pakistan’s criminal justice system and abide by the rule of law, suspects should have been tried and prosecuted under independent and impartial civilian courts – we have not seen grand convictions from them. In January 2015, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government promised to reform the civilian criminal justice system and presented the military courts as a temporary solution. Since then, the government has not taken any significant measures to reform the judiciary. Today, it wants to renew the military courts, because the civilian system may have become practically useless. Instead of introducing legislation to improve mechanisms for judges to get convictions – like changing laws relating to FIR registration, video evidence, defining terrorism, and fast processing times – it is only focused on revising and amending laws relating to military courts.

From January 7, 2015 to January 6, 2017, military courts convicted 274 individuals and handed down 161 death sentences. At least 17 people have been executed after being convicted by a military court. Why can the civilian courts not do this? If the military courts worked so well, why not model the ATCs and criminal courts after the military model? And if that is not possible, if the military courts have been cutting corners or using extra-constitutional means that civilians cannot, both systems have failed to provide justice to the Pakistani people.