The question of the military courts’ revival is going to be addressed sooner than later it seems. The opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has started contacting political parties to extend invitation for a multi-party conference (MPC) on the revival of military courts to be hosted by it in Islamabad on March 4. The invitees include all of the opposition as well as key government allies like Jammat Uleema-e-Islam Fazal (JUI-F) and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), however the government itself is conspicuously missing from the list. Consensus building is one thing, but this is starting to look a lot like a power bloc in the making.

Marshalling opinion against controversial government proposals is a vital task of the opposition, but a principal stance is nowhere in sight. The PPP oscillates between denouncing the muddling of the separation of powers and advocating the necessity of the military courts, depending on the even more fickle public opinion. Gone are the impassioned speeches about judiciary being the job of the judges, instead it is replaced by discussions on loss and gain. The opposition has given in to the demand for a revival; they are only now debating the degree.

This is an unfortunate development – even if it is an understandable one given the state of the public. PPP was the bulwark against military assertiveness in civilian matters and it should have played that role more faithfully.

It still has a job to do, and it must recognise the chips it holds. The ambit of the court’s jurisdiction has been altered by the government. The words “religious or sectarian groups” have been removed from a key clause, meaning it is no longer necessary that the “terrorist” tried by the court had to belong to a recognised religious terrorist group. Anyone, and everyone now falls under jurisdiction.

The PPP may be motivated by selfish reasons – to guard against Dr Asim style prosecution – but this clause effects the whole nation, especially since the proposed term is for a massive three years. The secretive military courts cannot be allowed to become a norm in this country, they were an exception, and should remain so.

We may still end up with a second iteration, but the opposition can ensure that their ambit is strictly limited and their duration short – not more that the end of this term in any case. The pressure will pile up, but it is time the PPP lived up to its self-avowed legacy of resisting an imposing state.