ISLAMABAD - The Senate Tuesday passed the 23rd Constitutional Amendment Bill paving way for the revival of controversial military courts for another period of two years amid reservations of even those parliamentary parties who later voted for it. 

The house passed the 28th Constitutional Amendment Bill, 2017 with 78 votes - more than the required two-third majority - in favour, and three votes were polled against it.

All three lawmakers of Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PMAP) voted against the constitutional amendment bill, while the two parties — Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) and Balochistan National Party (BNP-Mengal) who are major opponents of the law abstained from voting as their lawmakers remained absent in 104-member house.

Some proposed amendments in bill were dropped as the proposer JUI-F Senator Maulana Attaur Rehman was absent from the house.

Last week, the house had deferred voting on the 28th Conditional Amendment, which will now be numbered as 23rd, because of the lack of required two-third majority of members in the house.

The house however passed the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill 2017 —the other law required for the revival of the military courts in the country.

Soon after the president would sign both the bills, the military courts would start functioning for another period of two years, with retrospective affect, starting from January 6, 2017 — the date military courts seized to exist because of having a sunset clause of two years in the law.

The new law again has a similar sunset clause.

Before the passage of the constitutional amendment, the lawmakers from the opposition and treasury benches including the PTI and the PPP showed their reservations on the revival of the military courts. 

“Parliaments can never be defeated but are compromised,” said Senate Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani.

Had the government strengthened the civilian criminal justice system there was no need for the revival of such courts, the legislators lamented.

They also reminded the government that it should now implement its plan to empower the civilian justice system so that the necessity of revival of military courts could die down after two years.

The house also passed a motion to constitute the Parliamentary Committee on National Security. 

The motion empowers the chairman Senate to nominate members to the parliamentary committee with consultation.

The committee that will be formed by the speaker National Assembly would have the powers of oversight on issues of national security, implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP), and the process of transition from military courts to civil courts.

It will be responsible to present its periodical reports to both the houses of the parliament.

The amendments that have been made in the newly-proposed military courts law as compared to previous law include that anyone arrested or after the transfer of his case to the military courts would be produced before such courts and handed over charge-sheet within 24 hours of arrest.

The accused would be provided an opportunity to engage a lawyer of his choice and otherwise, the government will arrange a counsel for the accused person — an amendment made on the insistence of the PPP.

Through another amendment, all cases in the military courts will be tried under the Qanoon-i-Shahdat (Law of Evidence).

Senate chairman who was earlier reluctant to chair Tuesday’s proceedings of the house at a time when this constitutional amendment was going to be passed remarked that he came to chair the house after looking into the relevant rules.

“As I would have to sign the Constitutional Amendment Bill by virtue of my position, so I decided to come in the house instead of playing to the galleries,” he said who was otherwise a great opponent of the military courts.

He has publicly opposed the law.

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, who has played a major role to woo the parliamentary parties to get pass the law for the revival of military courts, said that there was necessity in extension of the military courts keeping in view the extraordinary security situation.

“We don’t need to be defensive or apologetic,” he said, adding that they had no other choice than this.

Responding to the criticism of the lawmakers, he said that all parties had reached consensus on the law in the informal parliamentary committee meeting headed by speaker National Assembly and the national security adviser.

Dar said that the law minister had already briefed the committee about the future roadmap to strengthen the criminal justice system of the country.

He said that the government had taken decision to start Operation Zarb-e-Azb with the resolve to eliminate the menace of terrorism once and for all.

Leader of the Opposition Aitzaz Ahsan said that the finance minister had fabricated some facts in his remarks as the government did not know about Operation Zarb-e-Azb and this was the sole decision of the former chief of army staff (COAS) General (retd) Raheel Sharif.

The government found out two days later when the army had entered North Waziristan to start the operation. 

“The same commander-in-chief [Raheel Sharif] moved the forces to North Waziristan who is now going to form a Sunni military alliance in Saudi Arabia,” he said.

He said that the government was violating the soul of the unanimous parliamentary resolution disallowing Pakistan to become part of Saudi Arabia-led 39-nation military alliance against Yemen by allowing Raheel Sharif to head this alliance.