ISLAMABAD -  The Pakistan Tehreek-e- Insaaf (PTI) on Thursday sought an explanation from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government over its plan to extend the period of jurisdiction of military courts to try civilian suspects.

On January 3 last year, the parliament passed 21st Constitution Amendment extending the jurisdiction of the military courts to try civilian suspects under a sun-set clause for two years. The law will expire in the first week January 2017.

In a statement issued by PTI’s Central Media Department, Spokesman Fawad Choudhary said that before seeking an extension of the military courts, the government must apprise the nation what steps they have taken to reform the justice system. He said that the decision to establish parallel judiciary was taken at the APC, and “now first we need to know what purpose the military courts have achieved and why we need the extension”. Choudhry said that after consultation with other opposition parties, the PTI would make its final decision in this regard.

When the government got the constitutional amendment passed by the parliament two years ago, it had pledged that the judicial system would be reformed for the smooth and speedy trial of terrorism suspects after the expiry of the law.

According to some unconfirmed media reports, the government is planning to introduce a new law that would extend the jurisdiction of military courts to try civilians.

Separately, the Senate Secretariat has taken notice of the impression making rounds in the media that the parliament has not acted with respect to the sunset clause in the Constitution Twenty-first (Amendment) Act, 2015, dealing with the establishment of military courts to try civilians. “This impression is factually incorrect as the Senate of Pakistan; House of the Federation has always remained conscious that the Parliament of Pakistan legislated for the establishment of military courts for speedy trial of terrorists, as an exceptional step,” says a statement issued by the Senate Secretariat. “However, this special measure shall come to an end in January, 2017, as the Constitution (Twenty-First Amendment) Act, 2015 provides a sunset clause, according to which, the provisions of the said Acts shall remain in force for a period of two years from the date of its commencement,” the statement said. Therefore, a Committee of the Whole House was constituted on 18th May 2015. The Committee recommended two draft Bills and special measures to improve the existing legislative and administrative mechanism for combating terrorism.  The Report of the Committee was adopted by the House on 31st December 2015 and thereafter it was sent to the government for implementation. The two Bills namely the Anti-Terrorism Act (Amendment) Bill, 2015 and the Witness Protection Bill, 2015 were piloted by Senator Raja Muhammad Zafar-ul-Haq, Leader of the House, Senator Aitzaz Ahsan Leader of the Opposition and all parliamentary parties Leaders in the Senate namely,- Senator Col. (R) Syed Tahir Hussain Mashhadi, Senator Hasil Khan Bizenjo, Senator Saeed Ghani, Senator Muhammad Talha Mehmood, Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed, Senator Iqbal Zafar Jhagra, Senator Muhammad Usman Khan Kakar, Senator Dr. Jehanzeb Jamaldini, Senator Baz Muhammad Khan, Senator Hidayat Ullah, Senator Nauman Wazir Khattak, Senator Siraj ul Haq and Senator Syed Muzaffar Hussain Shah. 

The Senate of Pakistan unanimously passed the said bills on 18th January 2016 and the bills were transmitted to the National Assembly. The bills were passed with the intent to initiate the process of legislation well before time as well as to provide a baseline to the government for further improvising on the same.

The Senate of Pakistan, being oblivious of its constitutional role, has already proposed a mechanism for filling the vacuum for combating terrorism in the country, which may occur after the 7th January 2017, the statement added.