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Weakness at the Centre

The announcement on Tuesday 28th February that the government had agreed to extend the tenure of military courts for a further two years is a depressing example of how poorly the National Action Plan (NAP) is being implemented. Article 20 of NAP is ‘Revamping and reforming the criminal justice system’ — and the military courts at Article 2 would be in place for two years whilst Article 20 was being processed. The military courts lapsed on January 7, 2017, and the time between then and now has been taken up with inter-party wrangling as to the duration of the reinstatement of the military courts, rather than the revamping and reforming of the criminal justice system that their foundation was to enable.

Once again the federal government has dodged the bullet of reform — a bullet of its own making let us not forget — and kicked into the long grass changes that are vital if Pakistan is to have a criminal justice system that is equal to the task before it. Instead there is to be another period when an attenuated and secretive form of summary ‘justice’ is dispensed behind closed doors, unreported and invisible and with the power of life and death in its hands. Military courts anywhere in the world have been the roughest of ‘justice’ with the rules of evidence effectively suspended along with habeas corpus, a recourse to law whereby any person can report an unlawful detention or imprisonment before a court.

Military courts in Pakistan make a mockery of a badly broken justice system, and are the fall-back position of a government too weak to tackle the root-and-branch reforms that would make the nation a better place, more able to hold its head high among the international community as one where the rule of law is paramount. Sadly this is the default position when it comes to much of the nitty-gritty of NAP. The military as noted so often in these columns has done all asked of it — and now finds itself lumbered with the dispensation of ‘justice’ as well. The politicians should hang their collective heads — not that they ever will.

Editorial. Weakness at the Centre. The Express Tribune, March 1, 2017.

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