War against terror


The decisive phase

Extraordinary situations and circumstances require extraordinary solutions. That is what the pragmatism is all about. The nations are sometimes faced with situations and dangers that threaten their existence and ways of life and have to go for responses which are beyond the normal and acceptable constitutional and legal framework. History is replete with such examples. The National Action Plan against terrorism formulated with the unanimous support of the entire political leadership, the government and the military establishment, particularly the establishment of military courts to try terrorists, their abettors and facilitators and those involved in sectarian violence, represents an extraordinary response to any extraordinary phenomenon which posed existentialist threat to Pakistan and its way of life.

Viewed from this perspective there was no other option available to fight the scourge of terrorism. The passage of the amendment to the Army Act Bill and the Constitutional Amendment Bill to give constitutional cover to the establishment of military courts by both Houses of the Parliament, unanimously, marks a turning point in the fight against terrorism. The remarkable thing about the decision about establishing military courts is that they have a constitutional sanction behind them given by an elected Parliament. It is a unique and necessity-driven development and both the political and military leadership deserve appreciation for rising to the occasion and taking the tough decisions with the approval and backing of the entire nation.
The war against terrorism has entered a decisive phase. General Raheel Sharif, speaking at the Provincial Apex Committee meeting of Khyber Pakhtunkhawa on Monday, assured the nation that army would extend full support to judicious and speedy implementation of the anti-terror plan to eliminate terrorists and their abettors, facilitators and sympathisers in the motherland. A day earlier, addressing a similar committee meeting in Lahore he emphatically declared that failure to eliminate all manifestations of terrorism and extremism was not an option, no matter what the cost. Such committees have been formed in all the provinces to ensure coordination between the provincial governments, military establishment and intelligence agencies in regards to the speedy implementation of the National Action Plan. The words of the COAS that reflect an unswerving resolve of the Army to take the fight against terrorism to its logical conclusion are very reassuring for the people of Pakistan and all the stakeholders in its future.
Although there is a national consensus on the strategy adopted by the government and the military leadership to deal with terrorism, some human rights groups, the legal fraternity and some usual critics of the government still find it convenient to criticise the establishment of the military courts, terming the step as a breach of the fundamental rights. Some political parties who participated in the deliberations of the APC and threw their weight behind the National Action Plan also stayed away from the Parliament during the passage of the bills. The observations and reservations of these elements could have been valid and beyond reproach in normal circumstances wherein the constitution guarantees the fundamental rights. What they, however, forget to appreciate is that the enjoyment of fundamental rights by the citizens of a state is linked to an unqualified allegiance to the state and those who raise arms against the state lose the constitutional protection to their fundamental rights.
These critics also fail to acknowledge the fact that it would not be the discretion of the military courts to try whomsoever the get hold of but it would be the federal government who would decide which cases would be referred to the military courts for trial. This has been done to prevent the misuse of the new legislation. Further, only those offences from the schedule of offences of Anti Terrorism Act and Pakistan Protection Act have been added to the Army Act which purely cover terrorism related activities against community, schools, institutions, state and military installations. That is why four laws including Pakistan Army Act, Pakistan Navy Act, Pakistan Air force Act and Pakistan Protection Act have been included in the first schedule of the constitution which would exempt these laws from the operation of article 8 of the constitution.
The entire exercise is intentioned to fast-track the process of justice with regards to acts of terrorism and religious extremism. During the APC, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and General Raheel Sharif explained at length the rationale for the setting up of the military courts and to dispel the apprehensions being expressed about the military courts. That should have been enough for the detractors of the military courts to lower their swords. The decision to set up military courts is a nationally-owned step evolved through a democratic process to deal with an existentialist threat and therefore must be supported and backed by all segments of the society.
The military courts are not Kangaroo courts as stated by the Interior Minister on the floor of the Assembly. The cases referred to these courts will be heard and decided after affording due opportunity to the accused to defend themselves through their lawyers and they would also have the appellate avenues available to them, though within the justice system of the Army. It is pertinent to point out that under the Army Act, the army personnel have been court marshaled for offences covered by the Act and provided justice for decades and it is a well organised, effective and judicious system of dispensing justice with very minimal chances of miscarriage of justice.
This legislation is only time and crime specific and would automatically become non-effective after the expiry of two years when hopefully the scourge of terrorism would have been subdued. If we look at the entire effort in the backdrop of the enormity of the threat to our existence and our way of life, it would start making sense. The entire nation would have to stand united like a rock with unflinching determination to uproot terrorism because Army and the government cannot succeed without the support of the masses. It is now or never situation for the nation. We owe it to the posterity to save Pakistan from any harm.


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