Sunday, December 28, 2014

SPECIAL COURTS FOR 'A SPECIAL COUNTRY’

Concerns about the Special Courts (SCs) to be set up under military presiding officers continue to be voiced from diverse quarters. Co-chairperson of the PPP Asif Ali Zardari, in his speech at the seventh death anniversary of Benazir Bhutto in Garhi Khuda Baksh, expressed his apprehension regarding the misuse of the SCs against politicians like himself and Nawaz Sharif, who could find themselves s behind bars if such a development occurred. The constitutional amendment under preparation for bringing in the SCs should not, he warned, become a ‘black’ law, based on the experience of previous such steps in the past. He categorically rejected the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban binary. He reminded his audience that if the massacre of PPP’s jiyalas in Karachi in 2007 on Benazir’s return had been taken seriously, subsequent tragic incidents including Peshawar could have been avoided. 

While there is weight in this argument, it should not be forgotten that of the seven years since the tragic event in Karachi, the PPP was in power for five years. However, that government failed to either do much about the spread of terrorism itself or persuade the security establishment to do the same. In fact, the COAS at that time, General Kayani, after the military offensives in Swat and South Waziristan, dragged his feet over the necessary tackling of the terrorist safe havens in North Waziristan despite the fact that he had sufficient time to do this after he received an extension in his tenure to six years. Asif Zardari also tried to allay the apprehensions regarding his differences with son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, whose absence was keenly felt by the young workers of the party at the commemoration, which saw declining numbers this year as a reflection of the internal crisis of the PPP. Asif Zardari also attempted to scotch rumours of a falling out with Makhdoom Amin Fahim, the head of the PPP-Parliamentarians, asserting that Makhdoom would never betray the party and there were no cracks amongst the leadership. Leader of the Opposition Syed Khursheed Shah wanted Benazir Bhutto’s trial to be conducted by the SCs, which he said were accepted with a heavy heart while accepting the exigencies of the present situation.

Meanwhile MQM’s Farooq Sattar in a press conference in Karachi also added his voice to the concerns swirling around the SCs. He emphasised sticking to the sunset clause of two years for the SCs, and argued that local governments, citizens’ vigilance, community policing systems were necessary in the fight against terrorism. The SCs, he said, were only a temporary solution and that parliament should ensure the effective functioning of the so far moribund National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), He said his party only agreed to the setting up of the SCs after strong assurances from the government that their functioning would be restricted to terrorism-related cases. Farooq Sattar offered all the manpower of MQM to ensure the security of schools in the aftermath of the Peshawar massacre, pointing to the fears of school managements, parents and children in this regard. Lawyers in Karachi too expressed themselves in favour of strengthening the existing criminal justice system as the long term solution to the terrorist challenge, regarding the SCs as a temporary measure.


The Peshawar tragedy and the steps announced by the government in its wake have not gone unnoticed worldwide. While the massacre has been widely condemned amidst a show of sympathy and solidarity with the victims and the people of Pakistan, concerns regarding the lifting of the moratorium on executions continue to reverberate. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif to urge a halt to executions. However, the PM argued that extraordinary situations required extraordinary steps while reassuring the Secretary General that legal norms would be respected while dealing with all terrorist cases. The PM consulted his legal aides on Saturday regarding options for setting up the SCs and asked that all parties be taken along in the constitutional amendment and other steps. He also emphasised that legal protection be provided to members of the armed forces in the context of anti-terrorist operations and sectarian terrorists be included in the ambit of the strategy. The PM has set up an umbrella monitoring committee and under it 15 sub-committees with time frames for finalising their recommendations. While the government seems to be getting up to speed on the National Action Plan, no one should labour under the illusion that this will be a short war. Staying the course therefore is of utmost importance. DT

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