The all parties conference (APC) called by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) on the question of extension of military courts on Saturday remained inconclusive as the host party remained adamant that extension could not be granted without a new law.
The PPP announced that in case of inevitability of the military courts, the party will present amendments in the constitutional draft proposal and in draft of the Army Act of the government to ensure minimum standards of human rights and fair trial of the accused on the one hand and to prevent their misuse for political victimisation. However, the parties, except JUI-F, agreed on merger of Fata with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on immediate basis.
To reinforce the message, former president Asif Ali Zardari first stated it before the all parties conference at the Zardari House on Saturday and later reiterated by PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in his brief encounter with media persons waiting outside the Zardari House.
The PPP-convened conference remained inconclusive as majority of the participating parties were in support of extension in military courts due to which no consensus was reached on the joint declaration of the conference. However, majority of participants supported the Fata integration into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa except Maulana Fazlur Rehman.
“We would extend support to the military courts after obtaining legal opinion,” Bilawal told the media after the conference which was attended by heads and representatives of 13 political parties, including Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain of the PML Q, Maulana Fazlur Rehman of JUI-F, Aftab Ahmed Sherpao of QWP, Ghulam Ahmed Bilour of ANP, Sirajul Haq of JI, MNA Shah Jee Gul Afridi of Fata, Senator Mir Israrullah Zehri of BNP-A, Senator Mir Hasil Bizenjo National Party, Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed of AML, Sahibzada Hamid Raza of Sunni Ittehad Council, Khurram Nawaz Gandapur of PAT, Syed Shujjat Bukhari of Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Fiqqa Jafria and Allama Raja Nasir Abbas of MWM.
Besides Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the PPP team consisted of Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah, Opposition Leader in the Senate Aitzaz Ahsan, former chairman Senate and legal expert Farooq Naek, Senator Sherry Rehman, secretary general PPP Nayyar Hussain Bukhari, Senator Sardar Ali Khan, Abdul Qayyum Soomro, political secretary Rukhsana Bangash, Fauzia Habib and Senator Farhatullah Babar.
The agenda before the multi-party conference was to discuss the revival of military courts, implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP), reforms in the tribal areas and the profiling of Pashtuns in some parts of the country. Upon asking by the political parties, Asif Zardari tasked Farooq Naek to urgently finalise draft legislation for military courts in case their setting up was deemed inevitable by all political parties. He also asked opposition leaders Khursheed Shah and Aitzaz Ahsan to share draft legislative proposals with other political parties.
About Fata reforms, Zardari said the PPP has spearheaded reforms in tribal areas, opened the door for reforms in FCR that was closed for a century and allowed political parties to operate freely in the tribal areas by extending the Political Parties Order 2002 to Fata, adding delaying reform implementation for five years amounted to hoodwinking the tribal people. He demanded immediate implementation of Fata reforms. Zardari also deplored the non-implementation of various provisions of the NAP and called for the accountability of those responsible.
Bilawal said that apart from military courts, integration of Fata into KP and the implementation of NAP were also discussed in the meeting. He said no consensus was reached on the extension to be granted to military courts and that a final decision will be taken after consultation with legal experts. He did not specify a timeframe in which the parties may come to a joint conclusion.
Senator Farhatullah Babar said while talking to the media that merely mentioning terrorist organisation or the terrorist group was inadequate, and these terms were required to be explained so as to prevent its misuse. He said for ensuring fair trial as contained in Article 10-A of the Constitution it was necessary to allow the accused to engage defence counsel of his choice, the right of appeal and the presence of observers in a military court. He said questions have been asked about how jet-black terrorist has been defined, how many of 161 accused sentenced to death were jet-black terrorists, how many were allowed to engage a lawyer of choice, how many were denied the charge sheet, copy of the judgment and evidence?
“The PPP also wanted to know as to how many had been sentenced merely on the basis of ‘confession’ without supporting evidence and what precaution had been taken to ensure that the said confessions were not extracted through torture,” he added. Babar also asked as to how many of the accused sentenced during the last two years were those who were brought out into the open under the Action in Aid of Civil Power Regulation 2011? He said that establishing of military courts will only deflect attention from the real issues in reforming the criminal justice system and that was one reason why the PPP opposed it. “The very purpose of allowing military courts for only two years was to have an opportunity to revisit their working, ask questions and consider how best the shortcomings encountered can be removed,” he said.
He said leaving the term terror organisation undefined or too wide open to interpretation can be problematic.
Babar said the reforms package in Fata failed in demolish the remnants of colonial structures. “The Riwaj Act, replacing FCR, has not been made public and it must be brought before the Parliament as first step towards enabling the Parliament to legislate for Fata if it is to be mainstreamed,” he said.
Meanwhile, Maulana Fazlur Rehman insisted that a clear definition of the word ‘terrorism’ should be given before a decision can be made on the military courts.
Addressing the conference, he emphasised that instead of targeting one religion or sect, every armed group should be dealt with accordingly and that anyone who picks up arms against the state should be termed a terrorist.
Talking about the integration of Fata into KP, he said it was necessary to ask the people of Fata about their wishes and asked the government to not impose any decision on them.