Members of the National Assembly had arrived in Parliament today to vote on the two bills – the Constitution (Twenty-first Amendment) Bill and the Pakistan Army (Amendment).
But voting was deferred after the government fell short of the required two-thirds majority – 228 members – for the passage of the constitution amendments after Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman expressed reservations on the bill, saying his party would not vote in favour of the amendment in its current form.
Only 218 members were present during the National Assembly session today – 10 legislators short of the required number.
Voting on the bills is now expected to be held in the National Assembly on Tuesday.
Earlier addressing the session, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said a few years ago, no one would have thought that military courts will be established through a constitutional amendment.
“In a functioning democracy, military courts are very unusual. These courts are being established because Pakistan is faced with an extraordinary situation,” the interior minister said, adding that after 9/11, military courts were also established in the US.
Recalling some of the most horrific incidents of terror that the country has faced such as the 2009 Meena Bazaar attack, killings of Hazaras in Quetta and even the attacks on army personnel, the interior minister said everyone had mobilised and united to end terrorism once and for all.
The interior minister underscored that military courts will be installed for a limited period of time. “These courts are not for civilians. The general public will not be tried in military courts; they will be tried in judicial courts which will continue to hear cases which are not related to terrorism,” he said.
Seeking to dissipate concerns relating to hanging of all those tried in military courts, the interior minister said the Army Act does not indicate kangaroo courts.
“There have been soldiers and civilians who were previously tried in army courts; not everyone was hanged,” he said.
Nisar said that if the federal government, provincial governments, Parliament, and the Army unites, then Pakistan will be able to overcome this problem of terrorism.
He said that Pakistan has been involved in this war for over 12 years, but that it was now time for everyone to unite.
“Various party leaders have shown unity and democracy has become stronger. I am convinced that where political leaders come together for their future of their country, no power in the world can make them fail,” he said.
The interior minister said that a counter-terrorism helpline has been setup where citizens can notify authorities if they witness suspicious activities.
The masses also need to come together and play their role in helping combat this scourge, he said.
Speaking on the floor of the House, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader Farooq Sattar said that the time had now come to draw the line.
“This is an ideological war. The time has come for us to throw hypocrites out of our ranks. It is time that we reject all those who preach hatred and violence,” he said.
He said that his party has long been a vocal critic of rising extremism and Talibanisation in the country, and that he was glad that Parliament was now in agreement on measures that MQM chief Altaf Hussain had recommended almost a decade ago.
Military courts to try civilians
One bill seeks to amend the constitution to bar challenges before the superior courts and fix a two-year limit for the new legislative measure, and the other to amend the Pakistan Army Act of 1952 to extend the scope of the proposed speedy trial military courts to try civilians charged with crimes of terrorism and extremism.
Earlier on Saturday, the Minister in charge of Law, Justice and Human Rights, Senator Pervaiz Rashid, had introduced both the bills immediately after the house met. The house adopted, without any objection, his two motions to suspend a section of the rules of procedure and conduct of business to exempt the drafts from scrutiny by standing committees of the house so they could be passed on the next working day on Monday.
The unanimous adoption of the exemption motions by more than 100 members present in the 342-seat house had left no procedural hitch for the government to ask for passage of any of the two bills.
But even on Saturday, the house was far short of the two-thirds majority– comprising 228 members – for the passage of the Constitution (Twenty-first Amendment) Bill – necessitating some hard effort by the government to collect the required number.
The whole legislative process regarding the two bills took just three minutes before the house was adjourned and the situation would not be much different today either if no debate is held and no amendment is taken up.
The preambles to both the bills were largely identical, citing “extraordinary situation and circumstances” that they said demanded “special measures for speedy trial of certain offences relating to terrorism, waging of war or insurrection against Pakistan” and prevention of acts threatening the country’s security by “any terrorist or terrorist group using the name of religion or a sect and members of such armed groups, wings and militias”.
However, the Pakistan Army (Amendment) added two key new sub-clauses in the existing act describing people or groups that could be punished under the new law.
The sub-clauses (iii) and (iv), to be inserted in clause (d) of sub-section (1) of section 2, after sub-clause (ii) are:
(iii) Any person who is or claims or is known to belong to any terrorist group or organisation using the name of religion or a sect and raises arms or wage war against Pakistan or attacks the armed forces of Pakistan and law enforcement agencies, or attacks any civil or military installation in Pakistan or kidnaps any person for ransom or causes death of any person or injury, or is in possession, storage, fabrication or transport of explosives, firearms, instruments, articles, suicide jackets or vehicles designed to be used for terrorist acts, or receives or provides funding from any foreign or local sources for such illegal activities and acts or does any act to overawe the state or any section of the public or a sect or a religious minority or to create terror or insecurity in Pakistan or attempts to commit any of the said acts, within or outside Pakistan shall be punished under this act;
(iv): Any person who is or claims or is known to belong to any terrorist group or organisation using the name of religion or a sect, commits an offence mentioned at serial Nos. (i), (ii), (iii), (v), (vi), (vii), (viii)), (ix), (x), (xi) (xii), (xiii), (xv), (xvi), (xvii) and (xx) in the schedule to the Protection of Pakistan Act 2014 (X of 2014).
However, according to an official press release, the law minister has sent a letter to the National Assembly secretary giving notice of an amendment to his draft bill to insert in the above-mentioned sub-clause (iv) to include any person who “raises arms or wages war against Pakistan” among those to be punished.
The bill explains that the expression “sect” would mean a sect of religion and “does not include any political party registered under any law for the time being in force”.
Consider that where previous constitutional amendments during civilian dispensations were designed to clear the mess left behind by military dictators, this time it is the civilians who will be muddying the document to empower the army further. The 21st constitutional amendment will stand as a monument to the betrayal of the civilian, democratic cause.
The 68th Anniversary of the Founding of the People’s Republic of China.
— The Daily Mail - People's Daily