ISLAMABAD: Once again, Pakistan embarked on the experiment of invoking military courts to try civilians as the Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament gave their consent to the changes in laws and the Constitution.
Thankfully, there was no giggling this time around because of the tragic results of such courts in the past. The somber mood was particularly glaring in the Senate. Senator Raza Rabbani actually broke up in tears saying that never in his life did he feel so bad by voting “against my conscience.”
One could sympathise with him, as it was not easy to compromise after a lifetime struggle for the civilian supremacy and judicial independence. The easier option was to either abstain or resign towards the close of his two-decade long Senate tenure. But he chose to follow the party discipline no matter how bitter it was. Other party leaders also made it a point to register that they were doing it with a heavy heart. The crux was: we know it is bad but we are willing to swallow this bitter pill one time more.
Technically, the legal changes were passed unanimously as no party raised any objection in either House. But it was significant that the PTI-JI ruling coalition in KP and the JUI (F) abstained from voting. That these three parties represent nearly sixty per cent of the vote bank in the troubled KP and Fata made the development even more ominous.
However, their reasons for abstention were different. The PML-wallas were quick to throw barbs that the skipper was more busy ‘honey-mooning’ when the rest of the country mourned. Obviously, Imran Khan’s virtual admission about his latest wedding gave lots of fodder to his detractors in politics and media to hit back. If you ask me, Big Khan kept it under shrouds quite unnecessarily. He could have easily taken refuge behind Bollywood-style “dil-to-pagal-hey” theory. After all, this romantic wedding in the middle of Dharna is the stuff made for a Bollywood blockbuster. Lage Raho Khan Sahab!
On a serious note, we think, Imran Khan’s party abstained largely because the PML (N) failed to engage it. It is time Nawaz Sharif showed political sagacity and accepted their fair demand of accepting a constitutional clause as terms of reference for the judicial commission. Nawaz may not afford the PTI on the roads in the crucial days when the anti-Taliban purge is put into action. Let’s burry this hatchet and move on!
Jamaat-e-Islami under Sirajul Haq is definitely changing its illogical support to Taliban but was left with no choice after Maulana Fazlur Rehman announced his abstention. But trust Fazlur Rehman for playing a classical dual shot. He kept his Taliban apologists and madrassah sponsors happy by abstaining from the vote. Yet he also did not make the PML (N) angry by creating any fuss over the amendments in Parliament. Who stops him from resigning from the government if he is so truthful to his cause?
More important was to puncture Fazlur Rehman’s narrative about witch-hunting only religious terrorists. PPP’s Khursheed Shah was quick to counter his argument by openly saying that it was about time we accepted that religious terrorism was the real big issue. And if we do not focus exclusively on religious and sectarian violence, and bring in nationalist issues, this might jeopardise the whole exercise.
Have a heart, Maulana! The religious and sectarian mayhem is the mammoth whereas the nationalist violence is just a tail. There is a difference of scale. The casualties inflicted by Baloch insurgents, for instance, are hardly three per cent of the 55000 killed by religious extremists. Already, the Baloch have paid heavily for that. They were dealt with a sledgehammer by a kill and dump exercise that officially numbers over 500 dead. Those wounds are in the process of healing and let’s keep that out of the domain of military courts. The scale of non-religious violence in Karachi also pales drastically before the religious/sectarian monster.
The ‘Yes Vote’ on legal changes evoked mixed feelings. It was good to see political parties, except for the religious ones, rising above their petty politics in showing unanimity. The historical civil-military divide was kept aside for a new beginning. Beneath this euphoria, however, everybody felt bad that things had come to such a pass. After all, this was an admission that the civilian administrative and structures had crumbled.
Perhaps Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif realised the gravity of the task ahead. In his brief speech in the Senate, he sounded genuinely sincere by mentioning almost all notable politicians for their help. It was after a decacde we saw Nawaz using kind words for Chaudhary Shujaat, particularly thanking Senator Mushahid Hussain for his extra input. He even thanked those who abstained from voting and particularly registered Raza Rabbani’s emotions by saying, “I know how you feel.” Perhaps he will need everybody’s help in the challenges ahead. The war may have just started.
After all, it will be the federal government that will provide the list of terrorists to be tried by the military courts. We hope that Islamabad develops sound mechanics for finalising these lists. We also hope that the prime minister will push the provinces, particularly Fortress Punjab, in revamping their systems of investigation and prosecution to help the judiciary. The military courts, no matter how successful, can only be a one-off solution. Many agree that the governments need to use this time for strengthening parallel administrative and judicial structures. There might be myriad steps and ‘miles to go before Nawaz Sharif sleeps.’ But everybody agrees that the key is to revamp the police and introduce local bodies. The third tier might do wonders in helping in eradicating violence at local level.
In the meantime, Congrats Skipper!
January 7, 2015