Justification of Military courts to deal with Anti-State elements
Abdul Basit Alvi
Pakistan started facing acts of terrorism soon after its decision to side with the US-led war against terrorism in September 2011. Since 2006, police stations, army posts, garrison centres, schools, colleges, parks, hotels, courts and even mosques were repeatedly attacked by terrorists. Hundreds perished in attacks against Lahore High Court, ISI and FIA offices in Lahore, Islamabad, Hyderabad and other parts of the country. FIA headquarters in Lahore, district courts in Islamabad, churches and mosques all over the country were repeatedly targeted with ease. There came a period of intense fear and uncertainty when schools across the country hired sharpshooters and snipers to protect children and teachers were asked to train in the use of weapons – when governments in different provinces started to confess that they don’t have policing resources to protect all schools. Terrorists even if nabbed and arrested by intelligence and police were soon set free under a broader legal argument of “want of evidence” but in reality a number of factors behind the scenes were responsible including corruption of law enforcement agencies, bribery, incapable forensic, inefficient and disinterested prosecution and threats from terrorist outfits to prosecutors and judges. Case of Marriot Hotel bombing (2008) in which more than 50 died – including several diplomats and foreigners – and around 300 injured in the most horrific act of terrorism in the centre of Islamabad is a good example to understand the impotency of Pakistan’s criminal justice system – when terrorists were finally arrested, with overwhelming evidence connecting them with Marriott bombing, they were set free after several months of fruitless trial. According to very interesting data and figures shared by Ishaq Tanoli in his article which was published in July 2022, the country’s superior and lower judiciaries are dealing with a huge backlog of 2.144 million cases as 4.102m cases were decided and 4.06m new cases were filed during 2021. The overall pendency at the start of 2021 before all the courts was 2.16m. The Supreme Court, Federal Shariat Court and five high courts of the country disposed of 229,822 cases and 241,250 new cases were instituted during 2020 and pending cases stood at 389,549 before the superior courts on Dec 31 while the same tally was 378,216 on Jan 1, 2021. Similarly, 1,783,826 cases were pending trial at the start of last year before the district judiciary of the country and it adjudicated 3,872,686 cases and 3,822,881 fresh cases were filed during last year and total pendency stood at 1,754,947 before lower judiciary on Dec 31. According to the statistics gathered by the Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan, at the start of 2021, 46,695 cases were pending before the Supreme Court and at the end of year they stood at 51,766 as 12,838 cases were decided while 18,075 new cases filed at the apex court in 2020. Then, he further says that the Federal Shariat Court was established in 1980 by a military regime to examine and decide the question whether or not any law or provision of law is repugnant to the injunctions of Islam and to hear appeals in the cases of rape and unnatural offences. However, there are only 157 cases before the FSC since with the adoption of Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act 2006, the jurisdiction of this court was considerably curtailed, inasmuch as, appeals/applications for revision arising out of trial of offences were taken out from the Offence of Zina (Enforcement of Hudood) Ordinance 1979, and now such appeals are filed before the high courts. There were 178 cases pending at start of 2021 before FSC and it settled 139 cases and 118 new cases were submitted before it in 2020. Then, the Lahore High Court adjudicated 149,362 cases in 2020 and 148,436 new cases were instituted during the same period and total pending cases were 187,255 on Dec 31 at the LHC. The Sindh High Court disposed of over 31,000 cases in 2020, but around 34,000 new cases were also instituted during the same period and total pending cases stood at over 84,000. Similarly, the Peshawar High Court received 23,941 cases and decided 20,528 cases during 2021 and pendency stood at 44,703 cases. There were 4,194 cases pending at the Balochistan High Court when the 2021 began and it disposed of 7,287 cases and 7,182 new cases were filed during previous and pending cases are 4,108 at the BHC. The Islamabad High Court adjudicated 7,918 cases in 2021 and 9,433 new cases were instituted and pending cases were 17,456 at the end of 2020. Likewise, the lower judiciary of Punjab disposed of 2,904,745 and 2,826,774 new cases were filed in 2020 and pending stood at 1,313,669 cases. The district judiciary of Sindh decided 344,701 cases and 346,109 cases were filed in 2021 and total pendency was 117,790 on Dec 31. The subordinate courts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa adjudicated 475,927 cases in 2020, 500,417 cases were instituted during the same period and total pending cases were 256,873. Similarly, the district judiciary of Balochistan decided 59,652 and 59,289 cases were filed and the total cases pending trial stood at 15,675 while the lower courts at Islamabad disposed of 87,661 cases, 90,292 were instituted during 2021 and total pendency is 50,940. The National Judicial Policy was formulated in 2009 to reduce the backlog of cases in the judiciary, ensure its independence and eradicate corruption. While on the other hand, military courts in Pakistan were set up in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar on December 16, 2014. The brazen attack had left at least 144 dead, 133 of them children. Early January in 2015, an All Parties Conference (APC) had green lighted the proposed 21st Constitutional Amendment, which came into effect on January 6, 2015. It allowed changes to the Pakistan Army Act to extend its jurisdiction for speedy trial of cases under specified acts and provide the constitutional cover with a sunset clause of two years from the date of enactment. On January 9, 2015 Pakistan lifted the moratorium on the death penalty to pave the way for trials by the military courts. Official statistics suggest that – as of December 2018 – ever since their inception over three years ago, the roughly one dozen military courts handled 717 cases and finalized 546 of them. The courts awarded death to as many as 310 terrorists while 234 were awarded rigorous imprisonment of varied durations ranging from life imprisonment to 5-year imprisonment. Two accused had also been acquitted. Readers, the data and details mentioned above clearly shows the problems with our civil judiciary system and relatively better performance by Military courts. Don’t forget to keep in mind that we are still dealing with war against terror and anti-state elements. Our Civil judiciary is already overwhelmed by huge number of cases so military court is a very good option to deal quickly with terrorist and anti-state elements. The accused have the chance to appeal in higher civil courts so it completely eliminates the chances of injustice. Nation has seen what Riots and anti-state elements have done in GHQ, Lahore Corps Commander House, many other army installations and civil properties etc. What they have done that even our enemies could not do in 75 years. According to the Public Relations Department of the Pakistan Army (ISPR), Army Chief General Asim Munir, recently, visited Lahore and was briefed on the events of May 9 Black Day. ISPR said that the Army Chief placed flowers at the martyrs’ memorial and paid tribute to the martyrs who laid down their lives for the motherland. The Army Chief also visited Jinnah House and a military installation. On this occasion, the Army Chief said that legal action has been initiated under the Army Act and the Official Secrets Act against those responsible for the May 9 tragedy. He said that the strength of the Pakistan Army is its people, trying to create a rift between the army and the people is an act against the state, such an act will not be tolerated under any circumstances. General Asim Munir said that the enemy forces and their supporters are trying to cause chaos through fake news and propaganda, with the support of the nation, all such ambitions of the enemy will be thwarted. To deal with these elements via Military Courts is a very good imitative and is warmly welcomed by the nation. The culprits should be strictly punished so that no one ever dares to think about doing such malicious attempts in future.