By Mehr F. Husain
2 January 2015
Pakistan's anti-terror moves are a case of too little too late, and won’t help, say the critics.
But what else can be done? It took the most gruesome attack in the country’s history for the state and society to finally land on the same page
Alas, nothing ever runs smoothly.
Even today, as the government and the military work out a constructive way to take on terrorists without losing public support, there are doubts about what the future will look like.
And the biggest issue is: military courts trying civilians accused of terrorism.
Pakistan has never been politically strong to indulge in debates about the consequences of state or military policies, and currently, as terrorists gain ground globally, the state, society and military know the time has come to act sincerely.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ’s National Action Plan talks of military courts, which poses questions about the country’s democratic future.
There are concerns about allowing the military into areas concerning the legal rights of Pakistanis. Given Pakistan’s political history of weak democracy prone to collapse in the face of dictatorships, it is natural for citizens to worry about granting more power to the military. After all, the military is responsible for the dominant ideology in the country.
But, this is the same country where civilians who poured out to support the legal community for reinstating an illegally sacked Supreme Court judge, witnessed those same lawyers showering rose petals on Mumtaz Qadri - the man responsible for the death of Governor Salmaan Taseer.
This highlights the need for judicial reform. Surely a stronger, cleaner judiciary capable of better jurisprudence would be better for the country? Of course, it would. But the country has a huge militant problem that threatens to destroy it completely and people want action, not just a reaction of judicial reform.
Consequently, the reaction to why the judges keep postponing the decision to hang these terrorists ranges from frustration to dismay.
But there are several issues to consider:
One, the ultimate weapon against progress and rational thought - fear.
Any judge or member of the legal fraternity who has dared to stand up against the mullah brigade and its agenda has either been threatened or killed. Rashid Rehman, who merely represented a man accused of blasphemy, was shot in his office.
Second, lack of protection from terrorists angered by a judicial decision.
Mumtaz Qadri, who worked as a security guard, proved that a uniform does not guarantee protection and with a militant network stretched across the country, there is no guarantee of safety.
Thus, as long as terrorists use religion as a cover for their actions, it is difficult to apply jurisprudence free of the concerns over offending religious sentiments — hang a terrorist, you’re labelled a ‘liberal’ and therefore immediately regarded as being anti-Islam.
How, then, can people say no to military courts if they are fighting back in an arena that isn’t just about bullets? If the military can find legal ground, that is something that people cannot deny.
This way of getting rid of militancy can also work in favour of regional relations, including those with Afghanistan, which is also committed to fighting terrorism.
This may cause the state and the military to work their way to the thorny issue of Kashmir, which is where the roots of militancy lie.
While there are reservations about the increasing role of the military and the weak role of the judiciary, the civil-military ties have come a long way from the time when democratic forces and the judiciary fought against the military after General Pervez Musharraf imposed Emergency in 2007.
Military courts may not hold much appeal and concerns surrounding them are justifiable. But then again, in the face of mass murderers, there is no doubt that too little too late is better than a lost cause.
Mehr F. Husain is a freelance journalist based in Lahore