Govt may amend 'basis of constitution'

(MENAFN- The Peninsula) The Nawaz Sharif government's legal advisers are weighing the option of amending Article 8 (1) and Article 212-A and B of the constitution in order to establish military courts in the country, officials privy to discussions on the issue here reveal.

The proposed constitutional amendments currently under consideration will be introduced in these two articles. Article 8 is titled 'Laws inconsistent with or in derogation of Fundamental Rights to be void', while Article 212 deals with administrative courts and tribunals.

If the amendments are carried out, changes will be made accordingly in the Army Act 1952 to set up special trial courts to try terror suspects. Under the proposed constitutional amendment, the military courts will cease to function after a period of two years.

"This is the initial draft of the constitutional amendment which the government intends to present before parliament as soon as possible, perhaps this week," a government functionary said.

Article 8 reads: "Any law, or any custom or usage having the force of law, in so far as it is inconsistent with the rights conferred by this Chapter, shall, to the extent of such inconsistency, be void."

Talking about the proposed amendments, Supreme Court lawyer and former Human Rights Commission of Pakistan chairperson Asma Jahangir said that it was obvious from day one that before setting up military courts, the government would have to dilute constitutional provisions which provide protection to basic human rights in order to set up military courts.

She further explained these changes in the constitution would also undermine Article 10-A, which provides the right to a fair trial to every citizen.

It reads: "For the determination of his civil rights and obligations or in any criminal charge against him a person shall be entitled to a fair trial and due process."

In Jahangir's opinion, this exercise will severely affect the independence of the judiciary. The irony is that similar measures have been used in the past, but in each instance they failed to deliver the necessary results. However, Jahangir said, people at the helm of affairs seemed to be averse to learning from past experiences.

"Will the existing courts become effective in two years, because the government says military courts will only remain in operation for just a couple of years," Jahangir asked.

"Instead of blaming the courts for not putting terrorists in jail, the prime minister must unequivocally accept that the establishment of military courts is a demand of the army as part of its ongoing operations. I'm surprised why the government is looking for excuses to take this measure, which is totally against the spirit of the constitution," she said.

Former law minister and Supreme Court Lawyer Dr Khalid Ranjha said that whatever route the government treaded to constitute military courts, be it amending Article 212 or Article 245, "I am not hopeful the measure will serve the intended purpose."

Whenever such options were used in the past, they were severely criticised within six months and eventually led to discrediting the military in the eyes of the general public, he said.

Yasin Azad, a former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, said that the bar was considering challenging the proposed military courts and were waiting for the final draft of the government's bill in the matter.

Meanwhile, in a sign of growing military-to-military cooperation under the Ashraf Ghani-led Afghan government, Islamabad and Kabul have decided to 'reactivate' border control centres to coordinate operations against militants.

Senior Pakistani and Afghan military commanders recently met in Afghanistan's eastern Nangarhar province and reached an understanding to restore two border coordination centres, sources privy to the discussion here say.

Afghan army chief General Sher Muhammad Karimi, during his recent meeting with his Pakistani counterpart General Raheel Sharif in Rawalpindi, had agreed that their commanders would begin meeting immediately to further coordinate cross border security operations.

Subsequently, Pakistani military officials travelled to Nangarhar for follow up discussions with Afghan security officials and agreed to revive the coordination centres at the border points of Torkham and Spin Boldak, the sources added.

The December 16 bloody rampage by Taliban gunmen at the Army Public School in Peshawar in which 150 people, all but a few children, were massacred has led to close cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan on tackling the militant threat on both sides of the Durand Line.

The Peninsula

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