Did we have any option other than military courts?

Invariably, all those convicted of terrorism in recent years appealed for review and in case relief was denied filed mercy petitions against capital punishment, proving wrong the esoteric notion that hanging doesn’t deter committed terrorists. Last week, all six who were sent to the gallows begged forgiveness, and the next seven in line sought stay order on their execution, which the Lahore High Court refused. We have yet to come across a case where the convicted terrorist with the hangman’s noose around his neck would own up his crime, vindicating the misperception that death doesn’t deter the so-called jihadists from spilling the innocent people’s blood. The incidence of terrorism in Pakistan persisted and flourished over the years not because the wannabe terrorists and extremists didn’t fear death as punishment; they grew in numbers only because they were not being punished. The available law fell short of the juridical minimum to award capital punishment; the collected from site forensic evidence remained second to the human evidence which remained scarce for the fear of reprisals; and the civil society was critical – illogically – of a stringent legislation needed to upgrade criminal justice in the country. And when parliament enacted the Protection of Pakistan Act or the government created the NACTA the measures were dubbed as draconian by the rights groups. The need of the hour was prompt, speedy justice, an eye-for-an-eye retribution, short of which the terrorist monsters kept walking the streets of Pakistan. Consider the hollowness of argument against execution of punishment: the terrorists who took lives of no less than forty thousand Pakistanis, including women and children should go unpunished only because the ‘European Union does not like resumption of hanging in Pakistan’. While its own aircraft go for a daily kill of the ISIL marauders in the Middle East it, however, nurses a merciful heart for their counterparts in Pakistan. Rightly then, the leaders of the West, including the EU and the United States, have refused to weigh in on Pakistan on the issue of capital punishment, knowing well that ‘more Pakistanis are victims of terrorism than anywhere in the world’. Yes it is valid to ask why the administration failed to tackle terrorism; but more immediate than that query is to think and plan its alternate. If amputating a limb is the only option to save the life, the surgeon would do that – as simple as that.

The elected political leadership across the board thinks the alternate is creation of speedy courts under military supervision – an action provided for by Article 245 of the Constitution which obliges the armed forces to ‘act in aid of civil power when called upon to do so’. What Pakistan faces today is an extraordinary situation; it’s apocalypse in character which brooks no light-hearted discussion about futility or otherwise of death penalty or the apprehension that military courts would militarise statecraft with irrepressible consequences. Were it not the only option, the man on the container, who had pledged to live and die there, would not have climbed down to stand by the side of the man he swore to dislodge. Nor haves, the parties who got raw deals from such outfits in the past voted for military courts. The speedy courts option was of course initially floated by the military establishment but not bulldozed; it is the end-product of a nation-wide political consensus clinched after a thorough debate and discussion and forms a part of the whole new perspective quantifying the magnitude of the threat to national existence and re-tolling the entire paraphernalia to counter the lingering scourge of terrorism. It is going to be the way of life for the next two years. When the parliament goes whole hog to amend the Constitution in order to adopt the 20-point National Action Plan it expects willing co-operation from other stakeholders. It expects of the civil society to bear with it by accepting some reasonable curbs on social media and a kind of self-censor on the part of mass media, mainly by denying space to the terrorist outfits. Literature and journals disseminating sectarian hatred would be banned, the outlawed organisations would not be allowed to function under new rubrics, and most importantly, the seminaries would be brought under some kind of discipline so that these are not used to nurture sectarianism. The proposed action plan would have a nation-wide application. It is encouraging to know that acting in tandem with the government brainstorming the threat of terrorism, the higher judiciary has met and decided to evolve a mechanism in order to prioritise trials of terrorism cases. No doubt to some in the country the emerging political consensus against terrorism may appear to be a move aimed at corner-cutting the hard-won democratic ambience. But isn’t it also a fact that short of this nothing was left in store to save and secure a democratic Pakistan from the clutches of uncompromising, unforgiving believers of a monolithic Pakistan.