The Peshawar tragedy: some musings


Prime Minister Nawaz Sharf in his televised address to the nation on the midnight of December 24 unfurled 20-point national security plan,   formulated in consultation with all mainstream political parties of the country. The plan was chalked out in the wake of Peshawar tragedy in which about 145 precious lives were lost as a result of the dastardly terror attack. Undoubtedly, the Peshawar incident proved a binding factor that brought together otherwise belligerent political parties such as Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and PML-N. PTI received fulsome accolades from all and sundry for shelving its differences with the government and sitting on the table along with other political parties in order to seek a “permanent” and ‘effective’ solution to the menace of terrorism and extremism.

The only tangible thing that came out of the hectic consultations among the political parties was establishment of speedy trial courts headed by military officers. In a way, these courts shall function parallel to existing judicial system, thus giving birth to new controversies whether these new courts shall have any legal standing. The prime minister in his speech hinted at introducing some constitutional amendments in order to give legal cover to these courts. Since there is a strong will on the part of all political parties except Jamat-e-Islami, therefore establishment of these courts shall not be a problem, especially when the government intends to give them a legal cover.

But the question is, can establishment of military courts deliver us from problems that we have been facing since long? The immediate answer that comes to our minds is No. The establishment of military courts means the existing judicial system of country has failed to deliver – and which is quite true in the sense that courts take years and years to decide about even petty cases. We have to keep in mind that military courts would only deal with cases related to terrorism, which means only a selected group of people is going to get justice from these courts. The sufferings of rest of millions of Pakistanis who have been bearing the brunt of the sluggish judicial system would not come to an end.

Alas! These political parties had put their heads together for the reformation of the existing judicial system so as to make it efficient and trustworthy. In this case millions of people would have benefited. But as usual our leadership has resorted to stopgap arrangement, which would only provide temporary relief.

The difference between military courts and ordinary courts is that military courts are very well protected and judges are given due security so that even if they hand down death sentences to criminals, no harm comes to them or their families. Unfortunately this projection is not available to judges of lower and higher courts of country therefore the judges are reluctant to hand down harsh punishments. This is also a fact that system of appointment of judges especially to the higher judiciary is widely considered as flawed as after last three amendments during the tenure of PPP, the judges’ appointment has been linked to a parliament committee approval which is composed of members from various political parties. Now, these politicians sitting in the committee would certainly want men of their own choice to be appointed as judges. The Judges appointed on political bases then would consider it a ‘moral’ obligation to show soft corner for their supporters.

Curse of terrorism can’t be rooted out provided the real causes that breed terrorism are addressed. And the real causes also include widening gulf between haves and have-nots, injustices; corruption; deflowering of merit and undemocratic practices. Our political system in vogue is best suited for the elite class of this country while it is next to impossible for someone hailing from middle or lower middle class to even think of contesting elections. Here PTI and PAT have a point when they say without reformation of this electoral system change cannot be brought about.

Misplaced priorities of rulers is yet another factor that has led to disenchantment of people. For example the hefty amount of Rs 50 billion plus that has been spent on Metro bus project, which after completion, would only cater to needs of 10 per cent people of the twin cities, would have been spent on the rehabilitation of IDPs. With this amount new houses could have been built for all IDPs. First and foremost, we need investments in our human capital plus education and not in infrastructural development.

The government, after the Peshawar incident, has lifted moratorium on death penalties and so far a dozen people, mainly involved in attacks on military people and military installations, have been hanged. While these executions on one hand are likely to provide with deterrence against terrorist activities, on the other hand these hangings may also trigger more attacks. Now when the political and military leadership has decided to tread this course, they both need to complement each other’s efforts meant for peace and security. Divisions would only encourage terrorists to strike back.