Pakistan’s military courts will breed more terror

Pakistan needs to invest in building peace and democracy - not increase the power of the military


Having witnessed the horror of the Paris attack recently, the world seems to have forgotten the attack in Peshawar that killed 150 people. Not only was it the most deadly terror attack Pakistan had ever seen in its 66 year existence, it was made all the worse because the overwhelming majority of the victims were children. The attack shocked Pakistanis and, briefly, reminded us of the totalitarianism of the Pakistani Taliban who perpetrated the massacre.

Very shortly after the attack ended, the Pakistani government lifted a moratorium on the death penalty for those convicted of terrorism, fast-tracking executions for those convicted years ago. The move was criticised by human rights groups and the UN.

Frustration over the lack of progress against terrorism finally resulted in a knee jerk response from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who passed a bill that would mean that terrorism suspects would now be tried in military courts, not civilian courts.

The argument is that civilian courts are ineffective in dealing with terrorism suspects. These suspects are released on appeal and witnesses and prosecutors cowed into silence with very real threats of violence. They also suffer from huge backlogs and poor rates of conviction. The idea is that it will be more difficult for Islamists to intimidate military courts than civilian ones.

The root cause of this frustration however, is not the lack of hangings or military courts in Pakistan. Indeed, as the followers of totalitarian Islam like to say themselves, “we love death more than you love life”. It plays into their hands by making them martyrs amongst their comrades and their families, breeding the next generation of terrorists and bolstering the Islamic far-right.

Pakistan’s inability to deal with its terrorist problem is much more complicated and does not have easy solutions like executing men who were already locked up for crimes they committed over a decade ago.

The problem is partly due to courts that do not have the funds to properly try suspects, thus creating a backlog of cases going back years. It is made worse by a military and an intelligence establishment that has played a double-game for decades by providing weapons, logistics and intelligence support to groups with genocidal aspirations. A weak state with a poorly paid and poorly trained police force, and an undercurrent of Islamist ideology that has gone unchallenged, do not help.

The Islamist political parties are afraid that this shift to military courts will mean that their far-right brand of Islam is itself targeted. Included in the bill are plans to regulate the madrassas and religious schools which these parties have used for decades to promote their extremist ideology. The sight may seem bizarre: progressive human rights activists arguing against military tribunals alongside the same Islamist political parties that have sown an intolerant brand of Islam in Pakistan for decades.

Pakistan looked as though it was on the verge of a breakthrough in 2013. Having celebrated the first peaceful handover of one democratic government to another, civil rights activists were hoping this was the beginning of a new dawn for a democratic Pakistan. Pakistan has been unable to move out from under the yoke of an overbearing military that has held power for nearly half the country’s life and has held an inordinate sway over civilian governments even when not in power.

Handing more power to the generals may very well be the wrong approach and is likely to empower a military that already has too much influence as well as an intelligence service that created many of the monsters which have come back to haunt them. The WikiLeaks cables openly showed US fears of Pakistan’s support for Islamist groups including the Afghan Taliban.

Instead of a military-focused, military-led response to terrorism in Pakistan, the current inadequate civilian courts must get the sort of funding, training and support that they require to deal with Islamist terrorism. This will create an effective judiciary in a country that badly needs one, will deprive militants of their martyred status, stop the next generation of terrorists being made and stop the slide back to a military-led state.

It will also stop empowering those who have a great deal to answer for on their support for the original Afghan Taliban – the group that ultimately led to the creation of the Pakistani Taliban who carried out the Peshawar attack.

Former Pakistani ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani implored Pakistan to concentrate on convicting terrorists, and not to let the intelligence services slip out of the spotlight for their support for groups which have now turned their sights on the Pakistani state.

Rather than sending billions of dollars in military aid to Pakistan, countries like the United States would do well to instead spend those dollars on employing thousands of attorneys, judges and trained prosecutors who are capable of dealing with the sluggish pace of cases currently in backlog.

If justice is what the people of Pakistan want, then it is obvious that justice is where money should be spent. The United States has spent over $11 billion dollars on military aid to Pakistan since 9/11 with a further $532 million already promised for this year alone.

Spending billions on military aid to Pakistan has obviously not paid the dividends expected. It is time a new approach was taken and investing in Pakistan’s fledgling democracy would be far more effective at turning the country from a hotbed of Islamist terrorism, to a functioning democracy.

If money is not spent on building peace in Pakistan instead of making war, Peshawar will not remain the worst terrorist atrocity the country has ever seen.”

Zaheer Rayasat is Communications assistant at Conscience: Taxes for Peace Not War. Follow him on Twitter

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