2016-07-26 | Crime & Justice

Speedy justice boosts Pakistanis' confidence in government

By Muhammad Shakil

Courts are making an effort to clear up dockets of terrorism cases that have been clogged for years.


The Central Jail in Peshawar is shown in July. Since the Army Public School massacre in December 2014, authorities have worked to speed up the trials of suspected terrorists. [Muhammad Shakil]
The Central Jail in Peshawar is shown in July. Since the Army Public School massacre in December 2014, authorities have worked to speed up the trials of suspected terrorists. [Muhammad Shakil]
The Central Jail in Peshawar is shown in July. Since the Army Public School massacre in December 2014, authorities have worked to speed up the trials of suspected terrorists. [Muhammad Shakil]

Courts are making an effort to clear up dockets of terrorism cases that have been clogged for years.

PESHAWAR -- Pakistani families grieving the loss of loved ones to terrorism are welcoming the government's efforts to speed up terrorism trials.

Until the December 2014 terrorist massacre of more than 140 children and teachers at Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar, Pakistani terrorism trials -- generally held in the slow civilian judicial system -- had been characterised by years of delay and frequent acquittals for lack of evidence.

Mourning families in those situations had no recourse.

However, after the mass murder in Peshawar, authorities decided that the certainty of punishment for those convicted in a speedy military trial might be a useful component of a multi-pronged strategy to defeat terrorism.

Other components of the strategy include multi-year crackdowns by security forces in Karachi and the tribal belt.

Army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif July 14 conveyed Pakistani authorities' utter seriousness in the matter by confirming the death sentences of 12 militants whom military courts convicted of killing civilians and of attacking troops.

"I will lead the campaign to eliminate terrorism from my country's soil," Pakistani Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif told Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in a recent phone call, according to a July 17 report.

Closing a loophole

For many years, militants in Pakistan had high morale for two reasons, said Col. (ret.) G. B. Shah Bokhari of Peshawar, a defence and political analyst.

"They considered their cause just, and they figured that judicial loopholes would give them an escape route," he told Pakistan Forward.

Since the APS massacre, though, heavily guarded military courts, the judges of which are harder to intimidate or assassinate than civilian judges are, have been issuing stiff sentences to convicted terrorists.

"Hard-core militants who deem themselves beyond justice's reach will be dealt with through military courts," Raja Muhammad Irshad, a former deputy attorney general, said last August.

Pakistani analysts noted steep declines in terrorist attacks in 2016, as courts and troops confronted militants.

For example, as of April 17, Pakistan had recorded 324 deaths of civilians and security personnel from terrorist acts, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal. That total, while high, is greatly reduced from 458 such deaths during the same period in 2015.

"The government's policy and the efficiency of state institutions have brought a visible drop in militancy, which used to be the worst reality in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP)," said Muhammad Rashad Khan, a member of the KP Assembly representing the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

Favouring more military trials

Khan suggested extending the power of military courts to try suspected terrorists.

"The working tenure of military courts, which was established for a period of two years [after the APS massacre, from January 2015 through January 2017], should be extended," he told Pakistan Forward.

Khan pointed to various signs of progress from the multi-pronged crackdown: "The backbone of the extremists has been broken, their hideouts and safe havens are destroyed, and they are on the run," he said.

A survivor's father speaks

Relatives of those killed and injured by terrorists are glad to see the courts meting out punishment where it is due.

"We were being subjected to torment of the worst kind," Zaheer-ud-Din of Peshawar, father of a pupil who was injured in the APS massacre, told Pakistan Forward.

"Now we are satisfied after seeing restitution in the same coin," he said, referring to the non-stop counter-terrorism offensives in Karachi and in the tribal belt and the no-nonsense military trials of suspected terrorists.

For example, four of the APS attackers were hanged in Kohat in December 2015.

"Our society which was punctured by violent incidents ... has gained comfort," Zaheer said. "Our level of confidence in government has shot up after the conviction of fanatics by military courts."

Zaheer had more advice for defeating terrorism: introduce a curriculum in seminaries that promotes tolerance and peace.

The long-term goal is to change the viewpoint of residents of militancy-prone areas, he said.

The public appreciates the government's efforts against terrorism since the launch of Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan in June 2014, said Waqar Khan of Peshawar, an Elite KP Police Force official.

"Law enforcement personnel are enjoying higher morale after seeing the conviction of guilty defendants," he told Pakistan Forward.

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