ISLAMABAD: Opposing the idea of extending the jurisdiction of military courts to Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) on Wednesday, rights activist and senior counsel Asma Jahangir wondered how a law creating such special courts could ever be challenged in an area that did not have an independent judiciary.
The Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self Governance) Order 2009, under which the territories of G-B are run through the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas (Kana), does not envisage military courts, Jahangir told reporters at the Supreme Court. Besides, she said, neither the 21st Amendment nor Article 1 of the Constitution defined these areas as being part of Pakistan.
Jahangir, who also served as the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), was adamant that wars were fought and won by ensuring complete autonomy to every institution of the state, rather than intruding upon their independence. She also emphasised that military authorities should tell the nation right away what power they wanted now, rather than tip-toeing around legal hurdles and encroaching upon the domain of other state institutions.
“Why not also appoint captains and other officers in place of lawyers, since the legal profession is also blemished with many flaws,” she asked, rhetorically.
The establishment has already managed to get laws such as the Protection of Pakistan Act 2014 and the Action (in Aid of Civil Power) Regulations 2011 – through parliament. These laws were simply meant to legalise disappearances and other state actions, she said.
“The situation will never improve unless parliament is willing to redirect resources out of the war on terrorism to improve the investigation side, until it de-politicises the prosecution department and provides complete security to witnesses and judges of anti-terrorism courts,” she said.
She also suggested amendments to the law of evidence though the incorporation of new technologies and the findings of the joint investigation teams.
However, Jahangir and SCBA president Fazal Haq Abbasi were not forthcoming when asked whether bar associations would challenge the 21st Amendment before the Supreme Court, saying it was not very easy to challenge acts which had both political as well as legal undertones.
“How you can expect 17 judges of the Supreme Court to act independently of public pressure when 342 members of parliament failed to withstand the same pressure and passed the amendment,” she asked.
At a time when there was so much disinformation and public pressure was firmly on the side of military courts, it would be a huge decision for anyone to take, she admitted, adding that it was very easy to rectify a mistake made by parliament through a subsequent amendment, but a judgment of the Supreme Court took decades to change.
Besides, bar associations and lawyers can always revert to the Supreme Court in case of a miscarriage of justice by the military courts, she said.
Abbasi said that the SCBA and the Pakistan Bar Council were holding meetings at the end of this month to chalk out a strategy on how to react to the amendment.
Published in Dawn January 15th , 2015