The dismissal of 16 appeals against the military court judgements by the Supreme Court on August 29, 2016 is not entirely a surprise. It reflects the compulsions that led to the Supreme Court upholding the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, providing for the setting up of military courts. It also captures the popular mood that would like to see those convicted of terrorism executed — due process or not.
The appeals were a last resort; their dismissal, regrettably, implies that the military courts meet the fair standards of justice, in spite of the obvious lack of transparency of proceedings and the access to fair defence. When the country’s highest court rejects appeals against military court judgements, it acquiesces in relegating its own status to a subservient one. Military courts, with a sunset clause of January 2017, have remained mired in controversy. While lawyers working for human rights have strongly opposed the setting up and working of military courts, other lawyers have accepted them as the ‘need of the hour’.
It is the second development that mirrors the shotgun approach taken by the military and the civilian government in dealing with terrorism. When the moratorium on executions was lifted in December 2014, following the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, it was claimed that the resumption of hangings would be a strong deterrent. Terrorist incidents across the country in 2015 and 2016 belied the claim. Time and again, it has been proven that execution by the state is not a deterrent for suicide bombers who, in any case, are ready to blow themselves, and others, up to death.
Meanwhile, Pakistan earned the dubious reputation of overtaking Saudi Arabia in the number of people executed (mostly murderers). It is now only behind Iran and China, where figures for executions remain unknown.
This article was originally published in the Herald's September 2016 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.
The writer is a journalist and human rights activist.