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 Editor in chief: 
Abdus Sattar Ghazali

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Mertze Dahlin   

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January 7, 2015

Soft Martial Law  imposed in Pakistan

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

Perhaps following the example of Egypt, the US-client government of Mian Nawaz Sharif, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, has extended military courts jurisdiction all over Pakistan.

The government stamped through the National Assembly and the Senate to approve the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill 2015 as well as the 21st Constitutional Amendment. It took less than 24 hours for both the houses to approve the controversial legislation and the Constitutional Amendment. At one time during the National Assembly vote a member of parliament complained that the bill submitted for approval was different than the draft bill circulated to the MPs. President Mamoon Hussain signed the bills into law the next day on January 7.

Members of National Assembly belonging to the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-F (JUI-F) abstained from voting. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf of Imran Khan did not participate in the vote because it is boycotting the house proceedings while demanding an investigation into the May 2013 election which gave Nawaz Sharif absolute majority.

Major political parties were pushed to support the amendments in the hysteria created in the aftermath of last month's terrorist attack on an army public school in Peshawar  that killed 132 students.  Anybody who questioned this euphoria was silenced with iron fist. When Maulana Abdul Aziz, Imam of the Red Mosque questioned that the same sympathy was not shown to the dozens of students killed in the brutal army operation against the mosque in 2007, a vicious campaign was launched against the Imam and pro-army agitators demanded his arrest.

Under amendment in clause D of Army Act 1952, any person who belongs to any terrorist group or organization and uses the name of religion or a sect and wages war against Pakistan will be tried under this act. Those attacking the armed forces, the law enforcement agencies and any civil or military installations will also be punished under this act. The cases of kidnapping for ransom or the incidents causing death to any person or injury will also be brought to justice through this amendment.

Those in possession of explosive material, fire arms, suicide jackets or vehicles will also be tried under the act. The provisions of the two bills shall remain in force for a period of two years from the date of their commencement.

While no definition of terrorism was given, the JUI-F leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman, in a speech in the house objected to some passages of the bill citing groups “using religion and a sect” in describing terrorists to be punished by the proposed military courts, seeing the wording discriminatory against religious groups and madrasahs.

Commenting on the hurriedly passed Constitutional amendment and Pakistan Army Bill 2015, a leading English newspaper of Pakistan - Dawn - commented: Let there be no doubt why the country must now prepare to live under the shadow of military courts: the military leadership wanted these courts.

Columnist Dr. Ejaz Hussain, wrote in the Nation, another leading Pakistani newspaper:  "Based on  Pakistan’s past experiences with military courts and given the norms of parliamentary democracy, the  idea of military courts, in my view, will be counterproductive for the military itself. For instance, the present  apex judiciary will view them as an encroachment on its constitutional rights and institutional space."

A pro-west think tank of Pakistan has issued a detailed paper in support of the military courts. Interestingly, the paper signatories include three retired army generals, one retired Air Vice Marshal and Police officer Dr. Shuaib Suddle, notorious for his brutal operation in Karachi in 1996.

The establishment of military courts came at a time when Pakistan's mercenary army has been bogged down in brutal operations in Pakistan's northern areas. The army launched at least six major operations in Pakistan's volatile tribal territories:

Operation Sherdil in Bajaur in 2008/2009
Operation Sirat-e-Mustaqeem in Khyber Agency in June / July 2008
Operation Black Thunderstorm  in Lower Dir and Swat in April 2009
Operation Rah-e-Rast  in Swat in May 2009
Operation Rah-e-Nijat  in  South Waziristan June 2009
Operation Zarb-e-Azb in Northern Waziristan was launched in June 2014 and continues till today.

Besides these operations, in October 2007 an intensive battle was fought to retake Mir Ali, a major town of North Waziristan. In July 2007 the army launched a major operation called  Operation Silence against Lal Masjid and Hafsa Madarsa in Islamabad in July 2007 killing dozens of seminary students.

The military operations in Pakistan's tribal territory along the border with Afghanistan continue, at the behest of the United States, behind a smoke screen. It is a no go area for newsmen or independent observers. The only source of casualties is Pakistan army's information bureau known as the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR).

Pakistan is paid by the US for its military operations from the Coalition Support Fund. According to Blumberg News, as of 2013, the U.S. had paid Pakistan $11 billion out of the Pentagon’s coalition support fund budget as reimbursement for Pakistan's military efforts aiding U.S. counterterrorism operations. Pakistan received a $370 million installment from this fund in October last. The US Congress recently extended the Coalition Support Fund for Pakistan for a year. Pakistan will receive $300 million during fiscal year 2015 for its operations in the tribal territories.

The brutal military operation has created a huge humanitarian problem. It displaced three million people from North Waziristan Agency (NWA) after the launch of Operation Zarb-e-Azb on June 15, 2014. These people are living in very bad condition. Recently, two IDPs were killed and several others injured in Bannu when police opened fire on the IDPs on ration distribution. According to UN statistics, continuing military operations in North Waziristan are disrupting the education of more than 85,000 students in state-run schools.

The Egyptian Connection

While Pakistan has extended jurisdiction of the Military Courts throughout the country, Egyptian government President Field Marshal Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, another US-client regime, has placed civilian infrastructure under army jurisdiction, a move nominally aimed at terrorists that also makes it easier for the government to try members of the political opposition in the country’s opaque military courts, according to the Guardian. In a presidential decree in October 2014, Field Marshal Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who deposed an elected president, has rendered all public property – including power stations, universities, roads and bridges – as “equivalent to military facilities”. The decree means that any defendant accused of committing a crime on public property could be tried in a military court, a judicial system that Amnesty International says lacks due process and “cannot be seen as impartial and independent”.

Civil rights advocates believe the decree clearly makes it easier to jail protesters and student activists, especially in a country where demonstration without a permit is now illegal, and in an environment in which political opposition is often equated to terrorism. Since Field Marshal Sisi overthrew President Mohammad Morsi in July 2013, tens of thousands of political prisoners have already been jailed or tried in Egypt’s civil judicial system, which is also often accused of lacking due process.

Egyptian prosecutors on December 15, 2014 referred to a military court more than 400 alleged supporters of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, including four top leaders  as the state expands a crackdown against political opponents. The public prosecutor in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia referred 299 alleged Mursi supporters to a military court on charges of arson following the breakup by security forces of two Cairo protest camps in August 2013 when hundreds of people were killed. The defendants included Brotherhood leaders Mohamed Badie, Essam El-Erian, Mohamed El-Beltagy and Safwat Hagazy. Another prosecutor in the southern province of Minya referred 139 alleged Brotherhood members to a military court in relation to an attack on a police station following President Mursi's ouster.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America ( email: asghazali2011 (@)