Military Courts Offer Little Hope

Debate over the decision to set up new military courts highlights the failures of both the government and the military in tackling terrorism. Recent orders to release hardened terrorists like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi’s Malik Ishaq and Lashkar-e-Taiba’s Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi are only the latest examples of civilian judiciary’s long record of failing to convict even the most brazen terrorists.

It is with this view that many are supporting the establishment of military courts that should be able to not only protect the judges and lawyers involved, but also use critical evidence without exposing sensitive intelligence methods and sources. But military courts have their own problems.

The drawback being discussed most often is the harm that will be done to credibility of the civilian judiciary if the military takes over this function of government. However, the civilian judiciary has already destroyed most of its own credibility as noted above. The bigger question should be whether a military court will be any more likely to tackle the complex problem of jihadi extremism or whether it will be another weapon against the Army’s existing enemies.

There is no doubt that military courts will be busy and that convictions will be swiftly delivered, but other doubts remain. Will military trials include groups friendly to Army like Jamaat-ud-Dawa? Or will the courts be another weapon against those considered enemies like BLA? Will military courts be used to silence those who project pro-Taliban ideology like Abdul Aziz? Or will they be used to silence those who ask embarrassing questions like Saleem Shahzad? Will military courts expose the jihadi networks, or will they perpetuate the narrative that every terrorist is part of RAW-CIA-Mossad conspiracies?

There is little doubt that civilian courts are not up to the task of trying and convicting hardened terrorists. Unfortunately, there is little reason to believe that military courts will be much better.

Update: This post originally included a photograph that claimed to show a judge kissing convicted terrorist Mumtaz Qadri. The authenticity of this photograph has been disputed and the image has been removed.