Government to seek opposition’s support for extension of military courts’ term

In this file photo, a paramilitary soldier keeps guard outside the Supreme Court building in Islamabad, Pakistan on Feb. 9, 2012. (Reuters)
Updated 12 January 2019

Government to seek opposition’s support for extension of military courts’ term

  • Reasons that the body has fulfilled its responsibilities in war against terror
  • Needs two-thirds majority to make it into a law

KARACHI: Pakistan’s federal government has decided to solicit the support of all opposition parties in order to extend the term of military courts, officials said on Friday.
“We have decided to contact all opposition parties, including the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) for building a consensus for the passage of a bill, which requires two-thirds majority to be passed,” Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, who is also the government’s focal person on all issues pertaining to the matter, told Arab News on Friday.
Chaudhry argued that the military courts, which were established to cope with extraordinary situations, have fulfilled their responsibility. “These courts have played a vital role in eliminating terrorism,” he said.
“However, we need two-thirds majority for the passage of the bill. So if opposition parties support the bill, it can be adopted into law,” he added.
Opposition parties said that they were awaiting details of a draft amendment bill which the government intends to present in parliament to extend the term of Pakistan’s military courts.
“We are still waiting for the details of the bill from the government’s side and once we have a draft we will deliberate whether to support or oppose it,” former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi told Arab News.
“The military courts have performed well and if its further need is justified, we may support the extension,” Abbasi said.
Military courts were established in January 2015 by introducing the 21st amendment to the constitution of Pakistan. Since then, they have sentenced more than 300 accused to death.
Their term was subsequently extended for two years with the 23rd constitutional amendment on January 7, 2017.
The bill had, however, received presidential assent on March 31, 2017, which gives the military courts a legal cover until March 31, 2019.
Senator Rehman Malik, former Interior Minister and central leader of the PPP, said: “The parliament will make deliberations over it and will accordingly vote in favor or otherwise.”
“When the law was passed, the country was passing through tough times,” Malik said, adding that the respective political parties will have their own deliberations to assess the present requirements for the country to further curb terrorism.
“Let us wait and see what convincing material is placed by the government before the parliament”.
Malik argues that terrorism hasn’t been completely eliminated yet. “The current incidents in Karachi, attacks on paramilitary and security forces, especially those in Balochistan, indicates that terrorism hasn’t be completely rooted out,” he said, adding that the parliament “will decide this matter in national interest keeping the past performance of the military courts.”
The party’s spokespersons, Maula Bux Chandio and Nafisa Shah, didn’t responded to queries by Arab News for further comments on the matter. However, senior leader Farhatullah Babar said that the party may not support the bill.
“At the last meeting of the central excusive committee of PPP in Naudero on December 26, 2018, the party adopted a unanimous resolution calling upon the parliament not to extend the tenure of military courts any further,” Babar told Arab News.
Moreover, the military courts, he said, were envisaged in the NAP as a short-term measure for two-years only.
“During this period the criminal justice system had to be reformed and anti-terror institutions strengthened,” he argued.
The government and the military, for their parts, reason that the courts have performed well.
“Since the establishment of the courts, 717 cases of accused terrorists were sent to military courts by the government. Of these 717 cases, 546 have been finalized by the military courts,” an ISPR statement shared with Arab News read, adding that out of the 546 finalized cases, 310 terrorists were sentenced to death, while 234 were awarded rigorous imprisonment of varied termd ranging from life imprisonment to a minimum duration of five years.
“Two accused were also acquitted,” the statement said.
Additionally, out of the 310 who were sentenced to death, 56 terrorists have been executed after the completion of legal processes, which included their appeal in superior civil courts and rejection of their mercy petitions both by the army’s top commander and by the president of Pakistan.
Implementation of the death sentences for the remaining 254 terrorists is pending completion of legal process in higher courts.

Government presents mini-budget to boost exports, facilitate agricultural financing

Updated 23 January 2019

Government presents mini-budget to boost exports, facilitate agricultural financing

  • Tax on loans for agriculture, SMEs reduced from 39 percent to 20 percent
  • Economists urge the government to ensure strict implementation of all measures

ISLAMABAD: Finance Minister Asad Umar on Wednesday presented the third finance bill for the current fiscal year in the National Assembly of Pakistan, claiming it would boost investment, manufacturing and exports, and facilitate agricultural financing to promote economic activities in the country.

As opposition lawmakers chanted slogans against the government, the minister said he was presenting an “economic reforms package” to address the needs of the people.

“We are committed to helping deprived segment of the society and it is our constitutional responsibility to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor,” he said.

The minister also announced that he would present the “Medium Term Economic Framework” in Parliament next week to boost investment, manufacturing and agricultural produce in the country.

Umar said his government had identified four variables to fix Pakistan’s ailing economy. These included: balancing government’s revenues and expenses; increasing exports that recently plummeted from 14 percent of the GDP to 7 percent; encouraging foreign direct investment; and boosting national savings from 10.4 percent which, he added, were the lowest in the world.

To achieve all these targets, he announced to slash tax on small and medium enterprises and agricultural loans from 39 percent to 20 percent, abolish withholding tax on banking transactions for tax filers, and remove import duty on newsprint.

He said that duty on diesel engines for agricultural purposes was also decreased to five percent. Other than that, abolition of Gas Infrastructure Development Cess on fertilizers would help reduce prices of urea for 200 rupees per bag.

After approval of the Finance Supplementary (second amendment) Bill 2019, non-tax filers will be able to purchase cars up to 1300cc, though the tax will be increased for them.

Tax would also be increased on imported vehicles above 1800cc, he said, adding that tax for low priced imported mobile phones would be decreased but remain the same for expensive imported phones.

To promote low-income housing, the minister announced a revolving fund of five billion rupees for interest free loans, while tax on wedding halls up to 500 square feet would be decreased from 20,000 rupees to 5,000 rupees.

The government has also announced a five-year tax exemption on manufacturing of all products related to renewable energy, including solar panels and wind turbines.

The finance minister announced to abolish super tax for non-banking companies and on bids for sports franchises until profitability, while withholding tax on trading in the stock exchange, he said, had also been abolished.

To encourage exports, the minister said that a scheme of promissory notes was being introduced for businessmen and exporters that would help them get concessionary loans from commercial banks.

Criticizing the opposition earlier, the minister accused them of leaving the country indebted with 2,500 billion rupees to 3,000 billion rupees in loans that were not shown in the books.

However, members of the opposition parties were not impressed by the new finance bill.

“There is nothing in this budget that will generate economic activity in the country,” Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader, Mohammad Zubair, told Arab News. “The government has announced tax reductions in different fields, but it is yet to be seen how this will affect revenue collection.”

Pakistan Peoples Party’s former finance minister, Saleem Mandviwala, said the budget was just a “plethora of numbers” and there was nothing in it for the common man.

“The government just wanted to show its performance by bringing the mini-budget. But it has badly failed to address the genuine issues of people,” he said while talking to Arab News.

Senior economist, Dr. Athar Ahmad, termed the budget “a step in the right direction,” saying that all these measures were needed to fix the economy.

However, he pointed out that the finance minister had failed to introduce any incentives for booming IT industry and measures to increase tax revenue. “The actual test of the government now is to ensure strict implementation of all the announced measures to achieve the targets,” said Dr. Ahmad.