Pakistan: Understanding The Rationale Behind Military Court Trials – OpEd


A recent outcry vis-à-vis the trial of 9th May offenders in military court has been used as a tool to intensify the blame game against state institutions.

Use of military courts is not a new phenomenon in international politics. Such measures have been utilized in history by many countries including United Kingdom and United States to stabilize law and order situation. These steps are taken to normalize a prevailing situation that might create a havoc in a longer run. Two such examples are the trials of offenders in the London and Capitol Hill riots.

In general, several potential justifications and factors that influenced the use of military court trials in these instances were:

National Security Concerns:

If the actions of the offenders were perceived as posing a threat to national security or undermining the stability of the state, the decision to resort to military court trials could be justified. Safeguarding the nation and protecting its citizens are paramount in such cases.

Upholding Public Order and Security:

The immediate need to restore public order, address threats to public safety, and prevent further violence is a significant concern. Military court trials may be deemed necessary to swiftly address these issues and maintain societal stability.

Expertise in Handling Specific Offenses:

Military courts may possess specialized knowledge and experience in dealing with particular types of offenses or situations, particularly those involving military personnel or matters pertaining to national defense. The expertise of military courts can contribute to a more effective and informed handling of cases related to these specific contexts.

Efficient and Expedient Administration of Justice:

In situations where there is a pressing need for swift resolution, and concerns arise regarding the civilian court system’s capacity to handle the volume of cases or ensure timely resolutions, military court trials may be seen as more efficient. Such trials can expedite the delivery of justice, ensuring that legal processes are not unduly delayed.

Preservation of Public Trust in the Justice System:

The decision to employ military court trials could be driven by the desire to assure the public that justice will be served swiftly and effectively, especially in high-profile cases that have garnered significant public attention. Ensuring public trust in the fairness and integrity of the justice system is a crucial aspect in these circumstances.

Protection of Democratic Processes:

In situations where the actions of the offenders are viewed as a direct attack on democratic institutions or processes, military court trials may be seen as a means to safeguard the integrity of democratic systems. Upholding the principles of democracy and ensuring that those who threaten these principles face appropriate legal consequences can be a significant consideration.

It is important to note that the specific reasons behind the utilization of military court trials for the London and Capitol Hill offenders would require a thorough examination of the available legal and official information for each case. Analyzing these justifications and factors in a comprehensive manner can provide valuable insights into the rationale behind the decisions to conduct military court trials in these instances.

To understand utilization of military court trials in Pakistan, it is essential to analyze the specific context and circumstances of the country. If we study the case of military trial of 9th May offenders, there are following reasons that made trial in military court an unavoidable option.

Pakistan’s constitution and legal framework provide provisions for the establishment of military courts in specific circumstances. These provisions outline the jurisdiction and authority of military courts, ensuring that their utilization adheres to constitutional requirements and safeguards.

Pakistan has faced significant challenges related to terrorism and security threats. Military court trials have been employed as a means to effectively address cases involving individuals associated with terrorist organizations or activities that pose a direct threat to national security. The swift and decisive actions of military courts in handling such cases can contribute to enhancing security measures within the country.

One of the primary reasons behind the utilization of military court trials in Pakistan is the need for expeditious resolution. The civilian court system often faces challenges such as backlogs and delays, which can hinder the timely administration of justice. Military courts, with their streamlined processes and specialized expertise, aim to provide swift verdicts in cases related to national security and terrorism.

Military courts in Pakistan possess specialized knowledge and experience in dealing with offenses related to the armed forces, national defense, and internal security. These courts are equipped to handle cases involving military personnel and offenses that require an understanding of military protocols, operations, and intricacies. Their expertise ensures a comprehensive approach to justice within the military context.

The use of military court trials in high-profile cases sends a strong message to potential offenders and perpetrators of terrorism or security threats. The swift and decisive actions of military courts can act as a deterrent, signaling the seriousness with which the state treats such offenses and reinforcing the idea that those who engage in such activities will face severe consequences.

In certain cases, the decision to employ military court trials in Pakistan can be influenced by public sentiment and support. Military institutions often enjoy high levels of public trust and confidence, and the use of military courts can be seen as a means to address security concerns and ensure justice is served. The public perception of the military justice system’s fairness and effectiveness plays a crucial role in the decision-making process.

Humais Sheikh

Humais Sheikh, has completed his Master’s from Quaid-I-Azam University Islamabad in Defense and Strategic studies. He is an independent defense analyst and Ex. Vice president of Defense and Strategic Studies student’s society.

2 thoughts on “Pakistan: Understanding The Rationale Behind Military Court Trials – OpEd

  • June 18, 2023 at 8:13 am

    A warped piece to ingratiate the generals in the military. Trials by military courts is the result of the failure of the constitution and its subversion the military.

  • June 22, 2023 at 5:42 pm

    The author has made up his own rules of jurisdiction, and completely ignores existing legal principles and codes established in international law. His essay contradicts the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which guarantees due process and a host of other civil rights and protections. He would do well to review the distinction between Human Rights Law (civilian legal codes during peacetime) and International Humanitarian Law (which dictates combatant conduct in conflicts).

    In peacetime, the norm is for civilians to live under the former (HRL) while the military of a country operates in a parallel system of military justice to respect IHL principles. Hence, when soldiers commit infractions of civilian codes, they are handed over to military tribunals for application of military justice/conduct codes (with some exceptions, e.g. murder, etc.). But civilians are not handed over to the military for trials because they have not joined the latter nor agreed to be subject to its codes.

    The author forgets that the military cannot impose its jurisdiction on civilians in peacetime because it can only control members who took an oath to serve it. Civilians pay for the military to protect them, not to govern them. Hence, the military should never be acting as an adjudicator of civilian conduct, and should remember that it serves the state apparatus, including the judiciary, not act in its place.

    Worst of all is the author’s utter disregard of a civilian’s right to free speech and to air views that are critical of authorities. The Hasan Askree case in Pakistan revealed how warped military interpretation of civil rights can get and how dangerous it can be to judge civilians by IHL standards. Askree was a dual Australian-Pakistani civilian who was ‘court martialed’ for writing critical letters to the Pakistani Chief of Armed Staff. He was arrested by military police, tried in military court, and then jailed for remarks deemed to be offensive and disrespectful to the military leader. Even though Askree never took an oath to serve and obey the military hierarchy, he was convicted of ‘abetting mutiny’ and preventing an officer from carrying out his duties. He suffered for 2 years in jail before the Australian government pressured Pakistan to release him. If Askree hadn’t had Australian citizenship, he would probably have been incarcerated a lot longer because a military leader felt insulted.

    This case demonstrates a gross clash between applying IHL interpretation on the human rights entitlements of civilians. Askree has a right to air his opinions as a civilian but the military decided to deny him that right by treating him like a disobedient soldier. If letter writing is ‘abetting mutiny’, then civilians around the world ‘abet mutiny’ millions of times a day. How can such a bizarre and demented violation of universal rights be lauded and defended?

    The author has a poor grasp of his subject, notwithstanding his Masters in Defence and Strategic Studies. Time to get back to the text books, and maybe learn the basics, like the difference between HRL and IHL. I’m shocked that this passed the editorial review and was deemed worthy of publication.


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