LAHORE - The decision to set up military courts was taken keeping in view their effectiveness and ability to deliver at a time when terrorists are killing innocent people, says Mr Irfan Siddiqui, special assistant to the prime minister.

Talking to The Nation on Monday, he said at present the matter of military courts was before the Supreme Court and in case the situation so required the government would take all parties into confidence before formulating its future strategy.

He was asked why the government did not consider the option of empowering the existing courts to get the results the military courts are supposed to yield.

Mr Siddiqui said: “It’s not correct to say that this option was not considered. In fact, there were many options available to the government and pros and cons of each of them were discussed at length. The decision to go for military courts was taken keeping in mind the performance of the existing courts. Even the possibility of setting up these courts through changes to the relevant laws was also looked into. But the decision to set them up through an amendment to the constitution was taken because constitutional experts were of the view that the step taken through a simple legislation would not do.”

The special assistant to the prime minister recalled that an 11-hour marathon session was held to discuss the matter and leaders of all parties plus constitutional experts gave their respective points of view. So intense was the discussion that one of the participants had said that the session resembled a courtroom (where legal hair-splitting is seen in every case).

Mr Siddiqui said that PPP leaders and former law ministers Aitzaz Ahsan and Faroo H Naek also gave their input on the subject.

Asked what would happen if the apex court struck down the 21st constitutional amendment through which the military courts have been set up, he said he would not like to respond to a hypothetical question. The establishment of military courts, he said, was a political decision and political parties would again sit together in the future in case the situation so required.

The 21st amendment under which the military courts are being set up has already been challenged before the Supreme Court. The attorney general and the advocates general are supposed to submit their respective points of view on the subject at the next hearing on February 12.

A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk, is hearing the petition, moved by the Lahore High Court Bar Association.

Mr Irfan Siddiqui vehemently denied that all important decisions are being taken by the army as a result of which the role of the political government has shrunk.

“We can’t stop the media or the analysts from discussing any issue of their choice or drawing their own conclusions. But, the fact is that all decisions are taken by the government and all state institutions are working within the limits set by the constitution. The role being played by COAS Gen Raheel Sharif is also in accordance with the government’s policy. Everything is going on according to the government’s policy”.

When pointed out that the India policy of the present government was very soft at the outset but was changed when the army put its foot down and called for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute first, Mr Irfan Siddiqui said the shift was because of the negative attitude of the Indian government, not the army’s pressure.

According to him, armies all over the world play a role in the defence and foreign policy of their respective countries. Going by the same principle, he said the army in Pakistan is consulted and they give their input. But the policy is formulated by the government, not anybody else, said the special assistant.

In response to a question, Mr Siddiqui said there was no hitch from the government’s side on the formation of a judicial commission to probe whether any “systematic and organised rigging” had taken place in the 2013 general elections. The delay, he said, was being caused by the PTI.

When pointed out that even a former secretary of the Election Commission of Pakistan (Kanwar Dilshad) is of the view that “irregularities” in elections mean “rigging” (which is what the PTI argues), Mr Siddiqui said nobody in the world would endorse this opinion.