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Bilawal warns against bid to bring presidential system

April 27, 2019

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PPP chairman terms NAB ordinance ‘black law’ and says opposition can sit with government to amend it.
PPP chairman terms NAB ordinance ‘black law’ and says opposition can sit with government to amend it.

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Friday warned against any attempt to bring presidential form of government in the country, saying it would not be in the interest of democracy by any means. He said there was no ‘third umpire’ — only people — in a democracy.

“In Pakistan, not the desire of third umpire but the will of people prevails. This is what democracy warrants,” the PPP chief said during a press talk along with some opposition leaders after attending a conference organised by the Asma Jahangir Legal Aid Cell in collaboration with the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC).

The conference was attended, among others, by Senators Mushaidullah Khan, Sherry Rehman, Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar and Usman Kakar, MNAs Mohsin Dawar, Shaista Pervaiz, Nafeesa Shah and Chaudhry Manzoor, PPP leader Farhatullah Babar, PBC vice chairman Syed Amjad Shah, PBC Executive Committee chairman Hafiz Mohammad Idris, Human Rights Committee chairman Abid Saqi, Afrasiab Khattak, Nida Aly and Munizae Jahangir.

PPP chairman terms NAB ordinance ‘black law’ and says opposition can sit with government to amend it

Mr Bhutto-Zardari, who is also chairperson of the National Assembly’s Human Rights Committee, said that as far as the attempt to roll back the 18th Constitution Amendment and enforce the presidential system was concerned, it could be the desire of some elements hatching conspiracies. “Presidential system is neither in the interest of the country nor the federation and all democratic forces will resist any such move,” he said, adding that the presidential form of government had failed wherever it had been enforced. “There is no provision in our laws for conducting referendum.”

The PPP chairman termed the National Accountability Bureau Ordinance 1999 a ‘black law’ and said the opposition could sit with the government to amend it. “This black law was made by Gen Pervez Musharraf. There must be a same law for accountability of all,” he said.

Talking about the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), he expressed the hope that Prime Minister Imran Khan would give due importance to the corridor project and would not make any compromise on it. “The present government has diverted CPEC funds and provided them to the ruling party’s MNAs. The government should not make the CPEC a controversial project by doing this,” he added.

Talking about the conference, he said all stakeholders held a threadbare debate on the 18th Amendment and human rights. “But the problem is that the government is not serious on any issue,” he regretted.

Interestingly, government representatives were also invited to the event, but none of them turned up.

The purpose of the consultation was to engage parliamentarians and the legal fraternity for a way forward on the recommendations emerged from the conference. A consensus was reached during the dialogue that challenges to the 18th Amendment and the desire to roll back the provincial autonomy and National Finance Commission Award must be resisted and the 19th Amendment related to Article 175-A (appointment of judges in the superior judiciary) must be repealed.

The conference called for revival of the role of the parliamentary committee on judicial appointments.

A resolution adopted at the conference said that military courts, a parallel justice system, impede access to justice and did not meet standards of fair trial. They should not be extended as they were given jurisdiction over civilians and used against them. The criminal justice system should be strengthened instead.

The conference emphasised that the state must fulfil its responsibility to protect fundamental rights of citizens, stop the harassment of human rights defenders and immediately lift the ban on international and national non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

It demanded that Pakistan must implement legislation to criminalise enforced disappearances and the government must prevent torture by adopting the 2014 bill passed by the Senate. “The Commission of Missing Persons must prosecute the 153 identified officials responsible for enforced disappearances,” it added.

The conference desired that there should be an effective implementation of merger and reforms in western districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly Fata) as approved by parliament. The participants of the conference demanded that women of western districts of KP should be given representation in the NCSW (National Commission for the Status of Women) and included in the reform process.

They said the state’s appeasement of religious fundamentalism must end and all minorities must be protected in the face of new threats, especially the Hazara community in Balochistan. The National Action Plan should be expanded and implemented in letter and spirit.

The conference called for effective legislation and enforcement of such laws against enforced conversions. It demanded that legal age that defines a child should be uniform and legal marriage age for girls should be made 18 years in all the provinces (Sindh is the only province where the legal age for marriage is 18).

Another resolution said freedom of expression must not be curtailed by the state and unannounced censorship in print and electronic media must be lifted. Parliament must approve a new bill for the independence of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) according to the recommendation of the media commission report. Parliament must approve a journalist safety bill which was moved in the previous parliament.

On cyber laws, the conference resolved there should be training of judges, lawyers and the cybercrime wing on the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act. Parliament should review the laws to remove draconian provisions of the cybercrime law.

The participants of the even observed that the law on sexual harassment against women in the workplace was not being implemented and parliament and provincial assemblies have not constituted committees on sexual harassment as mandated by the law. “The federation and the provinces must collectively ensure that the curriculum is devoid of hate material and derogatory material with respect to minorities,” another resolution said.

The conference said the Transgender Act 2018 must be implemented in letter and spirit. It was recommended that a monitoring body for the implementation of current protection laws for the transgender community be established.

Published in Dawn, April 27th, 2019