ShaHbaz Sharif, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and other opposition leaders pictured during the multi-party conference.—White Star
ShaHbaz Sharif, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and other opposition leaders pictured during the multi-party conference.—White Star

• Opposition parties attend conference organised by PBC, SCBA
• Participants say Pakistan being derailed from constitutional path
• Declaration expresses concern over shrinking space for dissent, freedom of press and civil liberties

ISLAMABAD: A number of politicians representing opposition political parties of different shades and hues adopted a strongly-worded joint declaration on Thursday, expressing dissatisfaction over the current procedure of appointment of judges to the superior judiciary.

The gathering described the present system of appointment of judges as the biggest hurdle in realising the cherished goal of a truly independent judiciary.

The politicians, including PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif, also spoke at the multi-party conference (MPC) on “Superior Judiciary, Accountabi­lity and Civil Liberties: Concerns and Corrections”. They demanded review of Article 175-A of the Constitution, which deals with the procedure of appointment of judges in the superior judiciary, by revoking the 19th Amendment that has amended Article 175-A.

The MPC was organised by the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) in collaboration with the Supreme Cou­rt Bar Association (SCBA) at a loc­al hotel but none from the ruling po­litical parties, including the PTI, MQM or PML-Q, participated.

During the meeting, Mr Bhutto-Zardari regretted what kind of Riasat-i-Madina was this where a woman was gang-raped on the motorway but the people who were responsible for providing her protection indulged in victim blaming. Now, the prime minister and ministers had come in support of that police officer, he said, adding the situation had come to such a pass that a book could not be published or a tweet speaking independent mind could not be uploaded.

Mr Sharif said all political parties were passing through the grinding wheels in the name of accountability, suggesting that the accountability process should not see the face but the case.

Those who spoke at the MPC included JUI-F secretary general Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, PkMAP president Mahmood Achakzai, Amir Haider Hoti of the ANP, Dr Abdul Malik Baloch of the NP, Mohsin Dawar of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, Abdul Hai Baloch, Dr Jehanzaib, Afzal Khamosh, Manzoor Gillani, PBC vice chairman Abid Saqi, SCBA president Syed Qalb-i-Hassan and Azam Nazir Tarar.

The gathering recommended devising a new platform and assigning the parliament an effective role under the supervision of which all important stakeholders -- the judiciary, the executive and bar councils -- through equal representation appointed judges while ensuring transparency and adhering strictly only to merit.

The declaration alleged that the present system of appointment of judges had unfortunately become a consortium of judges and said the system of accountability, necessary for ensuring and strengthening good governance, had become ineffective and was being used as a tool for political engineering.

By involving all stakeholders, the MPC demanded, a uniform and transparent accountability law be developed under which all institutions of the country and public functionaries should be held accountable without any discrimination. The new law of accountability should also treat as illegal the incarceration of accused until proven guilty, the declaration said, also highlighting that any exemption to any institution under the new law should be treated as discriminatory and against justice.

The declaration also highlighted a perception that Pakistan was being derailed from the constitutional path of the federal democratic system and vowed that any attempt in this regard would not be acceptable since the 1973 Constitution was an instrument that guaranteed integrity, sovereignty and strengthening of all federating units as one entity.

The declaration also expressed concern and dismay over the shrinking space for dissent, freedom of the press and civil liberties and deplored the rising tendency of implicating media persons in treason cases and putting curbs on the media houses and the trend of making journalists disappear who dared to challenge the state narrative.

The MPC demanded devising laws to ensure protection to journalists and deplored curbing civil liberties in the name of fifth generation war.

The gathering demanded that those who had gone missing should be immediately recovered and, if found guilty of committing offence, should be put to face the judicial process.

The MPC also expressed concern over the perceived rising interference of the armed forces in politics.

The participants resolved to develop a joint strategy to achieve the goals set in the MPC.

“Our narrative about civil liberties and human rights should be one,” Mr Bhutto-Zardari said and asked what kind of civil liberty was this that an interview of a politician could not be aired on television? “This is not the way of a living nation. We have rendered sacrifices and now we want to hold accountable the ones who have spilled our blood.”

Published in Dawn, September 18th, 2020