ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader and former president Asif Zardari has warned against efforts to roll back the 18th Constitution Amendment, alleging that “those hatching conspiracies against the amendment are actually playing with the country’s solidarity”.
This was stated by Mr Zardari in a statement on the occasion of the Constitution Day observed in the country on Saturday to mark the approval of the 1973 Constitution by parliament on this day in 1973.
In his message, Mr Zardari claimed that the “conspiracies” against the 18th Amendment granting provincial autonomy were still being hatched in the country. He, however, expressed the hope that all the democratic forces in the country would defend the 18th Amendment and would not allow these conspiracies to succeed.
Mr Zardari said the 1973 Constitution guaranteed religious freedom, besides freedom of expression and human rights. He said in the past the dictators had defaced the constitution in an effort to prolong their “immoral rule” but it was brought to its original form by the elected parliament through the 18th Constitution Amendment.
Mr Zardari’s message came almost a week after the Leader of Opposition in the Sindh Assembly and a leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Haleem Adil Sheikh stated that the 18th Amendment had only benefited the PPP chairman and Chief Minister House and given nothing to people of Sindh.
Meanwhile, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari in a statement asked the government to immediately withdraw the decision to drastically cut the number of scholarships from 265 to just 29 for the students of formerly Fata areas and Balochistan.
“This withdrawal of scholarship quotas by the PTI government is tantamount to snatching pen from these poor students and giving gun in their hands,” he added.
Mr Bhutto-Zardari said depriving these students of scholarships proved “the ugly face of the Imran Khan regime, which is bent upon destroying the higher education through cutting funds”.
The PPP chairman expressed solidarity and sympathy with the students holding protest in Islamabad nowadays.
New IMF terms
PPP stalwart and former Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani slammed the government for keeping the parliament and people in the dark on the new terms agreed with the IMF.
“The people of Pakistan and the parliament become aware of such terms by documents released by the IMF and this act of non-transparency of the government is condemned in the strongest terms,” he regretted.
Mr Rabbani said that after this agreement, there was no need for the government to have a budget session as budget targets had already been set on the dictation of the IMF.
He said that National Assembly had been reduced to a rubber stamp, which would give approval to a budget prepared by the IMF.
The Senate as a protest should refuse to make recommendations for the budget when it is presented because this would not be a Pakistani budget but a budget prepared by Pakistan’s “new imperial masters”. He said the federal government had agreed with the IMF to increase taxes by a massive Rs1.272 trillion in the coming budget. According to reports, he said, the government had agreed to increase electricity rates by Rs4.97 per unit in the remaining three months of the fiscal year.
He said the documents also suggested that the government would continue increasing petroleum levy on all products to the maximum level Rs30 per litre this year. He said the petroleum levy target for the next year had been set at Rs607 billion. He said various tax collection targets of the Federal Board of Revenue, General Sales Tax and Personal Income Tax, etc had already been agreed to.
“It has been further agreed that the government would bring down the current year’s development programme,” he alleged.
Mr Rabbani expressed concern over the proposed amendments to the Pakistan Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code, 1898, recommending that persons who, “disrespect” or “intentionally ridicule” the armed forces be fined or imprisoned.
“These amendments are ultra vires to the Constitution inasmuch as they contravene Article 19, Constitution,1973, which protects the right to freedom of expression,” said Mr Rabbani during an informal chat with reporters.
He said the amendments were designed to usurp the citizens’ rights and civil liberties which were already under attack and had been muzzled by the government.
“This amendment will be used for political victimisation of the opposition...,” he feared.
“It is strange to suggest that the armed forces need a punitive law to ensure respect. The respect for individuals and institutions in society is earned by struggle, upholding principles and working for the people, it cannot be enforced through law,” he remarked.
Iftikhar A. Khan also contributed to this report
Published in Dawn, April 11th, 2021