Graft laws must cover judges, says Bilawal

Published February 27, 2023
KARACHI: PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari addresses a seminar on Sunday, marking the golden jubilee celebrations of the 1973 Constitution.—Shakeel Adil / White Star
KARACHI: PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari addresses a seminar on Sunday, marking the golden jubilee celebrations of the 1973 Constitution.—Shakeel Adil / White Star

• Plans to propose amendment to NAB law
• Accuses judiciary of penalising one leader, protecting another
• Sindh CM counts 16 reasons that can lead to a lawmaker’s disqualification

KARACHI: PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Sunday accused the judiciary of double standard, alleging it penalised one leader but protected another, and called for expanding accountability laws to cover both past and present judges.

In a hard-hitting speech, which came two days after a similar address by PML-N chief organiser Maryam Nawaz Sharif in which she called for accountability in the judiciary, Mr Bhutto-Zardari warned that his party would not let this “system of holy cows” run this country.

The foreign minister, speaking at a seminar organised by the PPP’s Sindh chapter to mark the golden jubilee celebrations of the 1973 Constitution, was particularly critical of the judiciary’s treat­ment of PTI chief Imran Khan.

“I am very sorry to say that the way our apex court is going with double standards, it’s so difficult for parties like us to defend its actions,” he said.

“This isn’t tolerable that one prime minister hailing from Lar­kana is executed and the other from Zaman Park is granted a week’s time [to appear before the court] due to pain in his leg,” he said, adding, “This dual system wouldn’t work, nor would we let it do.”

Referring to history, Mr Bhutto-Zardari criticised the judiciary for what he said was its role in bringing down governments of some parties and protecting others and stressed that this must stop.

“For how long would we go with this concept of holy cows?” he asked. “We must stop this. For the judiciary or any other institution, there should be the same law which applies to the common man. Every Pakistani, under the law, deserves the same treatment,” he added.

“How is it possible that to bring down the BB’s [Benazir Bhutto’s] government, you just need an editorial of a newspaper, but to save the government of Khan Sahib [Imran Khan], you can even amend and rewrite the Constitution?” he wondered.

He said the concept of “holy cows” was against the spirit of the Constitution and democracy as it held a common person responsible for wrongdoing but couldn’t put a check on the judiciary for the same reason.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari said he would himself propose an amendment to the accountability laws to hold judges, whether serving or retired, accountable for “wrongdoing”.

Referring to the National Accountability Bureau, he said, “We believe that NAB was formed for political engineering. We want this institution shut down. We aren’t even interested in what reforms the parties want to bring to this law.”

Wondering why judges were interested in accountability laws, he said the reason was “quite visible”, and it was that these laws didn’t apply to them.

“If it’s about corruption, it can be everywhere, whether it’s parliament or judiciary. So whatever reforms are proposed for this law, one amendment I would present myself that this law should also be implemented on the judges whether they are serving or retired.”

It may be recalled that on Feb 23, PML-N Senior Vice President Maryam Nawaz in a speech at Sargodha came down hard on a “cabal of five”, among which were former and serving members of the judiciary, whom she accused of “conspiring” against PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif.

On her cue, a video screen showed a combo picture of the five people she held responsible, saying: “The people of Sargodha should also see the ones behind the conspiracy”. The pictures included ex-ISI chief retired Gen Faiz Hameed, former chief justices Asif Khosa and Saqib Nisar, and two Supreme Court judges, who are currently part of the SC bench holding suo motu proceedings in the case about provincial elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

‘Gigantic challenges’

Earlier, Mr Bhutto-Zardari addressed the variety of challenges being faced by Pakistan and called political dialogue the only way forward to bring the country out of the multiple crises. From economy to terrorism and political stability to social reforms, he said the implementation of the Constitution in true spirit could lead the nation to past glory.

“I sometimes wonder how gigantic challenges we are facing which I have never seen or heard about before,” he said. “I sometimes think about how we would meet these approaching challenges. Above all is our economy. And when I talk about the economy, I don’t mean to mention our deal with the IMF or [dwindling] forex reserves. My challenge is that the poor man must feed his kids and send them to school. I firmly believe that these issues can be addressed through dialogue and consensus.”

He said the former prime minister and PPP founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto initiated political dialogue and brought the consensual Constitution, which was a social contract between the state and the people of Pakistan allowing them equal rights and every protection under the law.

“Then Benazir Bhutto decided to bring the country out of the crisis and restore democracy by convincing all political stakeholders over the Charter of Democracy. And when we came to power in 2008, President Asif Ali Zardari revived this tradition through the 18th Amendment, which guarantees the country’s survival and integrity,” Mr Bhutto-Zardari said.

‘Fears of disqualification’

Earlier, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah said the threat of disqualification had damaged the system of governance. He mentioned the amendments to the Constitution by non-democratic forces and how these amendments were exploited against the politicians.

“It’s not the job of a common man to protect the Constitution,” he said. “His job is to follow the Constitution. The protection of the Constitution is actually the job of the legislature, executive and judiciary. And that’s why they are given powers.

Mr Shah added, “As a legislator, I take the oath to protect the Constitution and so do our judges. But over the years, my role as a legislator was weakened through different moves. And today, as a legislator, I feel threatened to get disqualified on any ground anytime.”

The Constitution actually described only four grounds to disqualify a legislator, he said, but regretted that “interventions by dictators” had now increased the number of such conditions to 16 that could disqualify an elected member of parliament anytime.

“After 2010, we have seen how the Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution were exploited and the judiciary used them to weaken the legislature,” he alleged. “How will the legislature work if it always feels threatened?”

Published in Dawn, February 27th, 2023

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