MMA refuses to apologize on 17th Amendment

September 25, 2004

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LAHORE, Sept 24: MMA President Qazi Husain Ahmed on Friday turned down calls for the religious alliance to apologize to the nation for its role in the adoption of the 17th constitutional Amendment , a condition set by the ARD for cooperation with the six-party coalition in a movement against President Musharraf.

Talking to a group of reporters at his Mansoora office, the Qazi said the MMA had made no mistake by facilitating the approval of an amendment which in his words had steered the country out a crisis and brought President Musharraf under an obligation to step down as army chief by Dec 31. "Therefore, no regrets and no apologies", he said emphatically.

He admitted that there were flaws in the controversial amendment and the MMA had accepted some of the provisions only reluctantly. Without identifying such articles, he said on its own or with help from the ARD, the MMA would strike down such provisions whenever it was in a position to do so.

Asked about the justification for the MMA to stay in coalition with the PML in Balochistan after the ruling party's campaign in favour of Gen Musharraf's uniform, the MMA chief said if the religious alliance parted ways the provincial government would collapse, leaving no option for the rulers except imposing governor's rule. Such a step would worsen the situation, he said.

About the likely fate of the MMA's government in the NWFP in case the religious parties launched a movement against President Musharraf, the Qazi said if some action was taken against it, the Balochistan coalition would also come down.

According to him, the MMA would not be a loser even if the NWFP government was sacked as in the case of fresh elections in the province, the MMA would return with a still greater majority.

"We are the real representatives of the people of the NWFP. Except for us, nobody has a right to rule the province", he said, implying that there would be no rationale for retaliation by the federal government despite MMA's movement against the president.

The Qazi said as a matter of fact PML leaders had linked their political destiny to the uniform of President Musharraf and in case he took it off, they would be left with no feet to stand on.

Just back after a meeting with the exiled former prime minister Mian Nawaz Sharif in Jeddah, the MMA president said Mr Sharif had set up a three-man committee for coordination and cooperation with the religious alliance.

Raja Zafarul Haq, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Khwaja Saad Rafiq would be given necessary instructions by the exiled leader, he said. He expressed satisfaction over the outcome of the meeting, at which PML-N President Mian Shahbaz Sharif was also present.

Asked whether it would be possible for the MMA to launch an effective campaign in case the ARD ultimately decided not to cooperate, the Qazi said: "We are not depending upon anyone for our planned struggle. Movements are always launched by people, not parties, and in the present situation anyone representing people's aspirations would get their support".

About the purpose of the MMA's movement, the Qazi said the religious alliance would tell the electorate that by refusing to step down as army chief by the set date Gen Musharraf had subverted the Constitution and had lost the right to stay even as the head of state.

The Qazi ridiculed argument that Gen Pervez Musharraf could be allowed to retain both offices by amending the relevant law with a majority vote from the bicameral legislature.

In his opinion what the ruling party planned to do would have disastrous consequences as it would make it eligible for a serving army chief to become a member of the National Assembly. Nowhere in the world, he said, such precedent existed and the PML should also desist from setting one.

He warned that if the PML went ahead with its plan, it would be giving the future army chiefs the right to become parliament members. He made it clear that the MMA would not hold talks with the ruling party on the issue of uniform.

Questioned if Gen Musharraf's plan to stay in uniform enjoyed the support of the army as an institution, the MMA president said by backing its boss on an unconstitutional issue the army would not be doing any service to itself.

"If a person dictates the army simply because he happens to be its head, and the institution cannot prevent him from violating the Constitution and the Army Act, it doesn't bode well for the institution, and such an organization can't be called disciplined", he emphasized.

The supreme council of the MMA is scheduled to meet in Quetta on Saturday (today) to discuss the prevailing political situation, the controversy over Gen Musharraf's uniform in particular.

Raids on religious seminaries, arrest of various ulema, MMA's performance in the National Assembly and the Senate and working of the NWFP and Balochistan governments would also come under discussion. The participants would also discuss the MMA's working relationship with other opposition parties.