ISLAMABAD, March 23: Seven of 26 members of the all-party Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms (PCCR), including a senator from the ruling Pakistan People's Party, declined on Wednesday to receive the highest civil award of Nishan-i-Imtiaz given to them for drafting the landmark Eighteenth Amendment with consensus, but for different reasons.
The seven men did not show up at the investiture ceremony at the Presidency, where President Asif Ali Zardari decorated 130 civilian and military recipients of the awards on the occasion of Pakistan Day.
Except for three members of the Pakistan Muslim League-N, who collectively decided not to receive the awards in continuation of their Tuesday's protest during the presidential address to the joint sitting of parliament, the other four belonging to other parties individually decided against attending the ceremony.
Three senators from Balochistan â€“ Lashkari Raisani of the PPP, Dr Abdul Malik of National Party and Shahid Hassan Bugti of Jamhoori Watan Party, did not receive the award in protest against the deteriorating law and order situation in their province.
Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman skipped the ceremony in protest against US drone attacks in tribal areas, but his party's senator and former minister Rehmatullah Kakar received the award from the President.
However, members of the two other opposition parties, the PML-Q and Jamaat-i-Islami who had also boycotted the president's speech on Tuesday, received their awards.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had announced the grant of the highest civil award of Nishan-i-Imtiaz for all the 26 members of the PCCR, headed by Senator Mian Raza Rabbani, in recognition of their “parliamentary services”.
Talking to Dawn, PML-N spokesman and MNA Ahsan Iqbal said his party members had refused to receive the awards from President Zardari and that he hoped they would get them by mail at their homes.
Mr Iqbal, who is a nominee for the award as a member of the PCCR along with his other party colleagues Senator Ishaq Dar and MNA Sardar Mahtab Khan Abbasi, said the decision to boycott the investiture ceremony had been taken by the party on Tuesday prior to the joint sitting of parliament.
He said there was a consensus in the party that it would send a wrong message to people and damage the party's image if its members received award from the president just a day after their boycott of Mr Zardari's speech.
Further, he said, it was the same president who had only recently imposed new taxes of Rs53 billion on the poor through ordinances and was bent upon confronting the judiciary.
Mr Iqbal said a team of federal ministers, including Senator Raza Rabbani, made several attempts to persuade the PML-N members not to boycott the ceremony.
On the other hand, PPP senator Lashkari Raisani, a former president of the party's Balochistan chapter, cited two reasons for declining the award: he believed the committee members had not performed any extraordinary job as they only performed their responsibility as members of parliament and that the Balochistan situation was so serious that it did not look nice to receive medals when people were being killed there.
Mr Raisani, a brother of Balochistan Chief Minister Aslam Raisani, said how could he receive the medal at a time when bodies were being found in his province daily in the presence of personnel of secret agencies. “The (secret) agencies people are roaming freely in my province. People are being killed daily and mutilated bodies are found. So how can I receive the award even if it is announced by the government of my own party? My conscience did not allow me to do so.”
The National Party's Dr Abdul Malik also cited the Balochistan situation as a reason for refusing the award.
The Jamaat's senator Prof Khurshid Ahmed expressed surprise over the PML-N decision to boycott the ceremony because its members had earlier told him that they would attend the ceremony. “Their absence was felt at the ceremony,” he added.
Other PCCR members who received the awards are: Raza Rabbani, Raja Pervez Ashraf, Syed Naveed Qamar and Babar Awan of the PPP, Wasim Sajjad and Humayun Saifullah Khan of PML-Q, Dr Farooq Sattar and Haider Abbas Rizvi of MQM, Afrasiab Khattak and Haji Mohammad Adeel of ANP, a representative for the late Justice (retd) Abdul Razzaq Thaheem of PML-F, Mir Israrullah Zehri of BNP, Ghulam Murtaza Jatoi of NPP, Abdul Rahim Mandokhel of PkMAP, and independent MNA from Fata Munir Khan Orakzai.
Sources told Dawn that former interior minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao and PML-Q Senator S. M. Zafar could not attend the ceremony for unknown reasons.
Over 217 individuals were conferred awards on Pakistan Day, out of which President Zardari decorated around 120 civil and 10 military recipients in different categories.
Prime Minister Gilani, Senate Chairman Farooq H. Naek, National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza, services chiefs, Islamabad-based diplomats and prominent citizens attended the ceremony.
The rest were given the awards by provincial governors at provincial headquarters of Lahore (48), Karachi (22) Peshawar (eight), Quetta (four) and Gilgit (one).
The mother of assassinated minister for minorities' affairs Shahbaz Bhatti received the Hilal-i-Shujaat (Gallantry) award for her son, while the widow of the former Frontier Constabulary commandant Safwat Ghayur received a similar award for her husband.
Hameed Haroon, Najam Sethi, Abbas Athar and Syed Fasih Iqbal received Hilal-i-Imtiaz for their services in journalism.