HYDERABAD, July 25 Leaders of public opinion have stressed the need for strengthening parliament and other institutions by initiating dialogue to avert any possibility of another takeover by generals.

They said that the 18th Amendment was introduced by the government in a haphazard manner and another amendment needed to be introduced to protect the basic rights of people.

They said the fact that parliament had amended the constitution should be respected because military dictators had mutilated the basic document.

They were speaking at a dialogue, 'Consultation on Implementation of 18th Amendment and Citizens Concerns', organised by the Institute for Social Movements Pakistan and 'We Journalists' in collaboration with NGOs at a local hotel on Saturday. Sindh Advocate-General Yousuf Laghari presided over the dialogue.

The speakers pointed out that in the neighbouring country, the judiciary and democratic institutions were more powerful than in Pakistan and attributed the weakness to frequent subversion by undemocratic forces.

A number of speakers criticised the government for ignoring small provinces and depriving them of the right to own resources. They were of the opinion that the domination of Punjab was creating problems for other provinces.

In his presidential remarks, Yousuf Laghari said that although the 18th Amendment had not provided full provincial autonomy, it had to a great extent protected the political and economic rights of the smaller provinces.

The credit for this must go to the PPP-led government, the advocate-general said. He, however, advised civil society leaders to formulate their recommendations on different issues and forward them to the government, legislators and political parties.

He said that if there was any lacuna in the 18th Amendment, the civil society had every right to demand improvement.

He said the constitution guaranteed equal rights to each citizen, but conceded that ground realities were different.

Mr Laghari stressed the need for the development and promotion of professional education and said that unless Sindh could produce brilliant professionals, affairs of the province could not be run in a smooth manner and the provincial autonomy would become meaningless.

He said that although enforcement of the constitution was the responsibility of the government, civil society groups could play a constructive role by initiating dialogues and raising their voice through media for corrective measures.

He made it clear that the royalty on oil, gas and other natural resources was the right of the provinces.

Director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) Karamat Ali said this was not the time to oppose the 18th amendment because it was the only time that parliament had taken the initiative of bringing about positive changes in the constitution.

He said people should strive to strengthen democratic institutions and their supremacy.

He regretted that more than 20 civil society organisations and some individuals had filed a petition in the Supreme Court against the 18th Amendment.

But he conceded that the amendment had been introduced in a haphazard manner and that there was scope for improvement.

MQM's MNA Salahuddin, Abrar Kazi, Mustafa Baloch, journalist Jaffar Memon, Punhal Sario and Iqbal Mallah also spoke on the occasion.

They said people paid taxes and it was the responsibility of the government to provide bread, shelter and jobs to them and proper healthcare and education.