ISLAMABAD: The country’s five major political parties — four of them from the ruling coalition — have vowed to launch a movement for the supremacy of parliament and preservation of the democratic process and urged the army and the judiciary to work within “constitutional framework”.
Speaking at a “National Seminar on Sanctity of Ballot” at the National Library auditorium here on Tuesday, supreme leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) Nawaz Sharif, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) president Mehmood Khan Achakzai, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and National Party (NP) president Hasil Bizenjo expressed concern over “continued interference of the judiciary and the military in the domain of the executive” and warned that the country could face a 1971-like debacle if they did not act now.
Following the Lahore High Court’s directives regarding ban on airing of anti-judiciary speeches, the state-run Pakistan Television and most of the private TV channels did not cover the speeches of the speakers of the seminar. The channels went live when Nawaz Sharif came to the rostrum, but as soon as he started talking about his disqualification, the channels first muted his speech and then discontinued the live coverage.
The Awami National Party (ANP) was the only party from the opposition which participated in the seminar that was jointly organised by the PML-N, PkMAP and the NP. The ANP was represented by its general secretary Mian Iftikhar Hussain, who told the audience that he was representing party chief Asfandyar Wali Khan who could not travel due to illness.
Coalition partners NP, PkMAP and JUI-F as well as opposition ANP throw their weight behind PML-N movement for ‘sanctity of vote’
All speakers, except Maulana Fazl, extended support to the ongoing Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) and called for giving its leaders a ‘patience hearing’, terming all their demands “genuine and within the constitution.”
“We should engage those running the PTM. If we can talk to India and the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan people, then what’s wrong in talking to the Pashtun youth?” asked PML-N Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed who was the convener of the seminar.
Nawaz Sharif said when they did not respect the sanctity of vote in 1970, they faced the East Pakistan tragedy. He regretted that not a single prime minister was allowed a full five-year term, saying 20 elected prime ministers had ruled the country for 38 years whereas four military rulers had ruled for 32 years.
The former prime minister alleged that by continuing unabated use of powers under Article 184(3) of the Constitution, the judiciary’s hands had now reached parliament. He said the executive had been paralysed as it could not even make ordinary transfers and postings. And all this wass happening when millions of cases were pending before the judiciary.
Mr Sharif alleged that the PML-N was not being provided a level-playing field in the coming elections as most of the party leaders were either facing cases in accountability courts or contempt charges. He alleged that like in Balochistan and Karachi, efforts were now on to form a political group in southern Punjab to manipulate results of the elections.
Mr Bizenjo said “trust deficit” among the state institutions was increasing at a time when Pakistan was facing international isolation. He said it was the State and not the government which was weakening due to the tussle between the institutions. The most impressive and emotional speech was delivered by ANP’s Iftikhar Hussain, who said that his party was participating in the seminar despite not being in the ruling coalition because they also wanted to ensure “sanctity of ballot” in the country.
He said all demands of the PTM were constitutional. “Do you want that Pashtuns should keep silence even after facing oppression?” he asked.
He alleged that the former police officer Rao Anwar, the main accused in the extrajudicial murder of Naqeebullah Mehsud, was backed by a “network” which needed to be unearthed and punished.
There was a pin drop silence when Mr Hussain narrated how his only son was assassinated by terrorists and how he and other party leaders had held negotiations with the Taliban.
The ANP leader said popularity of Mr Sharif was increasing after he was being pushed to the wall but warned that the PML-N supreme leader could face more difficulties in the days ahead.
Mr Achakzai said a final battle between democratic and undemocratic forces had begun in the country. He said if any institution — be it the armed forces, judiciary or politicians — would go beyond constitutional limits, they would oppose them. He said if the judiciary would indulge in “activism” and interfere in the executive’s affairs, it was against the basic spirit of the Constitution. Similarly, he said, if a general who had taken oath to protect the Constitution violated his oath, it was their duty to stop him from doing so.
“Don’t force us to take to the streets like the people of Turkey,” Mr Achakzai warned in a reference to the public revolt against military takeover in Turkey in 2016. He said Pakistan had already suffered a lot due to violation of the vote’s sanctity, and warned that if it happened again, then nobody knew what would be the fate of the country.
Maulana Fazl said they had no conflict with the armed forces as the country needed them for protection of the country’s geographical boundaries. “However, when it will overstep its constitutional limits and will take over the government and indulge in politics, then it is unacceptable,” he said.
He also criticised the judiciary, saying the “judiciary should play the role for justice (Insaf) and not for Tehreek-i-Insaf.”
He said if a judge felt that any of the parties considered him biased, he should recuse himself. “If there is a feeling in the country that a judge has become a party then the decisions of that judge will always be considered controversial,” he said.
Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2018