Political leaders demand respect for Constitution, 18th Amendment – OCTOBER 21, 2019

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LAHORE: Speakers in a session at the Asma Jahangir Conference on Sunday prescribed respect for the 18th Amendment and provincial autonomy that it provides, curtailment of government expenditure, protection of human rights, strengthening of democracy and rule of power of ballot as the only means for the survival of Pakistan.

Anything to the contrary would further push the country into chaos, they said while speaking during the session ‘Strengthen the Legal, Constitutional Framework’ at a local hotel.

MNA Akhtar Mengal said less intervention of the Centre would strengthen the provinces. Islamabad should only deal with foreign affairs, defence and currency, allowing the provinces to deal with rest of the matters relating to them. The 18th Amendment empowered the provinces, but certain court decisions gave the impression that this empowerment was perhaps being diluted.

He mentioned the circumstances under which the country lost its eastern wing and complained of suppression of human rights and control over the ballot, media and judiciary at present.

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“Except for Balochistan, all provincial chief ministers are acting as chancellors as per the 18th Amendment,” he claimed and urged the need for giving equal representation to all provinces in the Centre.

Talking about missing persons, Mengal complained that no one from the other provinces had raised any voice for them. All political parties were talking about removing the government, but none was mentioning the missing persons, he said.

Awami National Party Secretary General Mian Iftikhar Hussain regretted that his party was called anti-state despite the fact that it did a lot for the country, particularly against terrorism. “This Constitution was made by us, the same traitors,” he quipped. He said his party had been opposing those who abrogated the Constitution.

Her said people in KP were being subjected to injustice and anyone could be picked up without registration of a case. There was a need to make all institutions respect the Constitution. He demanded across-the-board accountability, asking whether it was only for politicians.

PPP Senator Quratulain Mari and lawyer Akhtar Hussain also spoke.

Speaking in another session on the post-merger situation of Fata, former PPP senator Farhatullah Babar said the Action in Aid of Civil Power Ordinance had been enforced all over KP after the merger, which was unjustified. This would mean establishment of internment centres all over the province. He added that conditions in post-merger Fata were worsening and the only way to move forward was to establish civilian administration in the tribal areas.

Replying to questions, he admitted that it was the PPP government that had promulgated the merger ordinance in June 2011 merely to allow release of those being detained without a crime. “We had recommended punishment for those in the black zone, trial of those in the grey and release of those in the white zones,” he said, adding the law was correct, but its implementation was not.

He said all political parties and people from all walks of life had demanded merger of the tribal areas. But there were problems that could be resolved only after introducing a civilian set-up there, he said.

KP Finance Minister Taimur Jhagra asked the speakers which tribal areas they wanted – the one where Taliban ruled or the one which was cleared of them. “Things have improved a lot. But we have not as yet attained perfection,” he added.

He explained that the government enforced the ordinance in the entire KP after the merger of the tribal areas to give legal cover to the actions taken during the pre-merger period. Governments were required to function in coordination with national institutions. The conditions for which the ordinance was promulgated still existed. “It is important to check whether this law is being misused or not. You need a strong army to defend the country,” he added.

Samina Afridi, Syed Amjad Shah and journalist Salim Safi who moderated also spoke on the occasion.

Published in Dawn, October 21st, 2019