Former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Sunday said the government was introducing black laws to suppress sane political voices.
Addressing the Asma Jahangir Conference on Sunday, Gilani said, “Our government, instead of suppressing the sit-in, protected it, but today the protest is being suppressed as the incumbent government wants to shelf the parliamentary system.”
He said that the fundamental values were under assault at the moment. “Media censorship is stifling any voice critical of the government and opposition is being deprived of the right to peacefully protest,” said Gilani said.
“I am very concerned that the present government seeks to bring us back to the era of political instability where the law enforcement and accountability mechanisms were used to hound opponents. We must resist this,” said the former premier. “During my tenure, there were no political prisoners and there were no witch hunts against political opponents. It is unfortunate that the present government has abandoned the principles of parliamentary democracy.”
He also extended his gratitude and congratulated the Asma Jahangir Foundation and the Pakistan Bar Council for organising the conference at a critical moment.
He said the Asma Jahangir Conference had become an avenue of free and frank dialogue on human rights and the challenges faced by democracy in Pakistan. “The conversations on the rule of law, freedom of expression, women rights, the role of the judiciary that took place in the past two days are absolutely essential for us to have, if we intend to be a flourishing democratic state,” he said.
Gilani said he had great admiration and respect for Asma Jahangir and her courage to speak truth to power. “I have engaged with her as a speaker of the National Assembly and remember the awe that she inspired and the respect that she commanded internationally from one memorable trip to the Association of Latin American countries in the 1990s. She was elected as the first woman president of the Supreme Court Bar Association at a time when I was prime minister of Pakistan. I fondly recall my engagement with her in that role.”
He recalled that he was the first prime minister to create a Human Rights Ministry and provided it with all the support necessary. “I was the first prime minister to create a Ministry for Interfaith Harmony and to recognise the historic speech by Quaid-i-Azam on August 11 that gave the vision of a tolerant and egalitarian Pakistan. I declared August 11 as ‘minorities day’ to remind ourselves of the promise made by the Quaid.”
Gilani said he had opposed witch-hunts and political victimisation of opponents throughout his career. “As the chief executive I ensured that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) worked independently and not as an instrument of the government. Previously, NAB used to report to the cabinet office and was micromanaged by the prime minister. I directed that the oversight of NAB be done by the Law and Justice Ministry.”
He said that during his tenure there was no political prisoner and no persecution of the political opponents. ‘I am very concerned that the present government seeks to undo this and bring us back to the era of political instability where the law enforcement and accountability mechanisms were used to hound opponents. We must resist this. All of us here, political leadership, civil society, human rights activists, media and lawyers should get together to ensure that rule of law and due process are not compromised for political gains, he said.
Gilani said that Asma Jahangir was an ardent supporter of parliamentary supremacy, and as the prime minster, he had the unique privilege of overseeing and steering the long overdue step of returning the constitution to its original form, freeing it from encroachments of non-democratic rule. “The 18th amendment was the most extensive exercise in constitutional legislation since the framing of the constitution. It was the spirit of tolerance, understanding and pluralism that allowed the 18th amendment to be passed unanimously and not one member out of 446 members objected.”
The former premier said that Asif Ali Zardari became the first president to relinquish his powers, getting rid of the hybrid system in place and move towards a truly parliamentary democracy. “The 18th amendment and the consensus built around it demonstrated that it is possible for us to get together to fight for the supremacy of the parliament and the sanctity of the constitution. Today, the supremacy of the parliament is under threat because the present government has abandoned the principles of parliamentary democracy and has preferred dangerous populism.”
Talking about the 2014 sit-ins, Gilani said, “We not only allowed but facilitated those doing ‘dharnas’ against our government. Today, these fundamental values are under assault. The media censorship is stifling any voice critical of the government and opposition is being deprived of the right to peacefully protest. Today, we face many international and regional challenges. My term as prime minister demonstrated that a commitment to unity, democracy and freedom makes us better suited to persuasively and confidently speak to the world. It was that confidence that made US President Obama to apologise to the Pakistani nation for the Salala attack. I made sure that the parliament was the engine driving foreign policy and all matters of national importance were debated in the parliament.”
The former premier also stressed the need for a “robust response to the naked aggression by the Modi government in Kashmir”, and added that India’s complete disregard for international law and norms placed an urgent responsibility on the United Nations and the international community to respond.