September 17, 2020
By Xari Jalil & Asra Haque
Bold statements, blazing rhetoric and fiery retorts dominated the All Parties Conference held at the Marriot Hotel in Islamabad on Thursday.
The conference was organized by the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) hosted by the Chairperson of PBC Azam Nazir Tarar, and the Vice Chairperson Abid Saqi.
It was attended by senior leaders of the Pakistan People Party (PPP), the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N), the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F) (JUI-F), the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), the Awami Workers Party (AWP), the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP), the Balochistan National Party (BNP), and the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), among others, as well as members of the judiciary and legal fraternity, reputed journalists and civil society activists.
Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) had called upon all political parties together to discuss matters pertaining to the appointment of judges in the superior judiciary, and to discuss accountability and civil liberties.
The parties were well represented in terms of political workers and the hall bustled with activity as those from the corridors of power converged there.
Voicepk.net covered the APC thoroughly through a live stream of the entire session, while some of the leaders also opened up in exclusive interviews.
What They Said
Naib Ameer of Jamaat-e-Islami, Asadullah Bhutto while appreciating the APC said that it was high time that PBC took a stand for the independence of judiciary in Pakistan. “The political parties should also push to protect those human rights guaranteed by the constitution,” he said.
In the conference, Balochistan took an important place, especially when Yusuf Mastikhan of the AWP pointed out that although the conference hoped that the nation should also play a role in the decisions of the state, there was no such thing as a Pakistani nation as of yet. The demands of different ethnic groups may be different or even opposed to the demands of those who had attended the conference.
“For several past years, the forces have been active in Balochistan. People are being abducted, tortured, killed…but not a single voice in Parliament has been raised to put a stop to military action in the province,” he said, matter-of-factly. “Along with the Balochistan package, we also received three corpses – those of Ghulam Muhammad, Lala Munir and Sher Muhammad,” he said referring to the tortured corpses found of three integral leaders from Balochistan in April 2009 which had jolted the entire province and whose tremors were even felt in Karachi.
He also pointed out the apathy of the parliament and of the judiciary to the rights of labourers, referring to the fact that a petition for land reforms had been drafted by the AWP President Abid Hassan Minto in 2013 but which is yet to be entertained by the Supreme Court.
“Justice is only possible if the Supreme Court is freed from the influence of the establishment only when political forces band together to send the military ‘back to the barracks’,” he said.
Dr Abdul Malik, President of the National Party, also spoke saying that no rights can be guaranteed to people unless there is real democracy in Pakistan. He urged mainstream political parties to discourage and stem political engineering in Balochistan. “Fake parties are being engineered by ‘posting’ political workers from one party to another on orders of certain powers,” he said.
BNP Central Secretary-General Dr. Jahanzaib Jamaldini insisted that the smaller provinces in particular are suffering from the greatest lapse in civil liberties and freedoms, especially with concern to missing persons. Articles 1 to 22 of the Constitution are concerned with fundamental rights of the citizens, however sedition charges are doled out for speeches, and journalists and media house owners are nabbed for producing literature. Moreover, there are controls on broadcast and information – the rest of the nation would not know of a rally in Balochistan. He urged the PBC and mainstream political parties to join their struggle to end enforced disappearances and political engineering in Balochistan.
“The doors are shut on us, our concerns about missing persons, about the long arm of the military, and about the injustices in Balochistan never reach the rest of the country,” he said.
BNP Central Secretary-General Dr. Jahanzaib Jamaldini insisted that the smaller provinces in particular are suffering from the greatest lapse in civil liberties and freedoms, especially with concern to missing persons. Articles 1 to 22 of the Constitution are concerned with fundamental rights of the citizens, however sedition charges are doled out for speeches, and journalists and media house owners are nabbed for producing literature. Moreover, there are controls on broadcast and information – the rest of the nation would not know of a rally in Balochistan.
While some spoke openly about the problems plaguing Balochistan, Mohsin Dawar was not one to be kept silent.
The young MNA who is aligned with the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), a civil rights movement centered mostly in KP, made his province’s issues take a front seat, saying that all political parties should take a firm stand against the manipulation of certain laws that are being used to silence dissenting voices in Pakistan. He also condemned registration of cases against journalists Asad Toor, Absar Alam, and Bilal Faroqui.
“This kind of judicial misconduct has also led to an imbalance of powers in Pakistan,” he said. He referred to Nawaz Sharif’s case as a prime example of misconduct in a trial. “These rights should be limited to parliament when it comes to accountability. Every new law that is being drafted and passed is used to persecute political workers and journalists. However, it is Parliament’s responsibility to legislate on this and correct our course.”
Dawar appreciated PBC for holding the conference.
“Tribal areas are witnessing a defining moment,” he added. “The state’s policies and the people’s resistance are locked in the fight for ascendancy. The time is ripe for a public uprising to reform the system because the situation has reached a point where people should come out on the streets.”
He warned that the opposition parties that won’t take the lead to begin anti-govt movement will become irrelevant saying time does not wait for anybody.
“Any party that comes out with a better agenda will find people ready behind it.”
Meanwhile Voicepk.net did an exclusive interview with Nafisa Shah, a senior leader from the PPP Sindh who said that this ‘hybrid-government’ was aggravating the situation for all citizens in the country.
“There is a crisis of civil liberties in the country,” said Shah. She praised PBC for providing a neutral place for all parties to come together and discuss these issues. “The lawyers took the lead during Musharraf’s regime and political parties converged later,” she remembered adding that she fears extremism is on the rise in the country. The PPP leader warns that extremist forces could lead the country to a civil war.
All Parties, Big and Small
The mainstream national parties such as PPP and PML-N were not the only ones present, but several smaller parties there also managed to steal the show in their speeches.
President of the Seraiki National Party (SNP), Abdul Majeed Kanju said that all the political parties should stand in solidarity with the ethnic minorities of Pakistan and against the violence faced by them which includes enforced disappearances.
He said that it has been earmarked that those parties who were members of the national assembly seemed to be the only parties that exist. As such, talks of equality held no ground when the existence of smaller outlier parties such as the Seraiki National Party was not accepted.
President of the National Democratic Party, Dr. Abdul Hai Baloch, called Pakistan ‘a police state’, and said that the judiciary was not independent and free, nor were the citizens, the intelligentsia or the federation.
“It is a sham!” he exclaimed. “This is injustice, and we are all silent spectators. Are citizens behind our current government? This government is self-appointed. The problem is not a selected government, but rather the selector – we need to get rid of this selector!”
Dr Abdul Hai could not stop himself from referring to a dark passage of history.
“If political parties had shown even the smallest sliver of bravery back in 1970, then ’71 would never have come to pass,” he said. “All the blame we heaped upon the Bengalis was wrong – it is we who are responsible for ’71. And now what are we doing to Balochistan? Did we learn any lessons from ’71?”
Former Chief Minister of Balochistan and President of the National Party, Dr. Abdul Malik, said that till date, the military establishment and civil bureaucracy have never acknowledged the existence of civil liberties, and nor they ever will. If the political parties fail to mobilize the same way the judiciary had mobilized against former military dictator Gen. (R) Pervaiz Musharraf, then the nation will continue to suffer as it always has.
“When talking about civil liberties, accountability and the appointment of judges, I have a question: Why was the 19th Amendment dropped on our heads? There is a gun to our heads that if the 19th Amendment is not inculcated, then the 18th Amendment will no longer be accepted.”
“What about human rights? Whenever the establishment wants, they pick people up and then a few days later we discover their bodies. But when we demand answers, no one seems to know anything,” he said. “This is now a common practice in Sindh, Balochistan and KP … not a day goes by when a tragic incident occurs,” he related. He said that the youth in these regions are either so disillusioned or completely indoctrinated in extremism that they treat these incidents with utter apathy, and recalled the debate surrounding Hayat Baloch’s murder by a Frontier Corps officer.
Former Chief Minister of KP and senior Vice-Chair of ANP, Ameer Haider Khan Hoti said that it was the collective responsibility of state representatives and office bearers to support and own those judges who stand by their principles, invoking the controversy around the political hounding of Supreme Court Judge Justice Qazi Faez Isa.
“I admit, that when issues concerning civil liberties come up, we as the authority refuse to talk about them. We need to accept the fact that we have made some mistakes, and we need to learn from those mistakes,” he said. “We can say we occupy the moral high ground if we raise the same issues that we have raised here in Parliament.”
Mahmood Khan Achakzai, Chair of PKMAP, perhaps best summarized the concerns of the conference. Raising a copy of the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan, he demanded to know if this “parchment” was nothing more than a formality.
“This parchment has gathered us together here. I do not know Punjabi, and my Punjabi friend cannot converse with me in my native Pashto. When my Baloch brother Akbar Mastikhan speaks in his tongue, I cannot understand him. And the language I speak in, he cannot understand it. We do not understand the tongue Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Shehbaz Sharif use. But I stand equal to a citizen of Badin and Tharparkar in Sindh, I stand equal to a Baloch individual because of our Constitution… If we do not accept our Constitution, then Pakistan will not survive.”
The conference expounded upon Pakistan’s judicial history, beginning with the drafting of the Constitution of Pakistan in 1973 which relegated exclusive powers in appointing the judiciary with the executive. However, the pendulum of power over judicial appointments swung over to the judiciary after the 1996 judgement of the Al-Jihad Trust Case. In a third phase, after the introduction of the 18th Amendment, which played an exemplary role in ensuring democratic freedom similar to the 1973 Constitution. The judicial commission was constituted through the 18th Amendment, which allowed judges by virtue of majority to move decisions. But this current process of judicial appointments was also meant to establish a parliamentary committee.
According to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Muneer Hussain Bhatti case, the apex court made the oversight and function of the parliamentary committee utterly redundant.
The conference asserted that the Parliament was empowered to align the country’s institutions according to the framework of its constitution. However, Pakistan is plagued with a history of its parliament being disenfranchised by the military, where non-elected entities were empowered. In light of this development, PBC urged suitable amendments to Article 175-A to award exclusive powers to the parliamentary committee only for the appointment of judges in the superior judiciary. The conference posited that the current process of appointments was devoid of objectivity and has compromised the independence of the judiciary due to the presence of a judges’ consortium, making it imperative to review and amend this process.
The conference also raised the issue of accountability, revealing that since 1954, nearly twenty-fold laws have been passed against the political forces of the country with regards to accountability. Moreover, the existence of “internal mechanisms” of accountability are so secretive that it is nearly impossible to ascertain how accountability is tabulated.
Almost everyone agreed that at present ‘accountability’ was no more than a political tool which offered concessions to certain entities and buffered the ideology of others. There was a need to create composite accountability laws that also held the judiciary, military and other such powerful institutions accountable as they are currently out of the purview of existing accountability laws.
The gathering also noted the deplorable state of civil liberties and fundamental rights in Pakistan. The session highlighted Article 3, which guarantees that the State will ensure the elimination of all forms of exploitation and the gradual fulfillment of the fundamental principle.
Earlier in the conference, the Chairman of the Istaqlaal Party, Manzoor Gillani, claimed that the parliamentary leadership would accept the challenges highlighted in the APC and render tangible efforts to address these concerns.
“There is no democracy in this country,” he stated. “Since 1958, Pakistan has either seen military dictatorship or a civil setup, but never true democracy,” he said, disagreeing with repeated references to other institutions. He said that the parliament was the only sole institution of a democratic state while all other entities should be referred to either as services or departments.
However, it was these very entities that have been raised to the status of a parliament, throwing the democratic system into disarray.
“Why is it that the parliamentary leadership should be held accountable, but all other entities be exempted?” he asked.