When it comes to Arsalan NAB is stopped, Chairman @BBhuttoZardari Tweets

NAB led witchhunt vs SMBB when alive NAB told 2 begin proceedings vs SMBB’s grave. When it comes to Arsalan NAB is stopped.#doublestandards

LAHORE: Pakistan People’s Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Thursday hinted at double standards of the country’s top judiciary.

In a tweet last night, Bilawal said the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) was told to probe former premier Benazir Bhutto even after her assassination.

He also said NAB was, however, stopped when it came to Arsalan Iftikhar’s case. Bilawal tweets, “NAB led witchhunt vs SMBB when alive NAB told 2 begin proceedings vs SMBB’s grave. When it comes to Arsalan NAB is stopped.”

Source: Daily Times


Pakistan’s minorities: the bigger issue — by Farahnaz Ispahani

As international and domestic outrage increases against the constant harassment of religious minorities in Pakistan, those who do not want to fundamentally change Pakistan away from intolerance appear to have developed their own strategy. They seem willing to resolve individual cases that get negative international attention or generate domestic outrage, without wanting to tackle any of the fundamental issues.

The fundamental issue today is that Pakistan is continuing to become an intolerant society. When Rimsha Masih, an 11-year old poor Christian child reportedly suffering from Down’s syndrome was charged with blasphemy, it was part of a pattern of abuse of religious minorities. To treat it as an individual case or to make it into a child’s rights and mental illness issue is to take the heat away from the real problem.

The real problem continues to be the day-to-day persecution, harassment and murder of Christians, Ahmadis and Hindus under Pakistan’s laws. Much of the legal paraphernalia of discrimination and oppression on religious grounds, including the blasphemy laws, are merely more extreme versions of laws introduced by the British. As Myra McDonald of Reuters has said, “Ironic, backers of blasphemy law defending a British law, inspired by the Old Testament.”

The Associated Press reported on Monday that the All Pakistan Ulema Council, an organisation of Muslim clerics, held a joint news conference with the Pakistan Interfaith League. The Interfaith League has said that 600 Christian families have fled their homes and is campaigning to restore them to their abodes.

In a separate story AP quoted Maulana Tahir-ul-Ashrafi of the All Pakistan Ulema Council as saying, “We demand an impartial and thorough investigation into the [Rimsha Masih] case. Strict action shouldbe taken against all those accusing the girl if she is found innocent,” he said.

Mr Ashrafi also declared, “The government should make this case an example so that nobody will dare misuse the blasphemy law in future.” Therein lies the rub. Mr Ashrafi and his colleagues want this case to be used to end discussion about the need to reform the Blasphemy Laws. They want Rimsha Masih’s case to be investigated and decided under a law that has been so massively abused that it needs fundamental review. But they would rather get mercy for Rimsha without challenging the structure and process that makes oppression of religious minorities possible.

For a little unlettered girl to be investigated under any law at all for the crime of allegedly unwittingly burning the pages of the Holy Quran is intolerable. But what is even worse for those who understand what Pakistan has become, especially those who belong to minority communities themselves or are citizens who have spent a lifetime fighting injustices with their pens as activists, as human rights lawyers, and as thinkers, is to exploit this case as mere eyewash.

What makes this case of young Rimsha so different from other instances of false or unjustified cases filed under blasphemy laws? Why was there no joint platform before, why the focus on this one case alone? Because, as the Maulana remarked (as reported by AP), “At the news conference, the head of the clerics’ council, Maulana Tahir-ul-Ashrafi, told the outside world not to interfere, saying Pakistan would provide justice for the girl and her community.”

Even after Rimsha has been freed, which we hope she will, the laws opposed by most of the civilised world will still stand.

Why did the Maulana feel he had the right to speak for ‘Pakistan’? Perhaps because he was asked to do so by some in the state apparatus who do not want the case of Rimsha Masih hanging over efforts to ‘re-set’, yet again, Pakistan-US ties or around the forthcoming United Nations General Assembly meeting.

But the deep-rooted problem of oppression and intolerance of religious minorities, to which one may add the ongoing organised killings (which some plausibly call genocide) of Shias, needs greater resolve than the temporary solution of solving an individual case within the framework of flawed existing laws.

If our establishment showed the resolve to put Pakistan and the lives of Pakistani citizens, including those from religious minorities, before those of strategic depth and other such outdated concepts, then perhaps they could get on with the business of dismantling the jihadi groups that are often behind the mobs baying for blood in blasphemy cases.

We cannot afford more courageous and crucial voices standing alone and being cut down like Shaheed Salmaan Taseer and Shaheed Shahbaz Bhatti. The larger issue has to be dealt with by the real powerbrokers in Pakistan, not just the case of a handicapped poor Christian Pakistan child.

The writer is a suspended Member of the National Assembly of Pakistan who serves on the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Human Rights

Source: Daily Times

Parliamentary representation: New bill on the cards for increased minority seats

ISLAMABAD: The government has decided to introduce a new bill to increase the number of seats for minorities in parliament, in proportion to their population.

The move is expected to enhance representation for minorities in the National Assembly, Senate and provincial assemblies.

If the government succeeds in getting the proposed bill passed in the shape of the 23rd Constitutional Amendment with a two-thirds majority, minorities’ seats would increase from 33 to around 53 in the National and provincial assemblies. The same exercise would also be followed in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.

State Minister for National Harmony Akram Masih Gill said there was a strong likelihood that the bill would be passed in the National Assembly and Senate in the session starting from next week.

“We are hopeful about it. Members of minority community should keep their fingers crossed,” Gill told The Express Tribune.

Gill and Adviser to the Prime Minister on Minorities Affairs Dr Paul Bhatti have already given their input to the government for the proposed bill.

Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf has assigned Pakistan Peoples Party chief whip in the National Assembly, Syed Khurshid Shah, the task of convincing political parties to get the bill passed with a two-thirds majority in the upcoming sessions.

Non-Muslims represent 4.5 % of the country’s total population of 180 million, according to working papers of both minority leaders. Therefore, the total number of minorities’ seats will increase from 33 to around 53, out of which 16 seats will be added in the NA, 12 in the Punjab Assembly, 13 in the Sindh Assembly and six each in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan assemblies.

Currently, there are 10 minority seats in the NA, nine in the Sindh Assembly, eight in the Punjab Assembly, and three each in K-P Assembly and Balochistan Assembly.

The federal cabinet had already passed this bill in July this year.

Although the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz sees the move as a positive step, it has some reservations given that the government did not consult them before endorsing the newly proposed bill in the federal cabinet.

“Yes, it’s a good move,” said PML-N Senator Syed Zafar Ali Shah. The PML-N is likely to not oppose the bill but its top leadership will prepare a note/output to make the process more democratic, he said.

Regarding legal complications, Shah said if this newly proposed bill is passed with a two-thirds majority, some rules would be observed as two Constitutional Amendments – the 21st Amendment (creation of new provinces) and 22nd Amendment (dual nationality) – are still pending with parliament.

Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid senior leader SM Zafar sees the move as a victory for minorities, who, according to him, are the “true face of Pakistan.”

Senior politicians recalled that parliament saw an increase in minorities’ seats during General Ziaul Haq’s regime, before which only two seats were fixed for minorities. Zia increased reserved seats for minorities from two to 10.

Minorities, for the first time, were given representation in the Senate this year.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 31st, 2012.


Open letter to the chief justice of Pakistan -by Imtiaz Gul

On August 8, Mr Yaseen Azad, President of the Supreme Court Bar Association, drew your attention to an extremely pressing issue, i.e., massive pendency at various courts. He requested the apex court to attend to cases other than those revolving around the NRO.

Mr Azad’s statement relates to the heavy pendency that the judiciary currently faces. The Supreme Court’s annual report covering the period between April 2010 and December 2011 speaks of a staggering pendency of 17,246 cases. Add to them another 620 cases, at least, so far this year, according to a monthly news magazine.

The courts in Punjab, e.g., face a pendency of some 1.6 million cases, including over 700,000 civil cases awaiting decisions since March 2011 in lower and high courts. The pendency at courts in Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is equally staggering. This is disturbing if viewed against the new judicial policy developed under your august guidance. This policy had stipulated a maximum of six months for adjudication of civil cases.

On several occasions and at an international judicial conference in April this year, you expressed your commitment to ending the backlog through quicker settlements. However, the cases keep mounting due to deterioration of law and order and abuse of law.

Honourable chief justice, an admirer of the activism you have demonstrated in public interest litigation, I would like to humbly state that the relentless pursuit of the NRO cases has led to the perception of the highest court being driven by political motives. This undermines the esteemed and extremely important office that you and your colleagues hold.

While public sector litigation deserves urgent attention, it also puts limits to the extent to which apex courts can go. Doesn’t the superior court run the risk of losing sight of its primary function, i.e., serving as the guardian and interpreter of fundamental human rights, when it overwhelmingly stretches itself into what is usually the executive’s domain (checks on prices, television censorship and graft cases, for example)?

While the Supreme Court’s proactive moves on various counts came across as a major unprecedented consolation for the hapless millions that continue to suffer under the ruling elite’s abuse of power, poor governance and corruption-plagued system at the lower court level, the Court needs to guard against the hazards that its activism brings with it. Do the highest courts get themselves involved in the constitution of commissions (media, memo, Abbottabad) or act as consumer protection cells?

Interventions in human rights issues, abuse of state power and resources have indeed raised the stature of the apex court but nullification of the privatisation of Pakistan Steel Mills or indecision in the Reko Diq case — so vital to the interests of people of Balochistan — are some examples where the Court was seen lacking and oblivious to economic dictates.

Honourable chief justice, Pakistanis will remember all justices if the justices manage to set new benchmarks for the accountability of public representatives and the ruling elite and ensure rule of and respect for law. This must be the end goal for the Court instead of spending time on cases that are administrative or political in nature.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 31st, 2012.

President’s office supreme: AG Irfan Qadir

LAHORE, Aug 30: The Attorney General of Pakistan, Irfan Qadir, has reiterated that courts have no jurisdiction to issue notices to the president and sanctity of the highest office should be maintained by all.

Talking to reporters at the Lahore High Court on Thursday, the attorney general of Pakistan said the president had the power to keep any office of his choice and courts had no power to issue a notice in this regard.

He said: “Being appointing authority of judges, the office of the president is supreme than the judges.”