Thursday, Mar 06, 2003
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By B. Muralidhar Reddy
There are good reasons for the all-round scepticism. The Prime Minister and his team have just not been able to move out of the shadows of the military. Till date there is no clarity on the status of the Constitution, partially revived with all the controversial amendments, including formalisation of the role of the military in governance.
The identity crisis facing the Jamali Government was clearly evident today on the floor of the National Assembly as the Opposition members vehemently protested the version of the Constitution handed over to them. The Speaker was forced to adjourn the House as an unrelenting Opposition insisted that they bear allegiance to only the Constitution as it existed prior to the military coup of October 1999.
Ironically, the Government was forced to supply copies of the Constitution after protests by the members on Tuesday. There was no surprise in the storm witnessed in the Assembly as all the Opposition parties are opposed to the controversial amendments made by the President, Pervez Musharraf, through the Legal Framework Order (LFO).
The LFO, a package of constitutional amendments by the President, has been at the centre of a constitutional row between the Government and Opposition parties, since the inauguration of the newly-elected Assembly in November. At the Assembly's inaugural session on November 16 last, all major Opposition parties had said their members were taking oath under the 1973 Constitution as it stood before Gen. Musharraf seized power in the 1999 coup and that they would not recognise the LFO amendments without parliamentary approval.
The Government spokesmen have been saying the Constitution, suspended by Gen. Musharraf after the October 12, 1999, coup and only partially revived last November, has already been amended by the LFO but had not distributed its copies widely in a move seemingly aimed at avoiding provoking Opposition parties.
But Opposition parties have repeatedly said they would not accept any amendment until both houses of Parliament pass it by the required two-thirds majority. At least one major opposition leader, MMA's parliamentary leader and Jamaat-i-Islami chief, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, has said he would not be in Parliament if the present form of LFO was enforced. It empowers among various other things Gen. Musharraf to be President and Army chief for five more years, dissolve the National Assembly and sack the Prime Minister.
Opposition members revived the issue on Monday and later on Tuesday, when the PML(N) leader, Makhdoom Javed Hashmi, led his party members in a walkout protesting against the non-availability of the new copies of the Constitution, which he said seemed to have been "lost''.
Serious legal and constitutional issues apart Mr. Jamali has been able to make a mark, given the serious limitations of his Government. `Pakistan first' has been his mantra and refrain for everything. Actually, this was the slogan coined by Gen. Musharraf and it appears Mr. Jamali has chosen to stick to it as the safest policy. Sometimes when he invokes the mantra, it appears so out of place.
An exasperated leader writer in the Pakistan daily, Business Standard had this to say on the Prime Minister's latest speech at a function. "This year's annual commemorative function for the late Hameed Nizami, a renowned figure in Pakistani journalism, was held on Sunday, just by chance at a time the U.S. is poised to attack a small sovereign country, Iraq. It was only natural for the speakers, who addressed the meeting before the chief guest, Mr. Jamali, to express concern over the grave issue.
``As a matter of fact, the issue has shaken the foundations of such strong international organisations as the U.N. and NATO, creating deep divisions in the Western world itself." Surprisingly though, for the Prime Minister it is business as usual. At least that was the impression he gave when he observed, "I am surprised that here people are highly concerned about Iraq and America... But I am concerned about Pakistan. Pakistan comes first.''
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