Sunday, April 20, 2008

Zardari hints at becoming PM, says judges acted in 'self-interest'

LONDON: Co-chairman Pakistan People's Party Asif Ali Zardari has announced that he will be taking part in the coming by-elections and, if need be, he can become the prime minister.

In an interview with a British news channel, Zardari said he and his sister Faryal Talpur would submit their nomination papers to contest the by-elections from Benazir Bhutto's constituency NA-270.

Responding to a question, he said it was not necessary that the party chairman must become the prime minister but he could be the PM if need be.

He said his party would maintain the status quo with the president but would think about his accountability if they got a two-thirds majority in parliament. He said the prime minister had secured more than two-thirds of the votes in the National Assembly but some members might not vote for the president's accountability.

Zardari said the establishment brought President Musharraf into power and "these are the same forces which are now hatching conspiracies against the democratic government." He said the establishment had also asked Benazir Bhutto to boycott the elections.

He alleged that the judges did not start the war because of any danger to democracy but they did so in their self-interest. He said even then, he was in favour of reinstating the deposed judges.

(Courtesy The News)

Parliamentary sovereignty… a fine notion

Ayaz Amir
(Courtesy The News)
Friday, April 18, 2008

And so far in this blessed country, where form has always reigned over substance, parliamentary sovereignty is just that: a fine notion, to be spoken of in thundering terms. That's about it. In actual practice it is rather a threadbare notion. You would expect the members of this 'sovereign' National Assembly to be well-informed about the nation's affairs. They are certainly not better informed than newsmen.

Ask most of the members and perhaps most of them wouldn't have a clue about what's really cooking over the judges' issue. They get their information from the newspapers and newspapers too, such being the standards of reporting, can be dodgy, the headlines suggesting one thing while deep in the story would lie buried something completely different.

Take the recent meeting between Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif in Islamabad to discuss the restoration of the deposed judges. The headlines said unambiguously that they were in complete agreement and that they had reiterated their commitment to the Bhurban declaration or accord. But the later paragraphs of the same story suggested that no agreement had been struck on the actual mechanics of getting the legitimate Supreme Court, and high courts, back.

Every time I now hear about another reiteration of commitment to the Bhurban accord I feel like wiping my nose, or reaching for my gun. Why is the National Assembly, attired in the robes of its yet-to-be-proven sovereignty, being so foolish? Restoring the rightful Supreme Court is not a matter of partisan politics, although this is what many in the PPP seem convinced of, that the judges' issue deep down is a conspiracy between the PML-N and My Lord Chaudhry.

We are familiar with silly things but this takes the cake. No, it is not a partisan issue. It concerns all of us and, on the pragmatic plane, it concerns the National Assembly most of all because the sovereignty of the National Assembly will remain a pipedream unless buttressed by an independent and powerful judiciary.

There was a time, lasting for much of our history, when there was a compact between generals and judges and together they made a fine thing of our democracy. Today we have a chance to build something new: a compact between the judiciary and parliament.

This will not open the floodgates of prosperity. Let's not kid ourselves on that score. But it will be good for democracy and that is something worth striving for because with all its shortcomings democracy is a whole lot better than the rotten military dictatorships we have endured.

If the political leadership doesn't get this, if it doesn't grasp the importance of an independent judiciary, then God help us. The stories we are getting to read about committees to examine the judges' issue, the seniority of Justice Falak Sher over the seniority of My Lord Chaudhry, are getting a bit too much because even if most of these stories amount to kite-flying, they at least suggest that there are worthies uneasy at the prospect of seeing Justice Chaudhry back in the Supreme Court.

The word conspiracy is much in vogue these days. Anything happens and it is put down to a conspiracy. But on the judges' issue if there is any conspiracy to see the last of Justice Chaudhry and ensure that he doesn't stay long in the Supreme Court it is arising not from the walls behind which the once-powerful generalissimo, President Pervez Musharraf, lies besieged but from the redoubts of democracy. Ironic but grimly true. Justice Chaudhry and his brother judges may be popular with the masses. Alas, they are not so popular with the political class or with the political leadership.

For obvious reasons I am drawing no distinction between the PPP and the PML-N but when I say the political leadership I think my meaning is pretty clear.

In an email from distant Singapore Dr Noeen Arshad makes a rather telling point: "I have…noted that even since Feb 18 elections, there is directly or indirectly a mention of Musharraf in your articles. Agreed he was bad for the country. But do we have to keep on talking about him all the time? I am sure you will agree that even if one talks in negative of another it means that the person is on one's mind. Let's get him off our minds, let's not talk about him…I just hope that we have learnt from our mistakes and I would not like to read about the present government in future like we read about Musharraf today!!"

Touche! Musharraf did what he did and he is paying the price of his many failures. But now the reins of power are in different hands. How long do we propose living in the past? We should now be asking ourselves what Bastille walls have we pulled down, what bright morn are we ushering in?

The judges' issue may be taking forever but how quick the new interior boss, Herr Rehman Malik, has been with a measure which, had it been proposed during the Musharraf era, would have triggered a national uproar. As you must have read in the papers, anyone wanting to hold a public meeting or take out a rally would have to seek permission three days in advance. Provincial governments, we are informed, have also been asked to select a 'people's corner' in every tehsil and district headquarters where public meetings will be held on a 'first come first serve' basis.

You might have thought that such a sweeping measure, which amounts to restricting political activity, would have been debated in the sovereign National Assembly. But the sovereign National Assembly heard about it on the evening news or read about it in next morning's newspapers.

As I say, had anything like it been mooted before Feb 18 all hell would have broken loose, column writers and TV anchors going blue in the face denouncing another draconian (another word we have fallen in love with) measure. But since we have stepped into another era of democracy our reaction, I guess, will be more restrained.

Anyway, does the permission clause mean that if another Bushra with her two minor kids, driven to despair by poverty, lies down in the path of an incoming train in order to put an end to her miserable life, and if, on account of this, the people of her locality, also children of despair, are roused to fury, they would first have to put in a request to their local police station before taking out a rally? Or would they be expected to travel to their 'People's Corner' at tehsil headquarters, there to deliver angry speeches?

One Abdul Basit died the other day in Lahore because of police torture. This happened in the Baghbanpura police station. Incensed, as they had every right to be, the people of the locality came out to protest. They beat two policemen in plainclothes and burnt their motorcycle. What else could they do? On what or whom else could they have vented their anger? But under the new Herr Rehman decree people like the incensed citizens of Baghbanpura would have to give three day's prior notice before taking out a procession.

I think no provincial government, except perhaps the good government of Syed Qaim Ali Shah in Sindh, will be silly enough to go along with this exercise in creative fancy. Be that as it may, it surely deserves some kind of a prize for unintended comedy.

I think the most momentous event in the country since Feb 18 has been the suicide of Bushra and her two minor kids because it tells us of what we truly are and what we pretend or profess to be. I am sure it will shake none of us out of our complacency. But such things are taken note of in the skies above. Such are the events that drive the avenging angels to fury.

The prime minister went to Bushra's house, or the hovel that passes for her parent's house, bearing a gift of two lakh rupees. At least he went there which is more than can be said of those who occupied high office during the past eight years when suicides as a result of poverty became a pretty frequent affair.

But I liked what Bushra's father said before the television cameras: to how many people will you go giving one or two lakh rupees? The more important thing is to do something about inflation. A professor of economics could not have put it more succinctly. There was pain on his face as he said this but, surprisingly, not much bitterness in his tone.

I am reading a life of the young Stalin. Stalin too grew up in poverty. The question to ask is why the conditions of life in Tsarist Russia produced a Stalin, and so many others like him, and why with us, poverty and oppression give rise only to acceptance and resignation…and endless visits to mazars and khanqahs, of which we have more than any other country in the world.


HRCP welcomes the ratification and signatures of

April 18, 2008

Karachi: In a statement issued to the press, Iqbal Haider, Co-Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan welcomes the ratification and signatures of three core UN human rights instruments by Pakistan

On Thursday, Pakistan ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESR), which is a multilateral treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 16,
, and in force from January 3, 1976. It commits its parties to work toward the granting of economic, social, and cultural rights (ESCR) to individuals, including labour rights and rights to health, education, and an adequate standard of living. The ICESCR is part of the International Bill of Human Rights, along with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the latter's first and second Optional Protocols.

HRCP notes with appreciation that the truly elected Government of Pakistan has accepted the long outstanding demand of the human rights activists by signing and rectifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as well as Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). CAT is an international human rights instrument, under the purview of the United Nations, that aims to prevent torture around the world. The Convention advises states to take effective measures to prevent torture within their borders, and forbids states to return people to their home country if there is reason to believe they will be tortured. The text of the Convention was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December
and, following ratification by the 20th state party, it came into force on 26 June 1987; 26 June is now recognised as the International Day in Support of Torture Victims, in honour of the Convention

Mr. Haider said that the ratification and signatures of these three crucial UN human rights instruments are indeed significant step forward by the present elected Government of Pakistan in fulfilling its pledges and commitment to promote human rights of the people of Pakistan in accordance with international human rights law. Joining the main international human rights instruments reflects the commitment of the democratic Government to promote and further strengthen the mechanism to protect the human rights of the people in Pakistan, including the rights of women, children, minorities and the unprivileged.

Mr Haider emphasized that implementation of these very important UN human rights conventions, is an equally important task of the present Government and he hoped it will follow and abide by these UN instruments, in their letter and spirit.

Rendition of Jalib by 'Laal'

This is a rendition of Habib Jalib's famous 'Meinay Uss Say Yeh Kaha' by the band 'Laal' comprised of Taimur Rehman and Shahram Azhar. Brilliant job, guys.

Seminar: "Do Countries Sell Their Own People?" April 17, Islamabad, Pakistan

A seminar entitled "Do Countries Sell Their Own People: A Discussion on Civil Liberties in the Age of War on Terror" was held on 17 April, 2008, at Embassy Lodges in Islamabad. The event presented the plight of the families of the victims of state-sponsored terrorism. The seminar was organized by Pakistan Professionals Forum, FASTRising and Pakistan Youth Alliance and attracted representation from a broad cross-section of general public including students, professionals, human rights activists and lawyers. Families of more than 60 missing persons were present.

The event started with the screening of the documentary "Missing in Pakistan". This was followed by a speech from Pakistan Professionals Forum spokesperson. He condemned the government for terrorizing its own people and wondered how Sehba Musharraf should feel if her son, Bilal Musharraf, went missing. K.Asif, a student representative, condemned the intelligence outfits for their role in extra-judicial arrests and vowed completed support to the families of missing persons on behalf of the students of Islamabad.

Next, Zafar Jan, the Baloch relative of missing person, claimed that around 12,000 Balochis have been abducted. He lamented the fact the media had no access to Balochistan. Shahid Kamal Khan, ex-president Mailsee Bar Association, said that armed forces have no legal right to intervene on its own in the affairs of the country until unless requested by a civil government. Furthermore, armed forces or intelligence outfits have no right to detain or kill its own people. He vowed to register an FIR for murder against Pervez Musharraf.

This was followed by a talk by Mrs. Amina Janjua – the wife of Masood Janjua, missing since May 2005, anchorperson of the organization 'Defence of Human Rights' and spokesperson of the families of the missing persons. She related their struggle to win the release of their family members, through street demonstrations as well as their meetings with various politicians. She implored civil society activists, lawyers, professionals to continue supporting the cause of the missing persons. Furthermore, she expressed her gratitude to lawyers in UK and US as well as the chief counsel of missing persons, Shaukat Siddiqui, for their support. The civil society activist, Ghazala Minallah, empathized with the unrelenting pain of the families of the missing persons and deplored the hypocrisy of world powers. She assured the families of her continual support. Sardar Asmatullah, president Rawalpindi High Court Bar Association, reiterated the civil liberties guaranteed to the citizens of Pakistan by its constitution. He condemned Pervez Musharraf for illegally imposing martial law and rendering the Chief Justice non-functional, and demanded the impeachment of the President for subverting the constitution. Hameed Gul, ex-head ISI, condemned the collusion of successive governments in selling their own citizens to world powers. He demanded justice for the students of Jamia Hafsa and highlighted the importance of a strong and independent judiciary to safeguard the rights of citizens. He further demanded that Pervez Musharraf be court-martialed and charged for high-treason. President PTI, Imran Khan, challenged Pervez Musharraf to declare the number of Pakistanis killed in the war on terror and called for his impeachment. later, Justice (R) Wajihuddin pointed out the weakness of courts to curtail extra-judicial detention. He called for investigating the perpetrators of extra-judicial detention. Furthermore, he opined that Pervez Musharaf's regime is dwindling and that Musharraf's removal will have critical impact on the results of US election. Finally Qazi Hussain Ahmed, president JI, condemned the acts of Parvez Musharaf and his allies and made dua for the families of missing persons.

Almost more than 500 people from all walks of life were present there to show solidarity with the cause and with the aggrieved families.

National Textile University Student Strike Against Military VC, APTMA (All Pakistan Textile Mills Association) and for recognition by PEC

Since Feb 18 a wide range of student and workers protests are taking place across Pakistan. Among them is a protest campaign by a large number of students of National Textile University in Faisalabad city largest province of Pakistan, Punjab. They are protesting against maltreatment and denial of engineering council recognition. The following is their press release.

The students have been protesting peacefully before the press club, Faisalabad and before the university administration for more than six years but after April 2nd 2008 incident things became rough when more than 250 students on April 15th held a demonstration before parliament under highly unfavorable weather conditions. They also came before the National press & media by holding a press conference in Islamabad press club the same day. One of the student leaders of the student action committee of NTU told me that one of the senators had agreed to put this issue before the senate and has taken the file about this issue to the senate. He also said that some parliamentarians have also promised to highlight the issue in the parliament.

National Textile university was founded by General Ayub Khan on the 12th October 1959. It was named Lyallpur textile Institute. In 1965 the institute was granted affiliation with the university of engineering & technology Lahore. The first batch of Graduates engineers passed out in 1966. In 1973 the administrative control of the institute was transferred to federal government and it was renamed as National College of textile & Engineering. In 1983 through a presidential ordinance the institute was placed under the control Of Board of Governors which was supposed to consist of the Federal Minister of Industries as its chairman with seven other members from the Federal/Provincial governments and three members from All Pakistan Textile Mills Association (APTMA). In 1992 the institute received an aid of worth ¥ 650 million from the Japanese government, through JICA program, in the form of latest machinery & equipment for all departments of the institution.

All this was before September 1993, when the institute was placed under complete control of APTMA, the board of governors was reconstituted. Taking seven out of eleven members from APTMA. The following years carried serious problems for the students and the temperature rose when the temporary accreditation ended in 2002 after which he university Administration proclaimed that re accreditation process is underway.

Meanwhile the federal cabinet on November 15th 2002 upgraded the college as National Textile University. The president of Pakistan is the Chancellor of the university but still no convincing measures taken to recognize NTU as a Professional Engineering Institute.

The simple and only solution to all problems, according to the students is to transfer the Institute’s Management and charge to the federal Government specifically under the regulation of Ministry of Textile Industries, Pakistan and accreditation by Pakistan Engineering Council (PEC).

Concerns of the Students:

Students are seriously concerned and feel that their future is at stake as long as the Management of the university remains in the hands of APTMA which may be an effective business organization but certainly it is not an academic organization and so the university under the control of Federal Ministry of textile and Industry or Ministry of Education. At one of the recent protests I heard one of the students saying “APTMA wants to develop technologists not engineers by concentrating on non-textile basic sciences rather than masters and PhD program in textile subjects so that the students of NTU could be forced to work on minimum wages in Textile mills since they are not officially recognized as engineers”. Students believe that accreditation with PEC is their genuine right that the university Administration has not taken required steps to fulfill PEC requirements.

April 2nd 2008 Student Mistreatment & Harassment:

The students of NTU were under protest right after 2002-03 for their right of accreditation with PEC. This was a constant irritation for university administration which was concentration more on pressurizing students to bring this protest to an end rather than negotiating with the PEC to resolve the issue.

The attitude of the university administration became stubborn, ignorant & irresponsible and on April 2nd 2008 a student of first year fell victim to the heinous behavior of one of the faculty members. The student was physically tortured on a baseless issue injuring him and then blaming him for an offence he did not commit. The enraged the students and re-energized the protests which then came out of the university premises with full force. Unexpectedly University administration started a blame game against students by issuing false press releases blaming innocent students of indiscipline against female students, to weaken the movement.

Demands of the Students are:

Transfer of the university management to Federal Ministry of Textile from APTMA.
Immediate accreditation by Pakistan Engineering Council.
Removal of corrupt Management and non-professional staff from the university so that the confidence of the students on Management can be restored.
Introduction of Masters and phd programs instead of concentrating on non-textile fields.
Officials of the disciplinary committee responsible for student harassment and injustice should be penalized by the laws of disciplinary committee.
Restoration of student unions and provision of basic student facilities as per other reputed universities.
Restoration of scholarships.
Expansion of hostels.
Academic activities should resume from the instant they were boycotted by the students.

In the middle of all activity one must not get carried away with the response of the MNAs as it is not a new practice for them to make promises but fulfilling their promises is a separate issue. The MNAs who have met student delegations have promised to take the issue before the parliament in two days but there is a question…….what if they do not fulfill their promise? Students have exhausted by the activities of last 2 months, especially the students present in Islamabad have been under severe stress due to unfavorable weather conditions. SAC NTU should think of alternate ways so that the momentum and effectiveness of the protests does not break.
(Click here for more)

Power Crisis in Pakistan: workers’ anger shakes Multan

By Harris Azhar, Aslam Ansari, PTUDC Multan

Pakistan has been plagued by shortages and a crisis of basic necessities of life for a long time, but the situation exploded on the eve of the last elections while General Musharraf and his team were blowing the trumpet about "unprecedented economic development". After eight years of ruthless capitalist policies, which were implemented by the IMF's puppet prime minister Shaukat Aziz, the already fragile basic economic structure went into a state of general collapse. Suddenly there was no wheat flour [which is the staple diet in Pakistan]. People were on the streets demonstrating for bread. This was happening in the Punjab which was once regarded as the food basket of undivided India. On top of this there was no electricity. For the last three months Pakistan has been paralysed by severe power shortages. WAPDA [The national electricity company] is carrying out "load-shedding" of 10 to 20 hours per day.

When there is no electricity for 18 hours in 24 hours one can understand what this means for workers who get their wages on a daily basis. No industry is working. The worse affected are people who work in small scale "cottage industries". One such cottage industry is in the Power Loom sector which produces cloth at household level using electrical motors. For the last few months the life of these workers has been destroyed due to power shortages. Many of them have lost their entire livelihood due to lack of work. The Power Loom Association is a trade union of these small "owner-workers". They have been protesting throughout Pakistan over the last few months urging WAPDA to give them a schedule of power cuts. Due to numerous hunger strikes and demonstrations WAPDA in Multan, which is the home town of new Prime minister Gillani, offered a deal to the workers which assured them that electricity would be provided to them for at least 12 hours and there would be no unannounced power cuts.

But instead of honouring the agreement, they increased the load-shedding to 20 hours. Today, April 15, the unions announced a siege of MEPCO [the Multan office of WAPDA] unless the electricity company honours the agreement. Hundreds of workers surrounded the offices of the electricity company but the authorities refused to listen to the workers. This sparked off a wave of anger in the crowd and the workers started destroying the cars and properties of the bosses. A bank was burned as well as parts of MEPCO head office. The arrogant authorities instead of listening to the genuine grievances of the workers, most of whom literally have no bread in their kitchen, started firing on the unarmed workers. This further angered the workers who took over the premises, virtually paralysing life in the city, blocking the roads and demanding their right to earn a decent living.

The whole episode was shown live all across Pakistan through the media channels. The government and others intellectuals of the media immediately started describing the workers as "miscreants" and "lawless criminals". The police and the authorities arrested more than 50 workers and charged all the central leadership of the Power Loom Association under the "Anti Terrorism Laws".

The comrades of our tendency have a strong presence in the Power Loom sector. The PTDUC is in the forefront of the movement of the Power Loom workers. The movement of this group of workers is no longer under the control of the state. The capitalist system has brought Pakistan on the verge of famine and now workers are on the streets demanding that the People's Party led government deliver its promises to the poor masses. Today in Multan they have demonstrated their power and their militant mood and have warned the Prime minister that the workers will not accept empty slogans. This system has no life left in it if it cannot give bread and electric power to the people. Such was the outrage that the Prime Minister was forced to announce the sacking of the MEPCO chief but this is too little too late. The police have not released the workers and the crackdown continues.

The PTUDC had held a successful labour conference last year in Multan and their Joint Action Committee (JAC) was formed in which representatives from all trade unions, including the Power Looms Association, were present. Now the PTDUC and JAC has contacted the local trade unions throughout Pakistan and Multan to express solidarity to the masses. We appeal to workers of the world to raise solidarity activity for the release of all the imprisoned workers in Multan.