Cavalier approach to parliament
THE PPP has warned the government against what it describes as an attempt to paralyse the Senate since the upper house has not been called into session for a significant period of time. PPP parliamentary leader Sherry Rehman told journalists that the Senate had not met for 108 days in any formal, full session and this was an unprecedented gap in the history of the upper house. She pointed out that as per Article 61 of the Constitution, the Senate was required to meet for no less that 110 days in a parliamentary year.
Ms Rehman has a valid point. The government’s reluctance to call the Senate in session is reflective of its overall attitude towards parliament. This attitude crystallised in the early days of this government when the opposition started giving a tough time to Prime Minister Imran Khan and the treasury benches on the floor of the house.
In response, the government too adopted a hard-line stance, as a result of which parliamentary proceedings saw little else except shouting matches and mutually amplified acrimony. It wasn’t that a working relationship between the government and the opposition broke down in parliament; it was never built in the first place.
The PTI, new to power at the centre, found it impossible to transition from the mindset and approach it had acquired during its opposition years, and opted, therefore, to be combative rather than accommodative — which governments are supposed to be traditionally.
Hence, the business of legislation fell victim to confrontation and conflict that marred the proceedings of both houses. The government then decided to legislate through presidential ordinances, in a move to bypass the opposition. Since it does not have a majority in the upper house, it has been shying away from summoning the Senate.
Democracy is not supposed to work like this. Parliaments all over the world experience turbulence and verbal duels but they continue to legislate on the basis of a working relationship between the government and the opposition.
In our case, the ruling PTI has refused to internalise this basic lesson in running a parliament. Such a negative attitude will now be put to severe test when parliament comes around to legislating on the issue of the extension of the army chief as ordered by the Supreme Court.
This legislation requires deep and serious consultation, constant engagement and an exchange of ideas as well as appreciation of the nuances involved in drafting such a bill. This is a tall order for a parliament that has struggled to hold a meaningful and civil debate since it came into being last year.
The government should, therefore, take the initiative to cool down the temperatures on the floor of both houses, reach out to the other side and start to take the National Assembly and Senate seriously.
PAKISTAN’S emphatic Test win over Sri Lanka at Karachi’s National Stadium on Monday has proved to be historic in many ways. More importantly, it has signalled a turnaround for the home team after a dismal year of cricket. The two-match series marked the return of Test cricket to the country after a terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore in March 2009 had put paid to international tours to Pakistan. The return of the game proved to be a rejuvenating factor for the Pakistan side that put up a sterling show to outplay the rivals by 263 runs and win the series 1-0. The earlier Test played in Rawalpindi had ended in a stalemate because of rain. For Pakistan’s 11 players, it was for the first time that they appeared in a Test match in Karachi — and they simply shone in front of the home crowd. It was akin to making their Test debuts all over again, and the electrifying feeling was clearly translated in their game. The very team, give or take a couple of players, that had stumbled in Australia and succumbed to successive inning defeats in Brisbane and Adelaide, sprung back to life to turn in a memorable performance. Everything came together for Pakistan in the Karachi Test that was only the second occasion in the annals of the game when the top four batsmen of a team all scored centuries. The previous such instance was in 2007 when India pulled off the feat against Bangladesh in Mirpur. The bowlers, too, fired in unison, rattling the strong Sri Lankan batting order, while the fielders took some fine catches. The sheer brilliance of skill and application displayed by opener Abid Ali, who launched his career by scoring successive hundreds in the two Tests, and the blossoming of pace twins Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah especially stood out.
Having said that, the team still has a long way to go to establish itself as a world-class outfit. Home and away are two different things for any cricket team — in between lies a wide gulf to be bridged. Weather conditions, pitches, etc can vary from country to country. These pose challenges that the players, selectors and coaches are well aware of and must tackle. Whether or not the current team has the training and spirit to overturn its dismal overseas record of 2019 is a million-dollar question. But the signs of improvement are encouraging.
FOR six long years, a gifted academic named Junaid Hafeez languished in solitary confinement inside the Multan Central Jail. The Fulbright scholar had returned to the Bahauddin Zakariya University to teach students how to think about the big questions in 2011.
He was passionate about poetry, prose and playwriting and wished to inculcate the same in his students. However, he was arrested under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code after some allegedly blasphemous comments were attributed to him in 2013. One year later, the sole attorney brave enough to take up his case was gunned down in cold blood inside his office.
In a climate of extreme fear, Hafeez could never receive a fair trial. His parents implored the previous chief justice to look into their son’s case, as his mental and physical health was deteriorating inside the tiny prison cell. According to the Centre for Social Justice, over 1,500 citizens have been charged with blasphemy between 1987 and 2017.
While no one has been executed by the state, enraged lynch mobs have killed scores on the basis of mere accusation. Hafeez was not even safe inside his prison, as other prisoners had repeatedly attempted to take his life.
This week, a district and sessions court handed Hafeez the death sentence. A story that had begun differently morphed into a tragedy. But the story is not over yet. His defence attorney has said they will file for an appeal.
In the past, the higher courts have overturned the judgements of the lower courts — most prominently in the case of Aasia Bibi, who was sentenced to death by a Sheikhupura court. Years later, she was acquitted by the Supreme Court in a landmark judgement.
It is to be hoped that the superior judiciary will intervene this time as well. It is also time for Pakistan’s government to ensure the blasphemy law is not misused any longer to settle personal vendettas and professional jealousies, or target the most vulnerable communities.