18th Amendment, the “welfare area” for a common man Bilawal “resist rollback”

KARACHI: Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Saturday reiterated his warning of launching an agitation, even a long march, to resist any move aimed at rolling back the 18th Amend­ment and did not only criticise the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government for “plotting such a plan”, but also questioned “irrational” and “contradictory” orders passed by the judiciary.

“I am ready for even a long march but would not accept anything against that [18th Amendment],” he said. “It’s not only from the government that the attacks [on the amendment] are being made, but from other directions also. And if you make attempts to snatch our institutions from us through the back door, then I would not tolerate that. I would resist it even on the streets.”

Speaking at the Karachi Press Club’s meet the press programme, Mr Bhutto-Zardari spoke at length about growing challenges to the country’s democratic structure, threats to freedom of expression and fast vanishing role of the parliament in making key decisions, and vowed to gather all civil forces to meet the challenges.

Among other issues, he sounded more concerned about the “threat” to the 18th Amendment. The amendment, passed during the PPP government in 2010, has devolved powers to the provinces in key areas of public services, including health, women development, social welfare and local government. However, for past many months, the PPP chairman in his public addresses has been warning the authorities about any move that affects the amendment.

He counted the steps and measures the PPP government in Sindh had taken over the years to strengthen the public service sector, only through 18th Amendment, and made the health sector in the province the “welfare area” for a common man. He did not only hold the rulers responsible for hatching a plan to roll back 18th Amendment, but also wondered over the decisions of the court which sometimes had “supplemented the rulers’ plans”.

“And then there are some strange decisions coming from our courts,” he said and explained his thoughts while referring to one of the recent court orders. “I mean your [courts] short orders are completely contradicting your detailed orders. Recently in a police case, a short order was in line with the law and defined rules declaring law and order a provincial subject. But I have heard that a detailed order has been passed which says no… It would go to the concurrent list and the federation would legislate over that. How can they explain this contradiction? Rationally, how would you give explanation for this?”

The PPP leader also criticised the rulings party and court orders in connection with the recent campaign against encroachments in Karachi and vowed that he would not “allow” his party’s ministers to carry out such “cruelty”.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari was found in agreement with media fraternity when he strongly criticised the fast shrinking space for freedom of expression and continuous attacks on free press. He termed such moves “attempts to weaken democracy in Pakistan”.

“It’s now crucial that the Karachi Press Club and other press clubs in the country should be made strong institutions,” he said. “There are several reasons for attacks on press but the fundamental reason for erosion of freedom of expression is to weaken the institutions and democracy in the country.”