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The President said that the constitution will be amended with consensus in the second phase

From Shamim Ahmed Rizvi, 
Aug 20 - 26, 2001

In an all encompassing 90 minutes frank and blunt independence day address to the nation, President Gen. Musharraf touched on all the burning national issues general elections, economic revival, unemployment and poverty alleviation, illegal arms, law and order and religious fanaticism and unfolded bold and courageous decision his government has taken to deal with these issues.

Setting aside the assertions and apprehensions from certain quarters at home and abroad about the future of democracy in the country, President General Pervez Musharraf on Wednesday announced the programme to hold general elections some times between 1st and 11th of October next year and transfer power to the elected representatives between October-November 2002. The General received thunderous applause from the audience when he announced an immediate ban on two militant sectarian groups Lashkar-e-Jhangvi of Riaz Basra and Sipahe-e-Mohammad. He also warned the Tehrik-e-Jafaria Pakistan and Sipah-e-Sahaba to behave or otherwise face a ban.

In a frank and candid talk with the newly elected Nazims, Naib Nazims and DCOs, President Musharraf like a true soldier poured his heart out on various national issues and state of despondency which is fast gripping the country. "You people are my last hope and I expect you to deliver, You have been given power and authority to serve the poor and not to abuse it".

In his over 90 minutes discourse Musharraf not only unveiled road map to democracy but also spelled out his economic reforms package and made it abundantly clear that he meant business. No lapse on these development projects will be tolerated. He also did not mince words when handing out warning to militant religious, ethnic, sectarian groups saying that his government will have no mercy for those who play with the lives of innocent citizens. Even those who hold illegal and unlicensed weapons should be on alert, as authorities will spare none in the achievement of deweaponisation campaign. "How long can we go on fighting to escape the label of a terrorist state, how much more we have to strive hard for foreign investments which are not coming due to bad law and order" were the pricking questions asked by Musharraf who got emotional many a time during his landmark address.

Dressed in a simple shalwar kameez, while announcing the road map to democracy before elected Local Government representatives, he said "I have kept my promise and today we are taking the first major leap towards restoration of true democracy. Let us put the bitter past behind and move forward with zeal, commitment, honesty and dedication. Let us invoke the spirit of nationalism by putting to end the intra-provincial fights and bickering. The internal strifes and corrupt leadership has deprived us of the fruits of prosperity and security. We are a nation of 14 crore people of a nuclear power. We don't have to live in shame and poverty. We have to move forward and nobody can now stop this caravan".

General Musharraf unfolded his new short term (3 to 5 years) economic strategy that seeks to undertake 20 mega projects costing over Rs. 200 billion and providing jobs to over 10,00,000 unemployed people. Nine of these projects will be launched during this month and the rest by March 2002. He did not explain as to how and from where the massive amount will be arranged. He however, sounded confident when he said that we have made arrangement and funds will be provided for those projects. Unfolding new economic plans, the President emphasised that their ingredients included economic growth, GDP growth, kick-starting the economy and employment generation.

He announced that in order to achieve this objective he will be launching several mega projects from 15 to the 21st of this month. The projects also include those whose feasibility studies will be completed and launched between September this year to March next. All these projects, he said, would generate over one million new jobs.

The projects being launched include Gomal Zam Dam, Mirani Dam, Greater Thal Canal, Right Bank Outfall Drainage, Mekran Coastal Highway, Chasma Right Bank Canal, Greater Quetta Water Supply Scheme and three roads in Northern Areas. The projects to be launched between September this year to March next are Katchhi Canal, Reny Canal, Karachi Water Supply Scheme and Karachi to Mand Road.

All these projects would be completed within three to five years for which finances have been lined up. China would provide assistance for the first phase of Gwadar Deep Sea Port and development of Lakhra Coal Mines.

The President said a new Zakat strategy is being launched for which two billion rupees have been allocated for the current year. A grant of upto fifty thousand rupees would be given to Mustehqeen to help them stand on their own feet. Projects for this purpose have already been identified keeping in view peculiar local conditions.

The President's policy statement coincided with 55th Independence Day and the advent of a new local government system for administrative, political, legal and economic transformation. The President said in line with the Supreme Court judgment, power will be transferred to the elected representatives under a four-phased programme.

Giving details, he said, the first phase of devolution of power at the grass-root level has already been completed with the advent of the new Local Government system today.

In the second phase beginning from 1st of September this year to 30th of June next year, preparations would be made for holding elections to provincial and national assemblies and the Senate. These include delimitation of constituencies, preparation of electoral rolls and identity cards and necessary constitutional amendments after achieving national consensus.

The third phase would be from 1st of July to 12th of October next year when elections would be held to the provincial and national assemblies and the Senate. General elections would take place between 1st to 11th of October next year, he added.

In the fourth and final phase, spreading over October and November next year, powers will be transferred to the elected Governments including elections of the speakers and Deputy Speakers.

Continuing the President said performance of police is being improved and the force made accountable to the elected representatives. The law and order, investigation and prosecution duties of police are being separated. A new prosecution service would be introduced at the provincial level.

The President urged the elected Nazims and Naib Nazims to work hard to fulfil expectations of the people. They should strive to introduce a work ethics based on merit. He said a plan has been prepared to deal with the problem of sectarianism or ethnic extremism. Some immediate measures are being taken including promulgation of the anti-Terrorism Ordinance today. This would give more powers to the judiciary to deal with terrorists. This ordinance would be used against those spreading sectarian or ethnic extremism.

The President said in the second phase of de-weaponisation drive, a reinvigorated campaign would be launched against unauthorised and unlicensed weapons. The new ordinance envisages stricter punishment for holders of unlicensed weapons. Instructions are being issued to Police and Rangers to launch an offensive and intrusive campaign against sectarian and ethnic terrorists and holders of unlicensed weapons. They have been instructed to carry out targeted search for recovery of such weapons.

The President however did not clarify in his speech whether the coming elections will be held on party basis or partyless as in case of local government. His press secretary, Maj General Rashid Qureshi later assured the newsmen that the Oct. 2002 polls would be held on party basis and the army would return to barracks in Nov. 2002 after handing over power to the elected Prime Minister. Sources however revealed that a system of checks and balances will be evolved through constitutional amendment within the framework allowed by the Supreme Court and the government is likely to restore article 58(2)(B) of the constitution giving powers to the President to dissolve National Assembly and dismiss the government on the recommendation of the National Security Council.

Now that the plan for transfer of power has been unveiled the political parties should start their homework for the upcoming elections instead of wasting their energies on anti-government tirade. The plan will certainly raise the present Government's credibility at the international level and will hopefully lead to the easing of the sanctions immediately. Since Pakistan had come into being through a democratic struggle, democracy is essential for its survival. With the devolution of power and induction of the District governments the present government has laid the foundations of true democracy. It was undoubtedly the nation's misfortune that political leaders had grabbed dictatorial powers in name of democracy in the past and destroyed the evolution of democracy in the country in their lust for despotic powers. The President also said that the constitution will be amended with consensus in the second phase of the transfer of power plan. There is obviously no difference of opinion in the country about the need to ensure a balance in the power of the President and the Prime Minister. It is also being argued in certain quarters that the military intervention of Oct 12, 1999 could have been avoided, had there been any suitable provisions in the constitution to deal with extraordinary situations. One may however, remind the government that even though the apex court has authorised General Musharraf to amend the constitution, the authorisation is confined to certain limits and parameters, which must be respected and adhered to. It is necessary because the constitutional amendments, inserted outside the Parliament cannot have revered legitimacy. The appropriate course would, therefore, be that the government should carry out bare minimum and absolutely essential amendments in the constitution.