Umar Aziz Khan and Afzal Bajwa
ISLAMABAD — “He has been President for eight years. He has willingly doffed his uniform. And he has recently conducted an election; one that has brought pro-democracy forces into power. I don’t think we will have any problem from him,” said Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gillani, in an exclusive panel interview carried out by the Nawa-i-Waqt Group. This particular response was to a question regarding the possibility of the President Musharraf’s use of the infamous Article 58-2b to dissolve the parliament in case the deposed judges are restored.
The conciliatory attitude towards the President did not stop there. One has to look at the context and history of the Article, said the Prime Minister. It is based on intentions: when it is not to be used, it won’t be used. Even when it is, it doesn’t stop there. He pointed out the example of the Nawaz Sharif government. The Supreme Court ruled in favour of Nawaz Sharif when his government was dissolved by the then President Ghulam Ishaq Khan. “We don’t believe the President has any intention of using the clause.”
“The people gave us our mandate for the restoration of the Constitution. We will have to respect that. And so does the President.”
In another question relating to the President, the Prime Minister was asked about the government’s apex legal officer, the Attorney General of Pakistan Malik Qayyum and the perception that he is serving as a link between the government and the Presidency.
“The job of the Attorney General is not to be the link between the Presidency and the executive but between the executive and the judiciary. And that is the role which the post will have to revert to.” On why Mr Qayyum, who was heading the President’s legal team in the judicial crisis, is being retained, the PM replied that his government had not even completely been formed as yet. “The complete Punjab cabinet, for instance, has only just taken oath. When the process of government formation has been completed, the adjustments and replacements in these posts will also take place.”
On the rifts within the ruling coalition on the judge’s issue, he said, “There is a consensus on the issue. Everybody wants the judges to be restored. There is a difference of opinion on the modalities. And that is quite natural. We are different parties. This is not a merger, it’s a coalition. We are separate parties with different manifestos. This is what democracy is all about.”
On the supremacy of the parliament, the panel asked the PM about the golden standard index with which to weigh the said supremacy: will the defence budget be presented and put up for debate in the National Assembly?
“Look at the direction things are taking. Recently, I had the opportunity of meeting the Chief of Army Staff and also the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. We discussed matters of national security at great length.” Gillani then alluded to the briefing the COAS General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani gave the coalition members on the defence scenario. “That has never happened before. That is the direction things are proceeding in. Take it as the first step. It will eventually be tabled in the parliament.”
“After the judges’ issue, the major problem the nation faces is the economic one, followed by the law and order situation.”
“There is immense food inflation on a global level. Then there is the issue of water. We think of the electricity crisis only because we are facing it now. I foresee a terrible shortage of water in about fifteen years’ time.”
Further deliberating on the issue, though he talked of a national consensus on the Kalabagh Dam, he seemed to be personally inclined in favour of it. “We are going to have to take certain tough decisions on the construction of dams big and small. I did not even know of the Kalabagh Dam till it was first politicized when General Fazl-e-Haq said it would be built on his dead body.”
On the possibility of PPP Co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari becoming the Prime Minister after contesting the by-elections, he said, “Mr Zardari has every right to contest the election. As far as my office is concerned, I was made Prime Minister by my party. And I will stay with the party.”
On the peace negotiations in the tribal areas, he said “Our government has a three-pronged strategy for the tribal areas: economic uplift, development and, only as a last option, force. We need to improve the economic situation of FATA. We also need to spur up social development there. Force is to be used only as an option where nothing else can be done.”
On recent statements of caution by Richard Boucher, US Assistant Secretary of State for Central and South Asian Affairs, about previous peace deals being ineffective, the Prime Minister said he actually agreed with Mr. Boucher. “The deals should be effective. And for that, all the parties concerned should focus on not going back on their word or truce. The important thing for the jirga to be effective is for the element of trust to remain.”
On the issue of the UN probe into the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, he said, “The Foreign Minister, who belongs to our party, will settle any and all reservations on this particular issue.”
Courtesy: The Nation, 26/4/2008