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Democracy on trial.

Clouds of uncertainty are looming large over the country. Constitutional controversy, centre-province confrontation and law and order situation are assuming new dimensions. Sensational issues are tried to be settled on streets. These issues were haunting the mind of a peace loving citizen. It was 10 p.m. when Begum Ashraf Abbasi Saheba was contacted on telephone for knowing her views on various national issues. Next morning when we were at her residence, we were informed that she was busy in reciting Holy Quran upstairs. Few minutes later an elderly woman in simple oriental Kurta-Shalwar and Dupatta over her head entered the room in dignified manner. She was having rosary (Tasbih) in her hand, where some more people were waiting. After a brief introduction we were taken to the adjacent room possibly the drawing room, the complexion of which displays the outlook of a house occupied by a middle class family. It was only the security measure outside the residence which disclosed the fact that it was owned by the Deputy Speaker. It might be due to her son Mr. Munawar All Abbasi, Minister for Local Bodies, Sindh, who is also putting up there.

Begum Ashraf Abbasi, Deputy Speaker, National Assembly is a medical Doctor by profession. Her academic career was excellent. Actively participated in the student union activities and elected as Clinical Secretary. Entered in active political mainstream in 1961, Clinical Secretary. Entered in active political mainstream in 1961, she remained close comrade of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and elected as member West Pakistan Assembly in 1962 and 1965. In 1971 she was elected as MNA and served as Deputy Speaker, NA from 1973-77. In March 1977 as MPA Sindh she held the Ministership of Local bodies till July 5, 1977 the day Martial Law took over the reins. Doctor Saheba bravely challenged the tyranny. Imprisonments and atrocities within and outside jail could neither cow-down her valiant struggle nor could arrest her thinking, ambitions and principles. She is a crusader of human rights, democracy and an outstanding social worker. Economic Review interviewed her on various vital issues confronting the nation. Following are the excerpts:

Economic Review. National Assembly is the most dignified forum. The level of discussion is generally considered to be low there. What is the reason and what measures do you suggest for its improvement?

Dr. Ashraf Abbasi. I agree with you that it is the highest forum in the country. I do not think that the level of discussion is below the standard. Sometimes there are out-bursts on certain points. But one should see it in the right perspective. There was no democracy earlier in the country. If the democracy had continued people would have learnt its norms. Politics is a science and one should learn it as a science. Experience comes through established system. The subject could be understood only when there is continuity in democracy. There was no National Assembly so we cannot expect same sort of discussion as there would have been it there had been democracy. As a legislator one has to learn a lot and tolerate a lot which is possible in continuity of democratic systems. In the past, political system have been neglected. Military, civil bureaucracy and judicial institutions had continuity but the political parties were not allowed to function. We the politicians have been thrown out in one or the other way. Sometimes in jails, sometimes here and sometimes there. There is no importance of legislators in the martial law. There should be continuity in the process of democracy in order to establish the systems. We have very talented people. Inshallan by an by we will learn to tolerate each other. Tolerance and discussion through reasoning is the only way of legislation. In democracy you have to give your ear to reason no matter from where it comes.

ER. What are the handicaps in the way of legislation in the National Assembly. How could these be overcome?

AA. Legislation is not made in vacuum. It is due to needs and compulsions. Earlier there was no continuity in legislation because there was no democracy. PPP along-with MRD parties struggled 11 years for democracy and suffered unspeakable tortures. It was not gifted away. Who else would care for democracy than Mohtarama Benazir, PPP and those who worked for it. This is the first year of democracy. And in democracy party in power and party in opposition both are important. Legislators have also realized what is important and what is not. There are so many bills pending with Standing Committees. Several bills have been introduced in the assembly. When we meet all these pending bills will take the shape of legislation. Much time is consumed on privilege motions. Much time was given to presidential address. We feel priorities should be given to important items and we are at it. As I told you, legislation is not done in vacuum. We need 2/3 majority to amend constitution. In such cases we are unable to get through the legislation. But our overall performance in this regard is commendable if not excellent. We are very much optimistic and foresee a change.

EE. PPP during MRD movement stood for provincial autonomy. It appears it has drifted away from its earlier stand?

AA. We have not drifted away from provincial autonomy. The issue again needs 2/3 majority. What we want is that necessary amendment required in the constitution be undertaken all at one time and not piecemeal. Ours is a Parliamentary Federal Form of Government so it should be balanced accordingly. Steps be taken to strengthen democracy which is the duty of each and every legislator. Whatever is not in the interest of democracy it should be amended. Half-way steps will not do (Adah Titar Adah Bater Nahi Chalsakta). We want to settle issues across the table through dialogue. On vital issues we are having negotiations with all democracy loving legislators and members of Senate. In Senate everybody holds his own views it was elected before PPP came into power. As such it is very essential that legislators outside the assembly should come to certain consensus. It becomes difficult even to pass one amendment in a year if there is no consensus. When 1973 constitution was drafted I was one of the members. What difficulties we had for bringing parties together we know it. However, we are trying to arrive at some consensus. We will not drift from provincial autonomy or PPP manifesto. We are negotiating with various parties on different levels.

ER. Does Prime Minister need fresh vote of confidence after March 20, 1990?

AA. Atleast I personally feel that Prime Minister Mohtarama Benazir Bhutto does not need fresh vote of confidence. Legislators frame Constitution, no matter good or bad. But the interpretation of constitution is done by Superior Courts. If superior courts feel it necessary. PPP is not afraid of it. (Niyat Saaf Murad Hasil). If intention is undoublted, the job becomes easy.

ER. Do you think President is neutral. How will you comment on working relationship between President and Prime Minister?

AA. I don't find anything against the neutrality. It is all of you to judge. So far the working relation is concerned it is to be good and it is good. These are the two highest forums where there should be good working relationship, otherwise there will be chaos. Sometimes misunderstanding and mishandling create confusion. As I told you, interpretation of the constitution is done by the court. We have to abide by it. We never make it (Ana Ka Masla) a point of prestige. Sometimes people feel that we are weak. We are not weak. Listening to reason is greatness. It is in the interest of Pakistan to maintain peace. Pace brings prosperity. If we don't cooperate on agreed points, it will lead us to nowhere. People thriving fon martial law always think about confrontation.

ER. Why PPP is reluctant to convene Council of Common Interests (CCI) meeting?

AA. What I feel as Deputy Speaker is that there should be some purpose behind convening CCI meeting. If we don't arrive on some points there would be more chaos. CCI is a very high powered committee. Ground work should be done before convening it. There should be consensus on some points. Meeting without purpose would be an exercise in futility. We feel like that. We may be wrong and somebody may disagree with us. Meanwhile there is a Provincial Coordination Committee to settle inter provincial disputes.

ER. Centre's relations with Punjab and Balochistan are tense. How could the issues be resolved between the Centre and federating units?

AA. I would not call it tense. In politics there are some personal interests as well. There are differences between the Punjab PPP and IJI, led by Mr. Nawaz Sharif. But Chief Ministers should behave like Chief Ministers, within the framework of constitution and similarily the Prime Minister. Chief Ministers cannot take away the rights of Prime Minister or President. There should be healthy difference of opinion. If the constitutional path is followed I do not see difficulty in smooth running. One should not be personal in criticism. You might have heard a lady MNA from Punjab saying "Punjabis do not have self-respect because they have elected a Sindhi PM". Then what about Mr. Jatoi. He is also Sindhi and people of Punjab have elected him. (A person who lost in Sindh is acceptable to them but not Mohtarama Benazir.) Mr. Akbar Lasi in the National Assembly disclosed the reason of his parting ways with IJI because it only wanted to throw away Mohtarama Benazir. We are for democracy but democracy does not thrive in vacuum.

ER. Is there any possibility of patchup with COP?

AA. For establishment of democracy and in the interest of masses we certainly want to have good reltions with the opposition. We are ready to cooperate on issues like poverty, unemployment, education and health. We want to eliminate terrorism and drug mafia. These are the real issues. We are ready to accept suggestions even if they come from the legislators sitting on the opposition benches. There were bills which were passed unanimously in the National Assembly. The problem wth the Combined Opposition is, it becomes uncombined whenever it suits them. One must keep in mind that it is the prerogative of ruling party to rule. Similary it is also the prerogative of the opposition to oppose. But it should not be for the sake of opposition. They should criticize governments' actions which they feel are not in the interest of the masses. But it shoudl not reflect personal bias.

ER. Sindh Government is depending on law enforcing agencies to maintain peace in the province. Does it not reflect the incapabilty of the elected government?

AA. For the last so many years things have taken certain shape and direction. Dacoities, terrorism, ethnic polarisation and so many social evils have been inherited by the present government. When something becomes habit, it cannot be changed overnight. It is the habit of few people to earn money through harassment. It is easy to destroy in a wink but for construction many hands are needed. For changing the direction you need the help of many. Forces and politicians together have to eliminate such elements. In unusual conditions forces are called in. This is a transitory phase. We have to change the thinking of people and establish the supremacy of law which will take some time. Our foremost aim is to solve the problem of the people, maintain peace and provide basic amenities to the people. In the louder voices of terrorism you would not be able to hear other voices who are honestly working for peace and tranquillity. Terrorism has destroyed fthe economy of Pakistan. It has added to unemploymnt. Concept of respect has changed, whosoever has the gun and lot of money is considered to be respectable. Martial Law forced people to think that gun is the power. We have to reverse such thinking and habits. People have to take interest and realize the situation. Everybody should contribute to strengthen democracy and positive values. Sometime you have to put up with lesser evil to root out greater evil. It is an irony of fate that everybody is talking of his own right. Nobody is talking about the rights of the others.

ER. Prime Minister has shown willingness to hold mid-term polls. What are your views?

AA. Last year some opposition leaders demanded mid-term polls. In the light of those statements Prime Minister has shown willingness to hold mid-term polls. Now they are opposing the idea. However, we feel there is no need of mid-term polls. If the opposition sticks to his demand of early election we are not afraid of it. But in my own opinion it would again be a split mandate. In the existing polarised situation it might lead to chaos.

ER. What is the future of democracy in the country?

AA. I must say it is good. You are accountable to the people in democracy only. Come to my constituency and see how people encircle me. Some would be pulling my Dupatta and somebody my hair. It is only possible in democracy that you are answerable to the masses. Because you have to go back to them for votes. I personally feel accountable to my Allah to my conscience and to the people who have elected me. If one keeps such things in mind I am sure he cannot do wrong.

We have lot of problems ahead. We cannot fill the gap of 11 years in 12 months. However, we are at it. Whole of our energy is wasted on counter acting the forces who are against us. If they were little mild, we could solve basic problems, because we enjoy goodwill abroad and within the country. I would request all the legislators to join hands with us in thriving democracy in the county for the future of Pakistan and for the future of coming generation.
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Title Annotation:interview with Ashraf Abbasi
Author:Raza, Moosi
Publication:Economic Review
Article Type:interview
Date:Jan 1, 1990
Previous Article:Golden opportunity for Pakistani expatriates.
Next Article:People's programme its possible role for the welfare of masses.

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