Islamabad, Dec. 30: The Pakistan Senate has passed a controversial constitutional amendment package which paves the way for Pervez Musharraf to claim to have been elected democratically to the post of President.
The Senate — the upper house — passed the bill by two-thirds majority even as the Opposition Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD), including the Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League (), rejected it as “illegal and unconstitutional, and a sad fiddling with the constitution under the dictates of an army general”.
The 17th amendment bill was passed by 72 votes in favour and none against as the ARD boycotted the session. The National Assembly, the lower house, had passed the bill earlier.
The bill, which came about after a year of tenuous talks between the government and the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, a religious parties’ alliance, is to be followed by a vote of confidence for Musharraf, likely on January 1, in Parliament.
After the trust vote, Musharraf can claim to have been elected democratically and continue as President till 2007.
Musharraf’s efforts to appear a legitimate President began last April with a controversial referendum, which had been then ridiculed by all the Opposition parties as a “sham exercise”.
“The bill passed by the Parliament… will erode the sanctity of the 1973 constitution,” ARD leaders Makhdoom Amin Fahim (PPP) and Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan (PML-) said.
They also took a swipe at the MMA and termed its support for the ruling party an “unholy alliance”.
This alliance not only subverted the Opposition’s struggle against military rule, but also “betrayed the people of Pakistan”, they added.
Musharraf has affirmed he would not allow extremists to “misuse” his territory for activities against any other country and voiced the hope that there would be forward movement on Kashmir and other issues with India during next week’s Saarc summit.
Addressing a function of the All Pakistan Newspapers’ Society here last night, Musharraf said there was no question of a “sellout” on Kashmir.
On the contrary, he said, “the Kashmir dispute is in the limelight and now, we need to move forward towards a peaceful resolution of the dispute. Nobody is asking me to give up on Kashmir”.
Musharraf said the conversion of the Line of Control into an international border could not be a solution to the Kashmir issue but at the same time, Pakistan was ready to take the peace initiative forward towards resolution of all outstanding issues, including Kashmir.
He hoped there would be progress on all outstanding issues between India and Pakistan during the three-day Saarc summit starting January 4, which will be attended by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Referring to the action taken against extremists in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, Musharraf said Pakistan would not allow them to misuse its territory for activities against any other country.
“We must act against al Qaida and Taliban,” he said, affirming Pakistan’s commitment to deal with extremism.