Addressing a two-day workshop on ‘Communicating the Constitution’ organized by the Centre for Civic Education Pakistan (CCE-P) with support from Hanns Seidel Foundation the minister expressed his concern about certain elements who wanted the public to remain isolated from the mainstream political process.
“What we need is to create awareness about the constitution and the rights and duties it entails for the citizens and the institutions of the state,” Kaira said emphasizing the importance of constitutional literacy.
He said a state could be strong and successful only when it ensured the rights of its citizens. “You cannot run the state on the basis of religion alone, for that is the truth. But still one can disagree. This is the beauty of a democratic society”, he said referring to the separation of East Pakistan (Bangladesh).
“The current parliament decided to restore some of the democratic components of the 1973 Constitution but personally I feel we are still not very successful,” he said adding that they did whatever they could while also keeping all the allied parties on board throughout the process.
He lamented the tendency in Pakistan to stigmatize those as traitors who talked about the provincial autonomy and rights of the provinces. “Pakistani centre has a history of cheating the federating units and that is what we are trying to do away with,” he said pointing out reservations of the federating units regarding ownership of natural resources.
Suggesting a way out from the general state of mistrust about political processes and political institutions and how the constitution defines the roles of these institutions the minister said it could be very hard to overcome these issues without a responsible media and active citizenry.
Earlier, Dr Syed Jaffar Ahmad read his paper titled ‘Communicating the Constitution’ in which he identified certain trends in media which he said needed examination. “What, it seems, we we have lost sight of in the last few years, is the gradual erosion of the correlation between constitutionalism and the pursuits of media – a correlation which defined our democratic struggle in the past.” In his paper Dr Jaffar also highlighted how a significant segment of our political class had not fully realized that “instead of determining the thrust and laying down the parameters of national political discourse itself, it has left it to the media to decide the subject matter and the direction of the political discourse in the country.”
Executive Director Centre for Civic Education Zafarullah Khan made a presentation on ‘Communicating the Constitution’ and highlighted different reportage trends on the 18th Constitutional Amendment. He made a detailed argument about how the media had belittled and overlooked some of the vital issues concerning the amendment. “After studying the filters which the media applied in its reporting what we can say is that it underplayed the issues and confused the context,” he said.
He underlined the need for media to comprehend, contextualize and communicate the constitutional processes in a way that restores the trust of the people in those processes.
Badar Alam, editor of the Herald, analyzed the lack of constitutional frame in the media reporting and explained the reasons behind this. “Since 1947 the media space was occupied by the right wing and people adhering to other ideologies. Both of them were reporting from their respective ideological framework since there was no constitution during that time. In 1956, we had the first constitution but that too was abrogated shortly after. In 1973 and after 1973 journalistic reporting remained stuck in the same religious and ideological framework. Since now we have a constitutional set up it is possible that now we have a constitutional framework for media reporting,” Alam said adding that in our reporting if we did not have this constitutional framework it was because of the history of the country as it had no constitution during most of its early years.
Other speakers who shared their thoughts and made presentations on different issues and how the media reported them included: Shahzada Zulfiquar from Balochistan, Shamim Shahid from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Junaid Qaider from Punjab. The conference was attended by a large number of students from Fatima Jinnah Women University, representatives of civil society organizations and media persons. All the participants unanimously agreed to advocate for inclusion of parts of the constitution in the basic textbooks being taught in the schools and universities of the country.
Chairman Pakistan Press Council Raja Mohammad Shafqat Khan Abbasi endorsed here on Friday the suggestion made by the participants of the two-day workshop that efforts should be made to declare April 10 as the Constitution Day of Pakistan.
Organized by the Centre for Civic Education, Pakistan (CCEP) in collaboration with the Hanns Seidel Foundation the national perspective sharing workshop ended here today with a set of recommendations for media organizations to prepare a code of ethics which could help frame issues in the light of the constitution and cultivate a culture of media monitoring.
Speaking as a chief guest at the workshop Raja Shafqat suggested all political parties to hold study circles for creating awareness about the constitutional issues among its workers and leaders.
“We thank the current government for cleansing the constitution from dictatorial provisions,” he said adding that political parties had a major role to play for the promotion of civil liberties. He lamented the fact that political parties paid no particular attention to the constitution and related matters.
He said we needed to learn from neighbouring countries like India where they considered the freedom of speech and the freedom of expression as the freedom of press. He also said that for the protection of the civil liberties political parties had a major role but the civil society had also a critical role to play in this regard.
Earlier, Jami Chandio made a detailed presentation about the different constitutions Pakistan had since its inception and also highlighted the salient features of all the constitutions. “After 9 years of its inception Pakistan got its first constitution in 1956 in which it became for the first time Islamic Republic of Pakistan,” he said adding that it was not a legitimate document as such as it later resulted in merger of all the provinces of West Pakistan as One Unit.
“The good thing about this constitution was that it declared the country as federal in nature. At the same tme there was a flaw in it as it proposed no senate or upper house,” he said adding that the concept of a federation without a senate was at best ridiculous.
Chandio pointed out two notions typical of all military dictators as to how to save Islam and how to encroach upon the constitutional sphere. “The 1962 constitution was almost solely framed by General Ayub and the federal form of government was turned into a presidential form of government,” he said referring to the 1973 Constitution as the only democratically framed constitution. “It (1973 Constitution) made Pakistan bicameral. The institution of senate was established where provinces are represented irrespective of their population,” he said.
After passage of the 18th amendment three positive things happened. First, federal parliamentary character of the constitution was restored. Second, imbalance of power between presidency and executive was restored to normal and the executive was empowered, thirdly the abolition of the concurrent legislative list.
Andreas Duerr Program Coordinator with Hanns Seidel Foundation thanked all the participants of the workshop and on behalf of the Foundation resolved to continue support for creating a civic culture in Pakistan. Fauzia Shaheen of Women Resource Centre and Chairperson of Media and Communication Studies at Fatima Jinnah Women University Dr. Shamim Zaidi also made presentation and underlined the need for working to create awareness about the constitution among the general public.