NATIONAL

Musharraf to initiate consultative process

ISLAMABAD JULY 3. Stung by all-round criticism over the proposed amendments to the suspended 1973 Constitution, the Pakistan President, Pervez Musharraf, has decided to initiate a ``consultative process'' with a cross section of society.

Gen. Musharraf told his Cabinet colleagues at the routine weekly meeting that he intended to interact on the package of amendments announced last week, ostensibly for public debate, with the ``intelligentsia,'' the representatives of the media and political parties.

However, political observers are sceptical about the so-called ``consultative'' exercise and believe that it would be no more than a ritual to silence the critics of the package, which aims at making Gen. Musharraf the most powerful President Pakistan has seen.

The Pakistan Information Minister, Nisar Memon, who briefed the press about the deliberations of the meeting was not sure if Gen. Musharraf intended inviting the representatives of the mainstream parties such as the Pakistan People's Party and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) for consultations.

The PPP and the PML (N) have been locked in a bitter battle of words with the Government for several weeks now. The nature of confrontation could be gauged from the parties' decision to boycott a meeting convened by Gen. Musharraf to discuss the border tensions with India.

In his May 27 address to the nation, wherein he reiterated his determination to deal with religious fundamentalism and sectarian strife in Pakistan, Gen. Musharraf said he intended to extend yet another invitation to the representatives of these parties for consultations.However, the meeting never materialised as the mainstream parties and the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy, a conglomerate of 15 parties, continued to link a meeting with Gen. Musharraf to lifting the ban on political parties and an ``end to victimisation'' of the leaders of the mainstream parties.

As the package of constitutional amendments and the Ordinance to amend the Political Parties Act, that debars any convicted person from becoming an office-bearer of a party and makes him ineligible to contest elections, is seen as targeting the two former Prime Ministers, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, it is highly unlikely that the PPP and the PML (N) would respond to any consultative process initiated by the Musharraf regime.

Mr. Memon claimed that a public debate on the proposed amendments had already started with the Pakistan Television and Radio inviting people from different walks of life to air their views on the package. The Government has set July 31 as the last date for receiving suggestions and comments.

The Minister said a joint meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) and the Cabinet would be held some time in August to finalise the amendments package on the basis of the public feedback.

Implied in the statement is the suggestion that the amendments would come into force much before the promised general elections to the National and Provincial Assemblies in October.

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