INDIAN CHRISTIANS ARE THE LATEST VICTIM OF HINDUTVA TERRORISM

Any religion other than Hinduism has become a liability in Modi’s India. Vicious Hindutva ideology, seeking Hindu domination in India, is the chief guiding principle for BJP-led Indian government.

Under the patronage of Indian government, Hindu terrorists threat and kill Christians and vandalize their places of worship with sheer impunity. Anti-Christian vigilantes are sweeping through villages, storming churches, burning Christian literature, attacking schools and assaulting worshipers.

INDIAN CHRISTIANS ARE THE LATEST VICTIM OF HINDUTVA TERRORISM

As a result, Indian Christians are forced to hide their faith or perform religious services in secrecy. According to a report by human rights group, more than 300 attacks on Christians took place in the first nine months of 2021, including at least 32 in Karnataka.

The report found that of the total 305 incidents of anti-Christian violence, four north Indian states registered as many as 169 of them: 66 in BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh, 47 in Congress-ruled Chhattisgarh, 30 in tribal-dominated Jharkhand, and 30 in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh.

At least nine Indian states have planned anti-conversion laws, including Chhattisgarh, which, activists say, has emerged as a “new laboratory” for anti-Christian hatred in India. On November 28, 2021, a newly inaugurated church in Delhi faced disruption and vandalism in its first Sunday service when members of a militant Hindu nationalist group called the Bajrang Dal stormed the meeting. 

According to local observers, the acts of violence facing Christian communities far from being random occurrences are part of a concerted campaign to inflame tensions in a bid to justify new laws restricting their worshiping activities.

The world must act now to halt Christian persecution; otherwise, another genocide is in making and this time Indian Christians will be the target.

According to Indian Constitution citizens have the freedom to “profess, practice and propagate” any religion. But during seven years of Modi, eight BJP-ruled states have passed these discriminatory laws which have led to increased violence against Christians in India.

US Commission on International Religious Freedom, a government body, recommended that India be put on its red list for “severe violations of religious freedom”.

The report also recommended that US should impose targeted sanctions on individuals and entities responsible for severe violations of religious freedom by freezing those individuals’ or entities’ assets and/or barring their entry into the United States.

PM Imran says ‘foreign-funded conspiracy’ out to topple his govt, claims to have evidence in writing

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday claimed that the opposition’s no-trust move is part of an alleged “foreign-funded conspiracy” hatched against his government over his refusal to have Pakistan’s foreign policy be influenced from abroad.

He made these allegations at his party’s power show titled Amr Bil Maroof (enjoin the good) and billed as a “historic” event at Parade Ground in Islamabad.

The prime minister took the podium after his fellow PTI leaders took turns addressing their party workers and supporters, who had assembled at his call ahead of a no-trust move against him in the National Assembly.

In what was a marathon speech lasting almost two hours, PM Imran discussed his political ideology, recalled what he said were his government’s achievements, and criticized his opponents.

As he moved towards the climax of his speech, the prime minister said: “Attempts are being made to influence our foreign policy from abroad. We have been aware of this conspiracy for months. We also know about those who have assembled these people (the opposition parties) but the time has changed. This is not the era of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

“This is the era of social media. Nothing can be hidden. We will not accept anyone’s dictation. We will have friendships with everyone but we will not submit ourselves to anyone.

“Attempts are being made through foreign money to change the government in Pakistan. Our people are being used. Mostly inadvertently, but some people are using money against us. We know from what places attempts are being to pressure us. We have been threatened in writing but we will not compromise on national interest.”

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He claimed to be in possession of evidence — a letter — that he said would prove his point. “I am placing the case of Pakistan’s independence before you. The letter I have is proof and I want to dare anyone who is doubting this letter. I will invite them off the record. We have to decide for how long we will have to live like this. We are getting threats. There are many things about the foreign conspiracy which will be shared very soon.”

“The nation wants to know who the man sitting in London is meeting with and whose directions the characters based in Pakistan are following? I am revealing the proofs we have. I cannot talk more in detail because I have to protect the interest of my country. I cannot talk about anything that harms my country. I could have told you about it. I do not fear anyone but I care about Pakistan’s interest.”

At the onset of his speech, he thanked his supporters for gathering in the capital at his call. “First of all, I thank my nation. The way you turned up on my call from all corners of Pakistan, I appreciate you from the bottom of my heart. I also pay tribute to my team of parliamentarians as ‘you were offered money and attempts were made to bribe you but you made me happy and I am proud of you.’

“I want to speak my heart out and I want you to listen to me quietly. I invited you for Amr Bil Maroof to emphasise that our Pakistan was built on the ideology of Islamic welfare state. We had to build the country on the basis of Riyasat e Madina.

“Shah Mehmood Qureshi had said [in his speech earlier that] there is an external interference in Pakistan … I will speak about it later. [First], you must understand that we cannot become a nation until we stand by our actual ideology.

“I want to clarify that I also did not know the ideology of Pakistan for quite some time. I left for abroad at the age of 18. As I began to understand the religion, I noticed that the orders of Allah to the Holy Prophet (PBUH) were implemented more in the West.

“In Britain, free medical treatment, free education, unemployment benefits, and free legal aid is given to the people. Our Prophet had created Riysat-e-Madina where the state had taken responsibility of its people.”

The prime minister recalled what he said were his government’s measures to alleviate the burden on the public.

“We are providing loans to families for housing, technical education and small businesses. As soon as our tax was enhanced, I announced a subsidy and reduced rates of petrol and ‘Fazlur Rehman’,” he said. “I also offered a subsidy in power tariff. I promise I will spend more money on my people as our government collects more capital in taxes.”

The prime minister linked his crusade against corruption with the teachings of the Holy Prophet (PBUH).

“Our Prophet had also emphasised for the supremacy of law. I don’t give them NRO because my Prophet had explained that nations get destroyed when you punish the poor and exempt the rich.

“Poor countries are backward because the law there fails to catch the rich who are involved in white collar crimes. They transfer stolen and looted money to offshore accounts. Small thieves do not destroy a country like the way big thieves do.”

“These ‘three stooges’ are looting the country for years and all this drama is being done to have Imran Khan surrender like Musharraf. They are trying to blackmail the government. General Musharraf tried to save his government and gave these thieves NRO and it resulted in the destruction of Pakistan.”

“Come what may, I will not forgive them even if my government goes or even if I lose my life,” he added.

PM Imran explained the reason why today’s gathering was named Amr Bil Maroof. “The meaning of Amr Bil Maroof is that a nation is bound to wage jihad against the evil and support the good. In Britain, two million people took to the streets during Iraq war. That was Amr Bil Maroof and this is what alive nations look like.

“I called you here because attempts are being made to bribe people. They decided to dislodge our government by claiming that Pakistan is being destroyed. I challenge that no government gave a performance like we did in our three and a half years.”

The premier listed a series of policy decisions taken by his government which he said benefited the country greatly and would continue to do so in future.

“Covid erupted that led to closure of the world but I I did not shut my country and faced criticism. I can proudly say that Pakistan’s steps were acknowledged by the world as they helped save the economy,” he said.

“World Bank recently released a report, which said Pakistan is the country where poverty is minimal. Later, our growth rate was more than 6 per cent. It stunned the opposition and the world.

“Our exports reached a historic high. We collected unprecedented tax. We gave incentives to overseas Pakistanis and received record remittances. We formed an ease-of-business model for the construction sector that led to the growth of 30 other allied industries.

“We saw record crops. It happened because we facilitated our farmers. We protected them. Now Pakistan’s industries are growing rapidly. Textile industries are struggling to find labour because all industries are working at their full capacity. This is the first time government is supporting its industries.”

He urged TV anchors to invite economic experts on their shows and conduct a comparison of his government’s performance with the previous ones.

Earlier. the premier had arrived at the venue in a helicopter as footage shared on the PTI’s Twitter account showed a large crowd in attendance, with buses and cars lined up outside.

Have advised PM to call fresh elections: Asad Umar

Planning Minister Asad Umar, during his speech, said that the prime minister was “waging a war” against opposition leaders who were indulging in politics in Pakistan through their “ill-gotten money”.

“This no-confidence motion is a petty thing. I want to tell the prime minister that he is the leader of the entire Muslim world and he will win this battle.”

He said that he has advised the premier to call [fresh] elections to let the opposition know with whom people stand.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi claimed that the joint opposition had made Imran Khan an offer. “They said ‘Khan, give us NRO, and we will retract the no-confidence movement.'”

He said that the party supporters, by showing up today, had showed that they — Nawaz Sharif, Asif Ali Zardari, Maulana Fazlur Rehman — won’t get an NRO.

PTI leader Shah Mahmood Qureshi addresses the crowd. — Photo: DawnNewsTV
PTI leader Shah Mahmood Qureshi addresses the crowd. — Photo: DawnNewsTV

Qureshi said that, as the foreign minister, he knows a lot of “secrets” which he has communicated to the prime minister. “I have done my job, it is now up to you.”

He said that for the second time, the people of Pakistan have expressed their support for Imran Khan. “Today, once again, the nation has come with a message. They want purana Khan and Naya Pakistan.”

‘Our brave leader’ going nowhere, says Parvez Khattak

PTI leader Parvez Khattak addresses the crowd. — Photo: DawnNewsTV
PTI leader Parvez Khattak addresses the crowd. — Photo: DawnNewsTV

Earlier, Defence Minister Pervez Khattak was one of the first PTI leaders to address the crowd. He urged the PTI supporters to stand with Imran Khan, assuring them that “our brave leader is not going anywhere.”

“You will see … the opposition will cry after four days,” he said, adding that the National Assembly members who “abandoned” PTI never originally belonged to the party. “You will see… they will regret it.”

ReadWhy is the PM in election mode?

The minister asked crowd to support the prime minister in the next elections as well. “I hope that you will stand with Imran Khan till the day he breathes his last.”

Minister for Maritime Affairs Ali Zaidi explained to the crowd the reasons behind the opposition’s no-confidence motion.

“Why did these people bring the motion? I will tell you today,” he said. “Because, during Imran Khan’s tenure, Pakistan broke all records of tax collection … because Imran Khan is finally getting us out of FATF … because Imran Khan made Kashmir a national issue… because Imran Khan, who is an honorable man, said ‘absolutely not’.”

Ahead of the gathering, PTI supporters began descending in the capital as the party prepared to make its Amr Bil Maroof (enjoin the good) public meeting a bigger success than tit-for-tat rallies being led by opposition parties.

‘Rally’s message not just for opposition but also for foreign powers’

PTI leader Murad Saeed addresses the crowd. — Photo: DawnNewsTV
PTI leader Murad Saeed addresses the crowd. — Photo: DawnNewsTV

When Murad Saeed, federal minister for communications and postal services, took the stage, he made PTI supporters make a promise.

“Pakistanis, let’s take an oath today,” he said, urging the crowd to repeat after him. “We promise that we will never compromise on the nation’s honour, respect and integrity. And we will fight all the internal and external threats [to Pakistan] with Prime Minister Imran Khan.”

Saeed said that the rally’s participants, by attending the rally, have not just given a message to the opposition but also to the foreign powers that they’re standing with Imran Khan.

Mirza confirms GDA alliance with government

In her speech at the rally, Federal Minister for Inter Provincial Coordination Fahmida Mirza confirmed that her party, the Grand Democratic Alliance, stands with the PTI government.

“GDA is the party that always stands for its values,” she said. “It stood with the government back then… and it will do so today.”

She stressed that if the defection of the National Assembly members is not stopped today, it will derail the system in the upcoming years.

“I am standing on the values that the Parliament should be strengthened and this ‘lotacracy’ should end,” Mirza said.

PM, ministers make pre-power show appeal to public

In an audio message released on Twitter early today, PM Imran said that today’s rally was not just PTI’s war but belonged to the entire nation. “This is a battle for the future of Pakistan.”

The premier urged supporters to reach the venue early as there were fears of blockades. “I’m scared you may not be able to reach on time because of this.

“God willing, we will make history in Pakistan today,” he added.

Meanwhile, federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhary said that a “brave nation needed a brave leader”, adding that PM Imran would never let the nation bow down. In a video message, he urged citizens to attend the “historic rally”.

Islamabad police also provided directions for participants making their way to the venue. The Islamabad deputy commissioner added that all roads were open in Islamabad while entry and exit points were clear.

“Only Srinagar Highway is closed at H-9 area but alternate routes are open,” he said.

PTI supporters make their way to Islamabad

Social media was abuzz in anticipation of the prime minister’s rally, with supporters sharing images and videos of them making their way to Islamabad.

A PTI Sindh caravan, led by Opposition Leader in the Sindh Assembly Haleem Adil Sheikh, had reached Islamabad on Saturday. The caravan had started its journey from Karachi on Friday.

Additionally, the party said that a train — carrying supporters from Karachi — had reached Lahore on Sunday morning.

Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood, too, led a “large rally” from Lahore, which is on its way to the capital.

“Other PTI caravans are on their way from across the country to participate in the historic public meeting,” PTI Senator Faisal Javed said.

PTI added that caravans — being led by federal ministers and local PTI leaders — from Waziristan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Gilgit-Baltistan had also left for the rally.

Fawad asks party workers to facilitate media

The information minister said that Pakistan’s media fraternity and more than 43 representatives from international media organisaitions had gathered at Parade Ground to cover the rally.

He directed PTI workers to facilitate media workers, saying: “The world will see this historic rally through the eye of the media.”

On Saturday, a PTI spokesperson announced that the media professionals would not be allowed to use professional cameras to record the event as “cameras pose security risk”.

This led to organisers and media crew exchanging arguments after the latter were told that cameras belonging to private TV channels would not be allowed due to the “security protocol” of the prime minister but they would be allowed to use their mobile phones for footage and photos.

Sheikh Rashid warns JUI-F against creating unrest

Separately, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid warned the JUI-F against creating unrest in the capital. He also told the opposition that PM Imran would “play until the last ball and the last over”.

Speaking to the media in Islamabad, the minister said that the PML-N had been given permission for staging a rally on March 28 (tomorrow), predicting that voting on the no-trust move would be conducted by April 4.

Rashid also informed the nation that the interior ministry’s command and control centre was operational round the clock, adding that he was personally monitoring it. He stated that any incident could be reported on 0519206660 and 0519218594.

“All of Islamabad is open. Don’t go off of rumours.”

He also revealed that the prime minister wished to address the rally around 5pm, despite the large number of people that were still en route to the capital. “Even though the political committee said to delay [the speech], he wants to do it earlier during the daytime,” he said, urging citizens to make haste in reaching Parade Ground.

In case there are obstacles, we have approximately 15,000 security personnel to maintain law and order, he said.

Addressing the JUI-F protesters, the minister said that the Islamabad High Court chief justice had issued directives for keeping Srinagar Highway open. “If you come and resort to violence, then the law will be enforced according to the chief justice’s orders whatever the result may be.”

He said that the party had a right to stage a rally, but warned that the capital administration would take action against them if they resorted to violence.

“I want to say this to JUI-F specifically: Srinagar Highway should be kept open. Stay within your area. The time allotted to you is up. The PML-N has asked for this place on March 28 […]. If your aim is to spread chaos or stop the people traveling for Imran Khan’s rally, that won’t happen. We are sitting right here.”

The minister also predicted that the opposition would be left empty-handed. “Whatever the result, I have inside information, you will get nothing and Imran Khan will prevail.”

Opposition’s march

Workers and leaders of the JUI-F, under the banner of the opposition alliance Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), had already come to take the stage on the Srinagar Highway while PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz, along with Punjab opposition leader Hamza Shehbaz was leading her party caravan via GT Road to the capital, calling it the last nail in the coffin of the PTI government.

The PML-N said the PDM’s long march could stay in the capital for two or more days depending on the political situation despite the interior minister’s warning that the opposition would not be permitted to extend its stay.

The Islamabad High Court on Saturday warned the JUI-F against violating conditions of the no-objection certificate for holding a public gathering under the PDM banner and directed the capital administration to act against violators in accordance with the law.

The organisers of the JUI-F public gathering assured the capital administration that they would follow the terms and conditions of the NOC in letter and spirit.

Usman Mirza, four others sentenced to life in Islamabad couple harassment case

A sessions court in Islamabad on Friday sentenced Usman Mirza to life imprisonment for holding a couple at gunpoint, forcing them to strip, beating them up, and filming the entire ordeal.

Four of Mirza’s accomplices and co-accused — Hafiz Ataur Rehman, Adaras Qayyum Butt, Mohib Bangash and Farhan Shaheen — have been sent to jail for life as well, while two other men, Umar Bilal and Rehan Hassan Mughal, have been acquitted.

Additional Sessions Judge Ata Rabbani announced the verdict.

According to the court’s order, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, Usman and his accomplices have been sentenced to life imprisonment under Section 354-A (assault or use of criminal force to a woman and stripping her of her clothes) of the Pakistan Penal Code.

The court has ordered them to pay a fine of Rs200,000 each. In case of non-payment, they would have to undergo six months of simple imprisonment.

The convicts have also been sentenced to seven years in prison for criminal intimidation (Section 506) and three years for intending to insult the modesty of a woman (Section 509(i)).

The sentences would run concurrently with the benefit of Section 382(B) (period of detention to be considered while awarding sentence of imprisonment) of the Criminal Procedure Code granted to the convicts.

The case surfaced when a video of four people harassing the couple at gunpoint went viral on social media in July 2021.

Initially, an FIR was registered under section 341 (punishment for wrongful restraint), 354A (assault or use of criminal force against woman and stripping her of her clothes), 506 (ii) (punishment for criminal intimidation) and 509 (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman) of Pakistan Penal Code.

Later, sections pertaining to rape, sexual abuse, extortion, and wrongful confinement were also added to the FIR.

State takes up the case

The E-11 torture case, which lasted seven months, made headlines once again in January 2022 when the woman complainant retracted her statement against the accused and told a trial court that she did not want to pursue the case.

She said she never filed the complaint with the police, adding the investigation officer had taken her thumb impressions on blank papers. She also refused to identify the accused and said she saw them for the first time in the police station.

Immediately afterward, Parliamentary Secretary for Law Maleeka Bokhari said that the state would take up the case as it had “irrefutable video and forensic evidence on record”.

“The video of Usman Mirza (primary accused) has been verified by the Pakistan Science Foundation, and we have photogrammetry (pertaining to the technique for making measurements through photographs) evidence,” she had said in a statement.

NA session adjourned without tabling of no-trust motion against PM

The much-anticipated session of the National Assembly with a crucial no-confidence motion — filed by the opposition against Prime Minister Imran Khan — on the agenda was adjourned till March 28 (Monday) without tabling of the resolution.

The ruling PTI’s Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Shireen Mazari, Asad Umar and Ali Muhammad Khan were among those attending the session, as well as Grand Democratic Alliance’s Dr Fehmida Mirza.

From the opposition ranks, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif, PPP Chairman Bilalwal Bhutto-Zardari and PPP co-chair Asif Ali Zardari, were also present.

The session began with the recitation of the Holy Quran and prayers for late MNA Khayal Zaman, former president Rafiq Tarar and Senator Rehman Malik. However, NA speaker Asad Qaiser announced that it would be adjourned in light of parliamentary convention.

It is parliamentary convention that the first sitting after the death of an MNA is limited to prayers for the soul of the departed and tributes fellow lawmakers wish to pay them.

Qaiser stated that according to tradition, the agenda is deferred to the next day when a member of the lower house passes. “This has happened for years,” he said, adding that this had happened a total of 24 times in the past.

He once again asserted that he would conduct proceedings “as per rules and procedures” after which he adjourned the session till 4pm on March 28.

The National Assembly Secretariat had on Thursday issued a 15-point ‘Orders of the Day’ for the NA session, which included the no-confidence resolution.

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, who had earlier told Media that there was no plan to adjourn the session, took to Twitter to state that “nothing would happen” during today’s sitting.

The opposition had submitted the motion and requisition for the session to the NA Secretariat on March 8. Under the Constitution, the speaker was bound to hold the session within 14 days. However, he did not summon the session until March 21 [the 14th day], which is now set to commence from today.

Voting on the resolution will be held at least three to seven days after it has been laid before the National Assembly.

‘Speaker has become Imran Khan’s stooge’

Addressing a press conference outside Parliament House shortly after the session was adjourned, Shehbaz launched a scathing attacking on Qaiser, calling him a “stooge” of Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The PML-N president said that Qaiser violated the rules of procedures by conducting proceedings as “a PTI worker”.

Opposition leaders address a press conference outside Parliament House. — DawnNewsTV
Opposition leaders address a press conference outside Parliament House. — DawnNewsTV

He stated that the motion and requisition for the session was submitted on March 8 and, under the rules, the NA speaker was supposed to summon the session within 14 days. “This was a constitutional obligation and he violated the Constitution by not doing this,” he said.

Shehbaz also called for the speaker to be tried under Article 6 of the Constitution, which deals with high treason.

“After the Fateha khwani, I stood up to speak on a point of order but my microphone was not turned on,” he claimed. He accepted that parliamentary convention dictated that the session would be limited to prayers for the departed, but added that today was “an important day”.

“The Constitution and the law is above tradition and voting should have been allowed […] tradition aside, the speaker should have taken up the motion [but] he did not listen and left.”

Shehbaz declared that if the same was done during the next session, the opposition would use all “constitutional, political and legal” options to take the no-trust move forward.

Bilawal claimed that the premier was “fleeing the pitch” and reiterated that Qaiser had violated the Constitution. However, the PPP chairman asserted that opposition parties were united and would not let the premier “run away”.

“The no-trust motion is going to be our democratic weapon. We will move towards free and fair elections,” he said, adding that the prime minister had lost “his majority and government”.

‘Ruckus if resolution is not tabled today’

Opposition leaders had also gathered for a meeting prior to the session during which, according to the PPP, “important instructions” were given to lawmakers.

Zardari, who was hounded by reporters as he made his way inside the Parliament House, had appeared to be confident.

“All eyes are on you. You have previous experience. How confident are you?” asked one reporter.

“God willing, if my Maula wants, 100 per cent,” he replied. He had added that the opposition would “create a ruckus” if the NA speaker did not allow the motion to be tabled.

He had also brushed aside concerns that “undemocratic powers” could take advantage of the situation. “We have a strategy for that: If you are so interested, then you are most welcome.”

His son, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, was also all smiles and told reporters that the no-confidence motion had been included in today’s agenda.

“Going forward, the people will win and the ‘selected’ will face defeat. Winning and losing are in the hands of God [but] we are working hard,” he said.

Asked what would happen in case the motion is not taken up, he said: “See how we manage it […] we are completely prepared.”

Shehbaz said that the opposition would exercise its right to table the motion during today’s session. However, if the motion is not tabled, then we will consult among ourselves, he said.

Guidelines issued for MNAs

Meanwhile, the NA speaker had on Thursday issued guidelines for MNAs in view of strict security arrangements being made for the session.

According to the speaker’s notification: “No visitor/guest/security guard of the ministers/parliamentarians will be allowed in the precincts of Parliament House and it would be advisable to restrict them up to D-Chowk, in front of Parliament Lodges.”

To avoid traffic congestion, a shuttle service will operate between Parliament Lodges, government hostels and Parliament House to facilitate members of parliament, the order said.

It said personal drivers of parliamentarians were required to park their vehicles at the designated parking area and not to leave the vehicle unattended. Security agencies deputed at the Parliament House have also been instructed to make arrangements accordingly and ensure the implementation of the speaker’s instructions.

Larger SC bench to take up presidential reference on Article 63-A today

A five-member bench of the Supreme court will take up the presidential reference seeking opinion on Article 63-A of the Constitution – which deals with the disqualification of parliamentarians over defection – at 1pm on Thursday.

Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial will head the bench which also includes Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel, Justice Munib Akhtar and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail.

Notices for the hearing have been issued to Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s lawyer Ali Zafar, PPP’s lawyer Farooq H Naek, PML-N’s lawyer Makhdoom Ali Khan and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl’s lawyer Kamran Murtaza, as well as the advocate general for Sindh, Islamabad inspector general of police, interior secretary and president of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), among others.

Earlier, on Monday, a two-member bench of the apex court comprising CJP Bandial and Justice Akhtar took up the presidential reference and declared that a larger bench would hear the case.

SCBA’s reply

On Thursday, the SCBA submitted a written reply to the apex court ahead of today’s hearing in accordance with the court’s directives.

In its reply, the SCBA said that the votes of MNAs “cannot possibly be construed as a collective right of a political party”, citing Article 95 of the Constitution, which deals with the procedure to bring in a no-confidence motion against the prime minister.

The association also said that Article 63-A, which deals with disqualification of a lawmaker over defection, cannot “control, restrict or limit the right of MNAs to participate in a vote of no-confidence against the prime minister”.

It added that Article 63-A also does not restrict the right of MNAs to freely participate in proceedings.

“Any limitation on the MNAs’ right to participate in proceedings under Article 95 of the Constitution, in addition to the consequences envisaged by Article 63-A of the Constitution, would be against the express constitutional command. Moreover, to restrict the right of MNAs to vote in proceedings under Article 95 of the Constitution would also amount to restriction on the citizens’ right to be governed by a truly representative government,” the SCBA said.

Outlining the procedure for voting on the no-trust move, the SCBA said that the rules showed that the Constitution and the Rules of Procedure “do not envisage a scenario whereby an MNA is restrained from casting his vote or where such a vote is not counted”.

“Therefore, the question of pre-emptive action under Article 63-A cannot arise,” the association said, adding that powers under Article 63-A could not be exercised by a party head under the “mere apprehension that a member may defect”.

The SCBA also noted that there was no basis to construe disqualification under Article 63-A as permanent, highlighting that the term “disqualification” had not been used. It said that the consequences of Article 63-A for a defecting member “must remain limited to his removal from office as a member of the relevant House”.

The reference

Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) Khalid Jawed Khan had submitted the reference seeking the SC’s opinion on Article 63-A of the Constitution on March 21.

The reference, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, presents two interpretations of Article 63-A and requests the court to advise which of them should be followed.

According to the first interpretation, “khiyanat (dishonesty) by way of defections warrants no pre-emptive action save de-seating the member as per the prescribed procedure with no further restriction or curbs from seeking election afresh.”

While the second interpretation “visualises this provision as prophylactic, enshrining the constitutional goal of purifying the democratic process, inter alia, by rooting out the mischief of defection by creating deterrence, inter alia, by neutralising the effects of vitiated vote followed by lifelong disqualification for the member found involved in such constitutionally prohibited and morally reprehensible conduct.”

The development came days after several PTI lawmakers, who had been ‘in hiding’ at the Sindh House in Islamabad, revealed themselves — proving that the opposition’s claims of having “won over” members of the ruling coalition were indeed true.

Prime Minister Imran Khan and some cabinet ministers had earlier accused the opposition of indulging in horse-trading ahead of the crucial vote on the no-confidence resolution, disclosing that the capital’s Sindh House had become a centre for buying and purchasing members.

But while government members continued to claim that these dissidents had “sold their souls for money”, a number of TV channels that sent their teams into Sindh House to verify the claims were faced with nearly a dozen PTI members, who claimed that they had developed differences with the Imran Khan-led government and were going to vote in “accordance with their conscience”.

Subsequently, the government had decided to file a presidential reference for the interpretation of Article 63-A with Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry saying the top court would be asked about the “legal status of the vote of party members when they are clearly involved in horse-trading and change their loyalties in exchange for money”.

The presidential reference was filed under Article 186 of the Constitution, which is related to the advisory jurisdiction of the SC.

In the reference, President Dr Arif Alvi asked the apex court whether a member who “engages in constitutionally prohibited and morally reprehensible act of defection” could claim the right to have his vote counted and given equal weightage or if there was a constitutional restriction to exclude such “tainted” votes.

He also asked the court to elaborate whether a parliamentarian, who had been declared to have committed defection, would be disqualified for life.

“What other measures and steps can be undertaken within the existing constitutional and legal framework to curb, deter and eradicate the cancerous practice of defection, floor crossing and vote-buying?” the reference further asks.

“As happened on many occasions in past, the stage is yet again set for switching of political loyalties for all sorts of illegal and mala fide considerations including vote-buying which by its very nature rarely leave admissible or traceable evidence,” the reference states.

It adds that some of the “presently defecting [MNAs] have even publicly admitted to defection in interviews to the media with evident pride and further commitment to stay engaged in this immoral trade”.

It cautions that unless horse-trading is eliminated, “a truly democratic polity shall forever remain an unfilled distant dream and ambition”.

“Owing to the weak interpretation of Article 63-A entailing no prolonged disqualification, such members first enrich themselves and then come back to remain available to the highest bidder in the next round perpetuating this cancer.”

Article 63-A

According to Article 63-A of the Constitution, a parliamentarian can be disqualified on grounds of defection if he “votes or abstains from voting in the House contrary to any direction issued by the parliamentary party to which he belongs, in relation to the election of the prime minister or chief minister; or a vote of confidence or a vote of no-confidence; or a money bill or a Constitution (amendment) bill”.

The article says that the party head has to declare in writing that the MNA concerned has defected but before making the declaration, the party head will “provide such member with an opportunity to show cause as to why such declaration may not be made against him”.

After giving the member a chance to explain their reasons, the party head will forward the declaration to the speaker, who will forward it to the chief election commissioner (CEC). The CEC will then have 30 days to confirm the declaration. If confirmed by the CEC, the member “shall cease to be a member of the House and his seat shall become vacant”.