ISLAMABAD - PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday accused the government of ‘steamrolling’ bills through the parliament and resorting to revenge tactics in the name of accountability, saying there was a need for a united narrative to protect civil liberties.

Addressing an 'all-party conference' organised by the Pakistan Bar Council, the two leaders also called for reviewing the process of the appointment of the country's top judges. The agenda of the event revolved around "Appointment of judges in superior judiciary, accountability and civil liberties: concerns and corrections."

In his speech, Bilawal said the "most important" legislation in the country was not being carried out in a free atmosphere.

Bilawal said his party will not compromise on the 18th Constitutional Amendment.

Bilawal said he had experienced accountability since the age of two years with his parents. "The important legislation conducted to date in this National Assembly has been done by undermining rules, the Constitution and making the parliament powerless, through force," he said, adding that the opposition was not allowed to present its views.

He said during yesterday's parliamentary joint session in which the government managed to get eight important bills passed, including three related to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), "the speaker was not supporting our demand for a vote recount. If our vote isn't counted, our voice isn't heard, then we will be forced to think for how long we want to see this parliament in the shape of a rubber-stamp."

Two leaders call for reviewing process of appointment of country's top judges

He said the rights of "every section" of society were being usurped and the opposition had to look towards the courts for justice.

"The media bosses who used to threaten us about erecting and bringing down governments are today facing restrictions and difficulties," the PPP chairman said.

He said the Charter of Democracy signed by former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif listed the procedure for appointment of judges and proposed setting up a constitutional court with representation of all provinces.

Bilawal said he agreed with the view that the 19th amendment was "forcibly passed through the parliament".

"An institution gave a clear threat. Because of a line that the appointment of judges will be decided with the input of parliamentarians, legal fraternity and the Bar, they saw the 18th amendment through which we restored the 1973 constitution, as a threat," he told the audience, adding that members of the judiciary and political parties too saw it "with suspicion". 

"The 19th amendment was passed as a result of a threat, which was that 'we will blow up the 1973 Constitution'."

Bilawal said there would be "no future" for a legislation or parliament if legislation is carried out "through force and threats", "just as senior journalist Suhail Warraich says 'ye company nahi chalay gi (this company won't last)'".

He added that the power and process of judicial appointments had to be decided by the people, whose representative forum is the parliament. "I request this forum to demand in your resolution that the 19th amendment be repealed," he said.

Bilawal said members of his family were "martyred by the state one by one", but his party did not waver from its stance for democracy and freedom of the press. Referring to Lahore police chief Umer Sheikh's remarks regarding the victim of the recent motorway gang-rape incident, he said the incumbent government pronounced the country as "Madina ki riyasat" (state of Madina) but such was the state of affairs that "those responsible for ensuring justice" for the rape victim "raise questions on the victim instead of the rapist". He further said the prime minister and ministers came forward to defend the police officer for his victim-blaming remarks.

While addressing the conference that he termed "a pre-APC before the APC", PML-N president Shehbaz said there had been "ups and downs" regarding the provision of justice throughout Pakistan's history. He said while there were judges who gave honest judgements, there are also "judges like Arshad Malik", whom the PML-N claims convicted Nawaz Sharif under duress in the Al-Azizia reference. "Why the ups and downs? The reason is that during different eras, dictators weakened the judiciary through amendments of their choice and the work politicians and civil society should have done for the defence and to strengthen them could not be done with that much strength," he said.

"Sadly some judges allowed dictators to amend the Constitution. These are the tragic events, the blot on the face of justice, which cannot be washed away."

But he said "instead of crying about the past, we should learn from it and move forward."

"I have no qualms in saying we too made blunders and we should accept them," the opposition leader added.

He accused the government of carrying out propaganda regarding the National Accountability Bureau.

"Today when the economy is destroyed and people are crushed, you first steamroll bills and then say unimaginable things."