Army will help complete the exercise ‘in phases’
Kamran Michael, Pakistan’s first ever Christian Senator, and on PML-N’s list of ‘emerging talent’, is currently the minister for human rights. He is also one of the government’s more presentable spokespersons.
This week he talked exclusively to DNA about problems with holding the census, his ministry, Panamagate, and more.
Question: Why is the government really dragging its feet over the census? Isn’t it blinded in policy formulation without updated census data?
Kamran Micheal: Yes, census has been overdue for two decades. The commitment of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif towards the census can easily be gauged by the fact that it was under his own party’s government in year 1998 that the country conducted its last census.
Before that census, the country had done this exercise around seventeen years back in year 1981 under a martial law regime which was controversial too. Even after the 1998 census, the exercise had to be conducted again before the 2008 polls. But again, neither the Musharraf regime did so nor the PPP government, despite preparations undertaken in 2008 and again in 2010.
So nobody can really question the commitment of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif towards national objectives. After taking charge, he again directed authorities that census must be held as soon as possible. Financial allocation was made, the staff was ready and all material had been arranged but the exercise was delayed due to the non-availability of armed forces, which were already busy with Operation Zarb-e-Azb.
It is mandatory for the government to conduct census well before elections and the delimitation process would start once the census is completed. The delimitation process would then prepare the ground for new elections scheduled to be held in 2018 and we have to complete this entire process well before start of that year.
Now, as the federal government has assured the court to hold the census in March, I am confident that again the credit for census would go to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who always takes big challenges and plays the role of a statesman.
Q: If the military not being available to help with the census is the excuse, then why the promise for March? The army is not likely to be free by then either. Why such promises?
KM: As I have already explained that while Operation Zarb-e-Azb has achieved significant gains and 80 percent of its objectives have already been achieved, we are quite confident that required troops would be available for the census. We plan to conduct it in phases and hope to secure the process with minimum personnel.
Since the prime minister has showed his commitment to this national objective, nobody should be cynical as jumping the gun never helps. We should understand that the armed forces have played a key role in achieving the targets set under the Operation Zarb-e-Azb and since the army wanted to consolidate its gains, we should appreciate their efforts for long-term peace in the country.
Peace is a goal achieved by the government under the visionary leadership of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Whether it was volatile North Waziristan region or other areas of federally administered tribal areas (FATA), violence-hit Karachi or troubled Balochistan, Pakistan army, under the directions of the prime minister, has restored the government’s writ and peace has returned to all these areas.
The prime minister has taken all political forces on board to help restore peace and tranquility across the country and political consensus had led towards harmony and peace.
With peace returning, local and foreign investors have also become active and the investment process is taking roots. China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a gift of the prime minister for the brave people of Pakistan. This would not only bring about lasting peace and development in the country but also help jump-start the economy.
So the media needs to see a positive change taking place in the country and it should stop viewing Pakistan from the prism of India, which is hell bent on disrupting the development and progress in Pakistan.
Q: Critics say it’s because the government is apprehensive because census findings might affect demographics and provincial seat allocations. Any truth in such charges?
KM: It seems the critics you are referring to are painting a fabricated picture of the country perhaps for some vested interests. The situation on ground is altogether different and the people at grassroots are benefiting from the fruits of development.
Now, coming back to the census, this process would help provide data collection of people from various segments of the society. Data about women, men, young and old, children and infants would help formalise the government’s policies to cater to the needs of all these groups.
Moreover, the data collection would also help streamline various segments of society and the delivery of their rights. Moreover, the census would also help gather data about various ethnic groups, minorities and poor in the society. Based on this information, the election commission of Pakistan would also be able to suggest increase in the seats reserved for various segments, including minorities, women and technocrats for national, provincial assemblies and for Senate too before the upcoming general elections.
Q: The government has sprung some surprises in the Panama leaks investigation. Do you think it’s wriggled well enough to avoid the axe?
KM: Since the Panama leaks case is sub-judice, it would be better for us not to indulge in speculative discussion about the outcome or merit of the case. This matter has provided a good opportunity for entire nation to get rid of the blame game in the country for petty political objectives. Since the court has asked all parties involved to come up with evidence, it was now mandatory for the opposition to bring evidence to the court.
Unfortunately however the opposition, rather than providing evidence to the court, has submitted newspaper clippings before the bench which has taken serious notice of, with judges observing that newspaper clippings are inadmissible before the court of law.
The honourable judges have also made it clear that mudslinging should end now as the matter is sub-judice. The ICIJ has also withdrawn the prime minister’s name from its website, which is a major blow to the opposition’s rhetoric. However, despite all this, the prime minister has presented himself and his family for accountability and the court would settle this matter once and for all.
Now, since the court has asked all parties to submit evidence before the bench, the burden of proof rests with the accusers who have nothing to prove their case but they are involved in political point-scoring over the media.
Now PTI leader Imran Khan has again escaped from the parliament — the way he had done during the sit in of 2014. Let me tell you that the way the PTI leaders have escaped from parliament, they would also run from the judiciary the same way.
By boycotting parliament, Imran Khan has disgraced the public mandate and those who had voted for the PTI would never vote for Imran Khan in the future. The boycott of the parliament would fail the way their sit in had flopped two years back.
Imran Khan is working under the enemy’s agenda to sabotage the economic policies launched by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. This is the reason that other opposition parties have also parted ways with the PTI. Since the Panama case is with the court, we will accept whatever the judgment comes out and the court would decide the fate of anti-Pakistan elements once and for all.
Q: What new initiatives, as federal minister for human rights, you have taken to address the problems faced by people at large?
KM: After taking over the ministry for human rights, my first priority has been strengthening of state institutions which could help mitigate problems being faced by the people belonging to poor and deprived segments of the society.
In this regard, we have constructed a modern and state of the art crisis center for women. Moreover a Shelter Home for oppressed and destitute children has also been raised.
All medical, residential and educational facilities are being provided along with legal assistance to the under privileged and oppressed women and children residing in both the centers.
Moreover, a toll free helpline has been installed and anybody making a call on “1099” can register complaint regarding violence against women or harassment at workplaces. The center has received around 45,714 complaints about violence against women since May 2015, out of which 4,535 cases have been disposed of till date.
As many as 1,557 victims were provided legal advice and 227 cases were referred to concerned departments. I have directed the relevant officials to provide all facilities to these under privileged and oppressed women and their children.
The purpose of setting up a women’s crisis centre was to provide legal assistance and speedy justice to victims of cruelty, domestic violence and abuse. On the directives of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, steps have been taken to provide support to the victims. This center is part of the implementation of laws and policies enacted to address issues of oppressed women. The center is set up to provide all facilities, including residence, FIR lodging, police reporting, prosecution, medical examination to the survivors of violence.
The functioning of helpline 1099 has been made to provide legal advice to victims of human rights violations particularly women and children. The support and protection to these victims would continue to safeguard the rights of oppressed women and children on a priority basis.