Seminar on Commonwealth Day.

Theme: “Towards a Common Future”

Venue: Pakistan Institute for Parliamentary Services, Islamabad

Commemorating March 12, 2018 as the Commonwealth Day, the National Assembly of Pakistan, CPA-Asia Region Branch and the Pakistan Institute for Parliamentary Services (PIPS) organized a Seminar on the theme “Towards a Common Future” at PIPS main Campus in Islamabad. Over 100 participants joined Pakistan’s premier Parliamentary organizations in celebrating this years’ Commonwealth Day including officials from the Senate and the National Assembly of Pakistan, as well as faculty members and students from Fatima Jinnah Women University, International Islamic University, Pakistan Institute of Development Economics, and Riphah International University; development partners including European Union’s project Subai Pakistan team and representative from CDIP/British Council Pakistan.

The one day event began with the National Anthem of Pakistan, followed by recitation of Holy Quran. While moderating the session Senior Research Officer PIPS, Ms. Tehseen Khalid, informed the participants that the Commonwealth Day is celebrated every year on March 12. This years’ celebrations proceed the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings (CHOGM) and Commonwealth Summit 2018 expected to be convened in April 2018 in United Kingdom. 

Welcome Remarks

Mr. Zafarullah Khan, Executive Director PIPS

Mr. Zafarullah Khan highlighted the importance of the day. He said that we have gathered to discuss a common future on a day when the Senate of Pakistan is going through the process of electing the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Senate of Pakistan. Indeed it is a landmark day in the democratic journey of Pakistan. He said that a shared heritage emanating from the Westminster style democratic institutions paves the way for finding “common” in all the member states of the Commonwealth.

Mr. Zafarullah Khan underscored the pertinent role of Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) in the progress of democratic institutions in the member states. He said that CPA remained instrumental in providing the opportunity to learn from others countries’ experiences in the legislative process, especially how the laws made during the colonial era were decolonized in the post-independence period. It also established a link between the Parliament and the press. He said that the Parliament of Pakistan is in the process of launching the PTV Parliament, a channel dedicated to cover the events and working of the Parliament, on the pattern of BBC Parliament. He also highlighted various initiatives CPA has taken to create opportunities for the youth to engage more with the Parliaments across the Commonwealth countries.

Introducing the Commonwealth: Helping every voice to be heard

Documentary on Commonwealth

The documentary “Introducing the Commonwealth: Helping every voice to be heard” presented an absorbing snapshot of the Commonwealth nations within span of 2 minutes and 40 seconds, by highlighting that the Commonwealth is about:

  • 53 independent countries,
  • with 2.4 billion people,
  • nearly a one third of world’s population,
  • across six regions including Africa, Asia, Caribbean, America, Europe, and Pacific
  • diversity, democracy and global harmony

It also helped participants identify that the Commonwealth brings together some of the worlds’ largest and smallest countries as well as advanced, developed and fastest growing economies. It was amazing to know that 60% of our population is under 30 years of age, while Commonwealth countries have mutual exports over $3 trillion in goods and services each year. Thus the combined GDP of Commonwealth countries is expected to reach $13 trillion in 2020.

A diverse network of more than 80 organizations works to achieve lasting democracy, development and peace. The Commonwealth promoted action on human rights, good governance, trade, education, strengthening democracy, climate change, debt, gender equality, economic development, empowering young people and justice.

Commonwealth Day Message of Her Majesty The Queen, Head of the Commonwealth

Read by Ms. Rabia Basri

National Assembly IR Wing

            “We all have reason to give thanks for the numerous ways in which our lives are enriched when we learn from others. Through exchanging ideas, and seeing life from other perspectives, we grow in understanding and work more collaboratively towards a common future. There is a very special value in the insights we gain through the Commonwealth connection; shared inheritances help us overcome difference so that diversity is a cause for celebration rather than division.

            We shall see this in action at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting which takes place in the United Kingdom next month, bringing together young people, business and civil society from across the Commonwealth.

            These gatherings are themselves fine examples of how consensus and commitment can help create a future that is fairer, more secure, more prosperous and sustainable. Having enjoyed the warm hospitality of so many Commonwealth countries over the years, I look forward to the pleasure of welcoming the leaders of our family of 53 nations to my homes in London and Windsor.

Sport also contributes to building peace and development. The excitement and positive potential of friendly rivalry will be on display next month as we enjoy the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, Australia. Contributing to the success of the Games, alongside athletes and officials, will be thousands of volunteers.

            Voluntary effort, by people working as individuals, in group or through larger associations, is so often what shapes the Commonwealth and all our communities. By pledging to serve the common good in new ways, we can ensure that the Commonwealth continues to grow in scope and stature, to have an even greater impact on people’s lives, today, and for future generations.”

Message by Mr. Akbar Khan,

Secretary General Commonwealth Parliamentary Association  

A video link message of the Mr. Akbar Khan, Secretary General CPA, was televised during the seminar in which he stated that celebrating the Commonwealth day provides us the opportunity to reflect on what commonwealth means for us and to our communities. It provides us the opportunity to analyze the current state of the world and the role of commonwealth can play in producing a better future for us all today and for future generations. In this connection the theme of 2018 agreed by the Her Majesty the Queen i.e. towards a common future is highly relevant to all of us as it reminds us that only through working together we can achieve a sustainable, prosperous, fairer and secure commonwealth for everyone. The broad theme is highly relevant to all parliaments and parliamentarians who are committed to delivering the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Achieving a more sustainable commonwealth committed to working to develop our resilience in addressing climate change and natural disasters. Achieving a more prosperous commonwealth requires to enhance our inter-Commonwealth trade and commerce across our nations to build a stronger Commonwealth and economies. Achieving a fairer Commonwealth requires us to eliminate discrimination on any grounds and promote greater inclusion and respect for diversity, human rights and the promotion of rule of law. Finally we need to work together to achieve a more secure Commonwealth addressing threats such as extremism and radicalism because only when we only when we feel save are we able individually and collectively to create a more stable just and prosperous society.

As Secretary General of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association I believe that global community of the Parliaments and Parliamentarians are well placed to play a crucial role in the promotion and protection of human rights as legislatures are the overseers to realize the ambitious goals of the 2015 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.  Many of our Parliaments have made good progress in this area to lay the foundations for more inclusive and prosperous societies, societies which strengthen our democratic cultures and processes.

Wherever we are and whatever challenges we face I believe that with the spirit of cooperation and willingness, learning from each other to promote our values, values which unite us in our diverse Commonwealth family we can meet the common challenges we face today whether they are climate change, gender inequality, poverty, unemployment or lack of opportunity for our young people. Today as the leader of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association I invite you to renew and reaffirm commitment to our Commonwealth values and our faith in the Commonwealth as a global force for good. I wish you a Commonwealth day which inspires you to work towards a common future, a Commonwealth future which is more sustainable, prosperous, fairer and securer for everyone. Thank you very much.

Message on the Commonwealth Day by Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, Speaker of the National Assembly of Pakistan/President PIPS BoG

Read by Mr. Muhammad Rashid Mafzool Zaka

Director General (Research & Legislation) PIPS

“Nelson Mandela said, “Commonwealth makes the world safe for diversity.” This holds true even today.

This Global organization, almost spanning the globe, unites 53 member countries and over 2.5 billion Commonwealth citizens in celebrating this auspicious day.

When we look back at the themes of previous years, from Tolerance to Diversity to Women as Agents of Change, 2018 appears just as inspiring with its message of “Towards Common Future”.

Today, with global conflict causing fragmentation of society, ethnic strife, gender inequality and fears of climate change, there is urgent need for social cohesion, mutual respect and a much wider role of Education – not only in Pakistan but in most member states.

Our common future is closely linked with our common issues. New challenges of environmental worries – global warming, deforestation, species loss, and toxic wastes – are capturing scientific and popular attention. Only ‘sustainable’ development could blend the fulfillment of human needs with the protection of air, soil, water and all forms of life – from which, ultimately, planetary stability is inseparable. 

The Commonwealth population, specially the youth, needs to grow up and prosper under democratic values and principles of pluralism harmony and respect for diversity which guarantee human rights and rule of law. People are the most valuable asset of any democracy. The later must invest in the former.

A common effort is also needed to mitigate the threat of terrorism, human trafficking and cyber-crime. This year’s Commonwealth theme “Toward a Common Future” is a further reminder that we are all the combined citizen of global village and our common prosperity is linked with a joint peaceful and safer world. It is not too late to blend our policies accordingly; but, it warns, we must act now.”

Pakistan Zindabad

Working of CPA

Mr. Shamoon Hashmi, Secretary CPA-Asia Region Branch

Mr. Shamoon Hashmi delved into the working of the CPA in a highly interactive manner. He said that the Commonwealth started as an imperial organization but they realized that they cannot colonize people so it was named Commonwealth in 1948. Locating the values of parliamentary democracy in the roots of Pakistan’s independence he stated that the father of nation Quaid-i-Azam did not struggle for a Khilafat or theocratic revolution. He worked for the people’s revolution. He wanted democracy, respect for diversity and human rights.

Mr. Shamoon Hashmi highlighted that Pakistan remained an active member of the Commonwealth but withdrew during the military regimes. He pointed towards the resilience of Pakistani nation which continued to play an active role in the Commonwealth despite various setbacks. Ms. Kashmala Tariq was elected to chair the Commonwealth Women Committee (CWC) from 2007 to 2010. She was also a contestant for the Chairperson of Commonwealth in Tanzani (Arusha) from 28th September to 6th October 2009. Although she lost the election. Dr. Nafisa Shah was elected as Vice Chairperson of the Executive Committee of the CPA in 2011 and 2012. Currently Honorable MNA Dr. Fehmida Mirza and Honorable MPA Dr. Lal Chand Ukrani are members of CPA Executive Committee.

He especially highlighted the role of the Commonwealth Youth Parliament which provides excellent opportunity to youth for developing understanding of the working of the parliament across the Commonwealth countries. He said that the Pakistani youth have regularly secured key positions in the Commonwealth Youth Parliament including the slot of the Prime Minister. Pakistani youth has been serving as Minister for Finance in the incumbent Commonwealth Youth Parliament.

He emphasized that democracy is not merely the conduct of elections in a fair and transparent manner, democracy is a way of thinking and a value system. Respect of diversity is an important component of democracy. He stated that it was a wonderful display of diversity when Ms. Krishna Kohli of Dalit community took oath as Senator today in the Senate of Pakistan. He lamented that successive military take overs have deteriorated democratic tradition in the country. It was only during civilian regimes that Pakistan stuck to its principled stances on key issues including Kashmir, Afghanistan and human rights.

He referred to Pakistan decision to pull out of the 61st Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference. The decision came out of the issue over sending invitation to the Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir Assembly. In order to demonstrate Pakistan’s firm resolve to stand along with their Kashmiri brethren, the Honorable Speaker of National Assembly of Pakistan, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq decided to decline to host the conference in Pakistan. Honorable Speaker stated that my nation has not accepted Indian Held Kashmir branch as legitimate branch of CPA. The Honorable Speaker was given the chance either to send invitation to the IHK branch or quit the Presidency of the CPA. He chose to quit the presidency of CPA. Mr. Shamoon emphasized that such bold decisions can come from democratic leaders only. He concluded by stating that “do not relinquish your right to vote.”

Address by the Chief Guest

“Respecting Diversity and Harmony: The core value of Commonwealth”

Honorable MPA Sindh/Member CPA Executive Committee Dr. Lal Chand Ukrani

Honorable MPA, Dr. Lal Chand Ukrani congratulated the participants on the Commonwealth Day. He stated that the differences of religion, race, colour, cast, creed, social status should be kept aside in order to generate harmony in the society. There is a need to focus on social values and overcome the barriers in the way of social harmony. He emphasized the need to promote equality and create opportunities for all.  

He thanked the organizers of the Seminar for proving the opportunity to celebrate the diversity among various nations of the Commonwealth and to learn from others’ experiences. He underlined the key values of Commonwealth which can bring peace and prosperity in the member states including social and cultural rights, democracy and human rights, freedom of expression, rule of law, good governance, social justice, and equality of citizens. He concluded by emphasizing the role of youth in peace and development in the society.

Q & A Session

Question: How the civic education can be promoted in the country with growing intolerance?

Executive Director PIPS, Mr. Zafarullah Khan: civic education will get structured and institutionalized soon as the national parliament has recently passed a resolution in this regard. A bill moved by Senator Sehar Kamran is also on to the stage to get passed. Also PTV Parliament is going to be launched soon.  

On the issue of intolerance he shared some historical facts and anecdotes. He said that the Assembly formed during the rule of Ayub Khan had no minority member. The Assembly formed during the Bhutto regime had one minority member Raja Tridev Rai. And it was only Mufti Mehmood who dared to challenge the oath for a minority member which included key pledging for the religion of Islam. Former dictator Gen Zia-ul-Haq brought the system of separate electorate. He said that tolerance is not medicinal pill. It comes through upbringing.

We have had a Brahmanic society, which is socially divided. But the culture to humiliate should end. At the same time Mr. Zafarullah Khan said that there are many reasons to celebrate tolerance in the society. The behavior of few people should not be translated as the norm of entire community comprising of millions of people.

Question: What is the contribution of the Commonwealth or CPA in addressing the challenge of environmental degradation and with regard to the operationalization of biometric system for free and fair elections in Pakistan?

Syed Shamoon Hashmi: Commonwealth and CPA are two different entities with different status and mandate. The Commonwealth is a kind of an executive body. It engages the executive branch as the Head of Government summit is going to take place soon in the United Kingdom. CPA has a parliamentary character. It helps in the capacity building of the Parliaments and Parliamentarians. It has worked on the theme of environmental degradation. A number of hot topic seminars have been held in various member states. Islamabad also hosted a CPA hot topic seminar. Though using biometric system for elections is a written in the election act, but it has not been operationalized.   

Mr. Zafarullah Khan: the issue of biometric verification is stuck due to existence of various types of identity cards issued by NADRA. Biometric verification requires uniformity in identity cards, due to lack of uniformity the system has not been functional so far. The system has not been abandoned, it is only been experimented. On the contribution of Commonwealth or CPA he opined that everything need not funded from outside. If a system augers well for better functioning in Pakistan funds can be generated indigenously for its operationalization.

Question: What is the stance of CPA on the issues of human rights, Syria, Myanmar, and Kashmir?

Mr. Shamoon Hashmi: The last CPA annual Conference was held in Bangladesh which deliberated on the issue of Rohingya in detail. Though Syria is an international issue with global implications, but it is not directly linked with the Commonwealth. On the issue of Kashmir he highlighted the Pakistan actively worked to highlight the Kashmir issue in the Commonwealth and CPA. The Indian Held Kashmir assembly became member of CPA in 1971 when Pakistan withdrew from the Commonwealth, earlier it was Pakistan who successfully blocked the membership of IHK Assembly in the CPA.

Mr. Muhammad Rashid Mafzool Zaka: announced that on March 11, 2018 almost 500 civil society organizations were appraised on Kashmir issue at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva by representatives of All Parties Hurriyat Conference, the alliance of political parties striving for right of freedom of Kashmiri people in Indian occupied Kashmir. Many of the commonwealth friends supported the initiative emphasizing for the dire need that United Nations and world conscious must rise to stop the gross violations of human rights by 7 lac Indian troops in the Indian held Kashmir.

Question: Is democracy a system of governance or a mind-set?

Mr Zafarullah Khan shared the view that Parliament is the brain of the country that guides all organs of the state, which must all function within the parameters laid down by the Constitution enacted after consensus of people of Pakistan through their chosen representatives. The trichotomy of powers, demand that Legislature, Executive and Judiciary should restraint from violating the spirit of division of authority and responsibility. He emphasized that all institutions should respect each others mandate. He informed the gathering that around 40% of our 70 years since independence remained under non-representative military regimes when Parliament wasn’t there to provide leadership on national matters and as a result the society became polarized and divided on ethnic and linguistic lines during non-elected regimes. He expressed the opinion that as democracy strengthens and Parliament flourishes it will lead to participation and inclusion of all strata of society that will revive a more tolerant and pluralistic Pakistan as envisioned by the Constitution and elected political leadership.

Mr Zafarullah Khan also shared how Pakistan and other South Asian democracies have evolved their parliamentary rules of procedures from the Commonwealth model of Westminster style parliamentary democracy. He expressed the desire for greater interaction among parliaments of Commonwealth nations to share ideas and contemporary issues such as climate change, energy crises and food insecurity to enable our leaderships to provide sustainable solutions to the challenges faced by our societies. He also shared that Parliament of Pakistan and PIPS are country’s two institutions who make their own electricity through solar energy and fulfill their needs as well as contribute in the National grid on weekends. He reiterated that there is a lot that Commonwealth nations can learn from each other. He appreciated PIPS team for the untiring effort to make the seminar a rousing success and expressed the hope that the Institute will continue engagement with youth and civil society to strengthen the democratic tradition in Pakistan.

Syed Shamood Hashmi: This is a commonly held perception that democracy is a system of governance. But the value system makes an important component of the governance structure. When the founder of the nation Quaid-i-Azam was asked about that whether the newly independent Pakistan would be theocratic state he responded that equality, brotherhood and social justice are the basic tenets of Islam and would make the basis of democracy in Pakistan.

Mr. Shamoon also gave an orientation of the Parliamentary studies courses being taught in the university launched by the National Assembly of Pakistan and PIPS. He urged the youth to take parliamentary studies courses for better understanding of democracy and parliament in Pakistan.

Mr Muhammad Rashid Mafzool Zaka exemplified the life of Quaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah who remained a parliamentarian for 39 long years and always spent his entire life for democratic value of “we agree to disagree,” urging to listen and respect every one’s perspective to reach national consensus. He said democracy has evolved in Pakistan and after inclusive politics of 18th Constitutional Amendment, provincial governments have enhanced their spending in education by 14% and there seems a positive competition to outperform other for improving education standards in the country. Mr Zaka also recited verses of national poet Allama Dr Muhammad Iqbal, emphasizing that responsibility to work hard and dedicatedly guard country’s democratic ideology lies with the youth who were termed as “eagles,” by the poet philosopher to inspire them to keep soaring high through continues hard work. He concluded that Pakistani youth has inherited the legacy of diversity and tolerance from their forefathers and same spirit may be displayed to enjoy fruits of commonwealth to learn new ideas, promote diversity as source of unity and strengthen the common democratic basis of 53 countries.

Question: What is the ranking of Pakistan in the Commonwealth?

Syed Shamoon Hashmi: the Commonwealth or CPA has not put it place for ranking of the member states. However, the Women Parliamentary Caucus of the Parliament of Pakistan has been studied and acknoweldged as a role model by the other member parliaments of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, which meets every year in different countries.

Messages by the Delegates of Seminar

Saad Sikandar, Senate of Pakistan

“Congratulations to everyone on holding of elections in the Senate of Pakistan. Thank you very much for inviting us on the Commonwealth Day. The essence of this day is that 53 member nations, 2.5 billion citizens should work together for common future. We should identify common problems and work for solutions. Congratulations to the panelists for sharing their thoughts. We should inculcate democratic ideals in order to bring peace. Equality, brotherhood and social justice are very important. Instead of wasting time in putting blames others we should be entrepreneurs of future.”  

Mr. Shabbir Akbar, National Assembly of Pakistan

“Thanks on behalf of participants from the National Assembly of Pakistan. This was my first opportunity to participate in the Commonwealth Day celebration. The motivation of the youth is very important. The Commonwealth and the CPA should arrange different exchange programs among the member states for better understanding and to realize the potential vested in the diverse community. PIPS has done a commendable job in holding such absorbing seminar on promoting democratic values.” He was of the view that there is a need to facilitate the exchange of information and ideas in good practices among the 53 member countries.

Ms. Nimrah Qazi, Islamic International Dental College

“Thanks for inviting us and enlightening us, bringing youth at a single platform. I would like of emphasize that we are present of Pakistan not the future of Pakistan.”

Rabia Haq Nawaz Butt, International Islamic University

“Improving the education system should be the focus.”

Rabia Nazir , a Student of Defense and Diplomatic Studies, Fatima Jinnah Women University:

“I totally agree with the causes mentioned by the respected panelists that democracy has its own value system and we should confuse it with good or bad management of the government. But in Pakistan democracy cannot flourish as taking the scale from minor to authoritarian level everyone is running it in their own way. So things should be looked after towards strengthening “Pakistan Democracy,” against threats of non-elected forces. That is all for my suggestion. I would love to visit PIPS in future if I ever get chance again. Thank you!”

Tayyaba Tariq

Student, Defense and Diplomatic Studies, Fatima Jinnah Women University

“It was an interactive session. This should be held again. My suggestion for it is first we need to have same pattern of education for government and private education institutions. So, it can improve the education system of Pakistan. Furthermore, the better understanding of democracy is necessary. So there should be more such seminars and workshops related to that, so it can improve the knowledge of youth. Workshops and counseling sessions are best way to build confidence among the population. Do consider youth for internships.

Mariyam Masood

Student, Defense and Diplomatic Studies, Fatima Jinnah Women University

“It is a great idea to bring youth at the Pakistan Institute for Parliamentary Services and allowing us to interact with Parliamentarians. It was a great learning and wonderful experience. Please take an initiative to create more opportunities for students here and also fresh graduates. Invite students to PIPS and Parliament more often. These kind of interactive sessions should engage more females. Lastly, I would like to thanks you all for inviting us here.”

Hania Tahir

Student, Riphah International University

“1. To make people more aware about your organization, promote PIPS. It should not just be a topic of discussion for political science students but also for students from other fields of education (Medical, business, arts etc.)

2. Democracy should be common in people at all levels not only Television sets or talk shows.

3. If democracy is a mindset then it is the duty of the Parliament to promote and incorporate the same in the society.

4. If you talk about girls getting married after their medical degree there should be a system which makes them work. None would want to sit at home after a monotonous, tiring and torturous phase of education.

5. Also, everyone can talk about women empowerment verbally every girls’ education should be the duty of Parliament. And Parliament or government should ensure that instead of using social norms as an excuse, they should legislate and hold government accountable to deliver fruits of quality education.”

Concluding session

Vote of thanks by Mr. Shamoon Hashmi

Mr. Shamoon Hashmi paid tribute to PIPS team for organizing the seminar and playing a lead role in the strengthening of democracy in Pakistan in past few years. He highlighted the role of worthy Executive Director PIPS he stated that PIPS is a “national institute to make you realize democracy is important.” He also mentioned the use of renewable energy resources for power generation in the building of Parliament House reducing the burden on power generation companies in an energy deficient country.

Vote of thanks by Mr. Muhammad Rashid Mafzool Zaka

Thanks to all participants from Senate, National Assembly, delegates of Fatima Jinnah Women University, International Islamic University, Riphah International University and Pakistan Institute of Development Economics, partners from CDIP and Subai Project, worthy Panelists Dr Lal Chand Ukrani, MPA, Provincial Assembly of Sindh, Mr Zafarullah Khan, worthy Executive Director PIPS and Syed Shamoon Hashmi, Joint Secretary, National Assembly and Secretary of CPA Asia Region. He ended on the note for the youth that “you are our past, present, and future.” He concluded his remarks with dedication to the founding father of Pakistan, Quaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who believed that, “democracy is in the blood of musalmans (muslims), ” a cherished value of Pakistani society that makes it resilient, tolerant and democratic based on equality, fraternity and social justice. The session concluded with the slogan Pakistan Zindabad (long live Pakistan)

The event ended with a Group Photo.

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