People must guard against assault on Constitution: Pak Prez

The Pakistani people and Parliament must be watchful against "new forms of assaults" on the Constitution, President Asif Ali Zardari said.

Islamabad: The Pakistani people and Parliament must be watchful against "new forms of assaults" on the Constitution, President Asif Ali Zardari said against the backdrop of a standoff between the government and the judiciary.

Zardari made the remarks in a message issued to mark Pakistan`s Independence Day days before the Supreme Court takes up a contempt charge against Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf for refusing to revive graft cases against the President.

The restoration of the Constitution of 1973 by all political forces had raised hopes that the people would "revert to our true bearings and restore to Pakistan the values and ideals for which it was created", he said.

"However, the people and the Parliament must also be watchful against new forms of assaults on the Constitution and the Parliament," he added.

The Supreme Court has summoned Prime Minister Ashraf to personally appear on August 27 to face the contempt of court charge against him.

Experts have said Ashraf could be disqualified like his predecessor Yousuf Raza Gilani for refusing to reopen the graft cases against Zardari.

The Independence Day is an occasion to "pause and ponder over whether we have moved towards or away from the ideals for which Pakistan was created", the President said.

Without referring to the ongoing tensions with the judiciary, Zardari said: "Our founding fathers envisioned Pakistan as a country where democracy, constitutionalism and rule of law would reign supreme. It was envisaged to be a country where the power of the ballot, and not bullet, will determine the political choices of the people."

He said that for most of Pakistan`s independent existence, the people were "often denied right to rule and the Constitution repeatedly abrogated".

It was reassuring that the current parliament unanimously restored to a large extent the democratic Constitution of 1973, he added.

Zardari asked the people to rededicate themselves to the democratic ideals and principles of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan.

"Adherence to the principle that political choices must be made by ballot, and not imposed through bullet, demands that we banish from our midst all forms of bigotry, extremism and militancy," he said.

Everyone should work together for strengthening democracy, empowering the people and creating a progressive, tolerant, moderate and modern Pakistan, he said.

In a separate message, Prime Minister Ashraf said the Pakistan Peoples Party-led coalition government had undertaken various initiatives and pursued a policy of reconciliation.

"We have also refashioned our country`s foreign policy in accord with parliamentary guidelines and national interest," he said.

Ashraf reminded people of Jinnah`s speech to the Constituent Assembly on August 11,1947 in which he had said: "You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed, that has nothing to do with the business of the state."

In conformity with the guidelines laid out by Jinnah, Ashraf said his government is committed to "an equal status for minorities as citizens of the state".

The premier acknowledged that challenges like an energy crisis, law and order problems, economic difficulties and terrorism, and extremism had "slowed down the pace of socio-economic development".

Despite these difficulties, Pakistan is a "vibrant polity where judiciary is independent, parliament is functioning, media is vibrant and civil society is active," he said.

"We are a resolute and determined nation and can overcome these daunting challenges if we demonstrate tolerance, unity, solidarity and understanding," Ashraf said.