President Asif Ali Zardari stunned the audience and unleashed a hushed round of whispers when addressing the awards presentation ceremony of All Pakistan Newspaper Society (APNS) here Tuesday, he promised that he would restore the Constitution to its 1973 complexion “by the last week of next month”. Viewing his ‘new April deadline’ as a stark departure from repeated promises made by the prime minister to repeal the 17th Amendment before March 23, journalists, newspaper owners and others could be seen leaning over and whispering the obvious to one another. Mercifully however, the president cleared the misperception immediately afterwards as he mingled with the guests that he had actually meant the last week of March and not April and his earlier remark was just a slip of tongue.

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Earlier in his address, and not betraying the tension of the recent tumultuous weeks, a confident looking President Zardari promised to restore the constitution to its real shape, smilingly adding, “of course it depends on the speed of Raza Rabbani and his (constitutional reforms) committee”. He said that democracy was his soul and he realised that his “own survival lay in democracy” and he would not do anything to jeopardise democracy or the system. Commenting on the ongoing United Nations appointed Commission’s investigations into Benazir assassination, he said a lot of progress had been made. He, however, clarified that it was not the mandate of the commission to decide who would be booked under section 302 for her murder adding, “that would be responsibility of Rehman malik”. He emphasised that when he had said that he knew the killers of Benazir Bhutto he had not been referring to any particular individual or set of individuals but to a particular mindset. “That mindset tried murdering democracy by murdering her and even today is fighting with her greave”, the president said. APP adds: President Asif Ali Zardari on Tuesday expressed hope that with the finalization of constitutional reforms package by the end of current month, the 1973 Constitution would be restored to its original shape. Addressing the award distribution ceremony of All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) here at the Aiwan-e-Sadr on Tuesday night the president said it was basically for Mian Raza Rabbani-led Constitutional Reforms Committee of the Parliament as to when it would submit its report and hoped that this would be done within this month. Besides a large number of APNS representatives, newspaper owners, journalists, columnists, writers and Minister for Information and Broadcasting Qamar Zaman Kaira, the ceremony was also attended by federal ministers, parliamentarians and senior officers of the Ministry of Information.

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The president hoped that the task of the constitutional reforms would be carried out unanimously in a spirit of reconciliation. President Zardari said they were determined to rid the constitution of all the undemocratic articles introduced into it by successive dictators. The president noted that during his address to the Parliament last year he himself had asked the Parliament to reform the constitution. This was followed by a letter to the prime minister and the speaker asking them to work towards elimination of those provisions, which strengthen the Presidency and weaken the Parliament and the democracy, he added. The president said it was wrong perception that he could do this job himself and said the Parliament is the only sovereign body to do that. The president said he had voluntarily transferred his powers as head of the Command and Control Authority to the Parliament. The president said the government firmly believed in freedom of media and had taken a number of measures for the purpose. He said he welcomed the constructive criticism as it helped improve performance and serve people in a better manner. The president said an independent media had a crucial role to play in keeping a check on the executive and strengthening democratic institutions. He said it was PPP government of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto, which allowed free import of newsprint, and employees of radio and television were reinstated. He said the PPP government also lifted restrictions on TV channels imposed by the dictatorship. Referring to the achievements of the government he said only three days ago he signed into law two bills to protect rights of workers. “We also have plans to distribute free state owned agricultural land in the command areas of the new dams among the poor women”, he added. The president said the present government also gave Aghaz Haqooq-e-Balochistan package, introduced far reaching social and political reforms in Gilgit Baltistan and addressed the issue of net hydel profit. He said for the first time the demand of the provinces to change the criterion of the NFC Awards had been changed. President Zardari said those who martyred Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto not only wanted to eliminate her but also the democracy and so he opposed the proposition of boycott of the general elections.

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He said it was because of his decision to participate in the elections that “today we have democracy in the country and different parties are represented in the Parliament”. About UN inquiry commission on the assassination of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, the president said the commission had completed its task to a great extent. The president said when he talked about the murderers of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto he meant the mind-set that eliminated her and “we have to change this mind-set and strengthen democracy”. The president said his sister was a covering candidate when he contested elections for the office of the president. “As her nomination papers were also accepted, there are now two opinions whether a woman can contest the presidential elections and hoped that one day we could also have a woman president”. Referring to the demands of the APNS, the president directed the government to look into them. The president also gave away 19th and 20th APNS awards to writers, columnists, reporters, cartoonists and photographers. He also gave away advertising awards.

By: The News