April 10, 2010 was perhaps the greatest day in Pakistan’s constitutional history after adoption of Constitution in 1973 when the Parliament unanimously passed the 18th Amendment. It was “Benazir Bhutto’s Day” as the then Pakistan’s President Zardari in his address to the Parliament rightly said “we are making history by restoring the 1973 Constitution in its original form”. Amendments by dictators had disfigured the 1973 Constitution– designed to be Parliamentary in letter and spirit– beyond recognition. It was overly converted in an over-centralised Presidential system—all powers vesting in one person.
The unanimous adoption by the National Assembly of the 18th amendment is, indeed, a historic feat—secondly only to the framing of the 1973 constitution itself—that shall be recorded in letters of gold in history. The land mark amendment turned the clock back undoing the damage to Pakistan’s polity inflicted by successive military dictators who tried to usurp powers through unconstitutional means.
The consensus on the 18th Amendment reached by the legislators of every political spectrum was declared impossible to achieve by sceptics who had been orchestrating that President Zardari will not abide by the pledge given by Benazir Bhutto to restore the 1973 Constitution to its original glory. Indeed, 8th of April 2010 will go down in Pakistan’s history as day of the fulfillment of that promise.
The office of the Prime Minister was restored the powers that it enjoyed in 1973 Constitution. Doomsayers were sceptical about the return of true parliamentary form of government without a showdown between the offices of the President (backed by the Establishment) and the Prime Minister. Doubts were expressed regarding the restoration of a balance of powers between the two offices and the doing away of the powers of the President to dismiss a government.
The fatally critical issue of the quantum of provincial autonomy that was mainly responsible for the partition of India in 1947, break up of Pakistan in 1971 was resolved by political leadership of residual Pakistan when they agreed to adopt 1973 constitution as the as the irrevocable foundation for the country. No doubt General Zia made it its handmaid when he refused to transfer concurrent list to the provinces. The 18th Amendment has not only passed the concurrent list to the provinces but has gone beyond. By renaming NWFP as Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa province in deference to the aspirations of the Pashtoons. It has also dealt effectively with the issues of governance and judiciary.
The Eighteenth Amendment is the practical demonstration of democracy in action and augurs well for its future. No doubt there have been glitches and often fate seemed clouded, however, popular resilience continues to strengthen hope that the democratic process shall not be derailed despite presence of anti-democratic quislings in politics favouring dictatorship and opposed to 18th Amendment.
While anti-democratic forces have not given up, people have often come up with renewed commitment for inculcating a culture of institution building by conceding political institutions to flourish in accordance with the letter and spirit of the constitution. To sum up, the Eighteenth Amendment represents the general will of the people. It also stipulates the supremacy of the parliament and defines powers and responsibilities of national institutions. It remains a precursor to party politics in a parliamentary system. Therefore, the debate over the powers of the President or Prime Minister becomes irrelevant in party politics.
From the national perspective, the 18th Amendment unanimously agreed to by all the political parties represents a great tribute to the wisdom of Pakistani political forces. The unanimity shown in the adoption of constitutional amendments proves the point that irrespective of their ideological shades and political differences, Pakistani political forces no doubt lack element of providing good governance or combating effectively corruption, they can still promote national cohesion—in a better and effective manner then the dictators.
Pakistan Peoples Party can rightly pride itself for many firsts in Pakistan’s history. Its founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto gave it a unanimous Constitution; its nuclear programme which enjoys all time national consensus, and; laid the foundations of mega projects in all the provinces to create provincial harmony. It was during Benazir Bhutto’s two governments when the country was steered towards social freedoms including a free media; empowerment of women and promotion of a culture of dialogue. During Musharraf’s dictatorship, Benazir Bhutto initiated a dialogue of reconciliation with political rivals of the past. The Charter of Democracy signed by PPP and PML (N) in 2006 was a sequel to the united struggle against dictatorship.
The politics of consensus that was initiated by President Asif Ali Zardari did face many impediments but being the head of the largest political party in the country, Zardari did succeed in preserving the unity of the political forces. As Chairman of the Party Bilawal Bhutto has given it a sense of direction and identified national priorities. He has a point when he laments that 18th Amendment has created institutions but they are denied resource. It has also been noted that there is resistance from certain obvious quarters not to let 18thAmendment decide economic issues. I remember in March 2018 cat was allowed to come out of the bag when it was claimed by certain anchorpersons, after a meeting between COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa and a group of journalists and TV anchorpersons, that the Bajwa doctrine depicts that “18th Amendment had become a major cause of unbalance between Federation and the provinces.”
Some journalists had attributed it to Army Chief –though later denied by his DG ISPR–that he described 18th Amendment as bad as Sheikh Mujib’s six points. Whatever—it became evident that the strong centre lobbies are active to roll back the gains of the Eighteenth Amendment and perhaps that motivated the Establishment to engineer electoral victory to have a prime minister of its choice selected in order to reverse the process. It seemed without doubt that the Eighteenth Amendment was the mother of all amendments because through it over a 100 clauses of the constitution were changed. It was a major attempt to solve the provincial autonomy conundrum which had marred the country’s constitutional history and had created bad blood between the federating units. As a matter of fact, led to the partition of India and separation of East Pakistan.
There is some meat in the observation that 18th constitutional amendment has definitely cut Islamabad’s political ambitions and Punjabi Establishment’s monopoly on power and thus denied the generals their insatiable itch to take over by dissolving the Parliament whenever they wished. It was martyred Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s political wisdom and strong historic bearing that dawned upon him that it was non-resolution of the issue of autonomy that led to the partition of India in 1947, break up of Pakistan in 1971 and threats to further fragmentation following of fall of Dhaka as being reflected in demands for Sindhudesh, Pakhtoonistan and Independent Balochistan. According to students of history the Punjabi concept of ‘Mazboot Markaz’ as an Islamic idea spearheaded by Unionists, Punjabi feudal class, Jamaat-i-Islami whose leader Abul Ala Maudoodi had opposed Pakistan and the Ahraris who even tried to physically eliminate the Quid by organising an attempted assassination of him as the evil of the piece in the eyes of Allama Mashriqi.
No doubt 18th amendment did succeed in cutting Islamabad to size and dampen its ambition to lead an over centralised Pakistan. It set in motion a process of power devolution; it has given some sort of teeth that bite to the provinces that had been earlier rendered toothless by dictators. Now provinces in many ways assert themselves and stand up for their rights. Devolution has also positively effected distribution of National Finance Commission award—although much is still needed to be done to bring to an end what an analyst has described as impunity by the power wielders of Rawalpindi. The four provincial governments have yet to come up with a foolproof scheme of things that could provide relief and hope to better the future to less developed areas and their people.
While PTI Prime Minister Imran Khan continues to orchestrates the Praetorian node that 18th Amendment has turned Centre into a pauper and of course his mission is to get rid of it, it is PPP, Bilawal Bhutto and other political forces in the smaller provinces who are determined to defy all sinister machinations and defend 18th Amendment. In order to understand the genesis of 1973 Constitution and subsequently 18th Amendment, one must re-emphasise that Pakistan’s founder Quaid e Azam MAJ never wanted partition of India but wanted British to leave.
In the earlier part of 20th Century MAJ was acknowledged even by the Congress Leaders as sole ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity. As such, MAJ presented his famous 14 points in 1930 seeking Independence from British yoke while giving a formula for resolving the issue of autonomy and power sharing among various communities. His 14 Points envisaged setting up of two autonomous states within federal framework of united India giving full autonomy to Hindus and Muslims where-ever they were in majority and weightage to minorities wherever in jobs etc. MAJ was of the view that agreement on issue of quantum of autonomy between Hindus and Muslims would force the British to quit and India and leave it without political division. Unfortunately his 14 Points were rejected by both Pandit Motilal Nehru and his son Jawahar Lal Nehru as well as other Congress leaders. It was great disappointment for MAJ who was further frustrated by the earlier moves of Unionist leader like Sir Mohammad Shafi backed by Allama Iqbal to capture All- India Muslim League and shift its Head office to Lahore when a disheartened MAJ had left India for London to practice law. However, this did not succeed and MAJ’s loyal followers kept their control over AIML head office. Later Allama Iqbal also realised the need for MAJ’s leadership and he joined united efforts to bring him back to India to once again lead Muslim League.
Until 1946 MAJ was not reconciled to the idea of partition of India. One must note that even the famous 23rd March 1940 Lahore resolution speaks for seeking Muslim autonomous states and no where mentions of Pakistan as anindependent Muslim State, Allama Iqbal’s ‘dream’ or Ch Rehmat Ali’s idea. Later, June 3 plan for resolution of Indian problem by Viceroy accepted idea of two autonomous states in a confederal structure. It was an off the cuff remark by Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru to a journalist that future of political India would depend on the Confederal Legislature where Congress will have the numerical majority, meaning thereby that when time would come after ten years to decide the political/constitutional fate of India, Congress by its majority vote would decide it’. It was a volte fate by Nehru that MAJ refused to accept and withdrew his support and approval to Viceroy’s June 3, Plan of 1946.