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Wajid Shamsul Hasan
Thursday , April 22, 2010 at 12 : 29

Pakistan: attempts to sabotage consensus


The historic signing of the unanimously passed 18th Amendment into an act of parliament by President Asif Ali Zardari has been rightly described as the finest hour in Pakistan's history. A nation that has had a roller-coaster existence ever since the first extra-constitutional intervention by the Praetorian-civil bureaucratic establishment unscrupulously sanctified by the apex judiciary in 1953, that plunged Mr Jinnah's dream of a democratic Pakistan into an unending obscurantist nightmare--has never had it so good as now.

Zardari made history on April 19th. He had promised to the Pakistani nation in his first speech as the elected President that he would be the one who would restore the supremacy of the Parliament in deference to the vision of martyred Benazir Bhutto. By abdicating his absolute powers Zardari has kept his pledge. He has gifted the nation with the priceless dividend of the supremacy of parliamentary democracy. Satisfaction was writ large on the faces of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and a galaxy of cross-party top political leadership of the country that attended the historic singing of the 18th Amendment Bill into an act of parliament to make it inseparable part of the 1973 Constitution.

It was also a moment of triumph for Senator Mian Raza Rabbani, chairman of the Constitutional Reforms Committee and his colleagues who had burnt midnight oil for months to perform a 'consensus-based constitutional miracle,' much to the disappointment of the doomsayers. Both Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who fathered the 1973 Constitution and his daughter Benazir Bhutto, who gave her life to seek its restoration in its original glory, must be happy in heaven over the historic feat.

It speaks in volumes of the evolution of political development in Pakistan through blood, toil and tears of hundreds and thousands of people who braved the most atrocious dictators anointed as legitimate by the successive chief justices and pliable members of superior judiciary, more interested in their pound of flesh rather than abide by the oath they undertook to defend the constitution.

The 19th of April made every Pakistani proud when not only President Zardari and PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif were at the Presidency, but also heads of all the political parties that participated in the 18th amendment deliberations, including ANP leader Asfandyar Wali, Fazlur Rehman of the JUI, Dr Farooq Sattar of the MQM and other members of parliament.

In my view, the democracy was at its supreme that day and every one of us rightly felt proud to be Pakistanis. However, one is flabbergasted at the attitude of some of the so-called constitutional experts, who seem hell-bent in subverting the grand national consensus by opposing it. These experts have assumed the role of summer soldiers and sunshine patriots working for a judicial coup.

While the majority of country's top constitutional lawyers and jurists such as Ch. Eitezaz Ahsan, Asma Jehangir, Justice (R) Tariq Mahmud and legal community's supremo who lead the movement for the restoration of the Chief Justice-- Ali Ahmed Kurd-- have welcomed the restoration of 1973 Constitution in its full glory and much more, an intriguing move to subvert it has surfaced to the dismay of the nation. It is spearheaded by Hafeez Pirzada who is piggish and unhappy over four of the constitutional amendments - (a) powers of the prime minister and party leaders, (b) provincial autonomy and the abolition of the Concurrent List, (c) human rights violation due to accumulation of powers in a single person (party leader), and (d) appointment of the judiciary.

Mr Pirzada's major objection concerns a party leader's powers to recall the Prime Minister being elected by the people. Mr Pirzada must be aware of the fact that as in the 1973 constitution, the 18th Amendment was the result of party politics and each participating party kept its party position in view while deliberating these amendments.

Political parties represent country's political institutions. Therefore, it is superfluous to demonise the political parties or their heads by undermining the Prime Minister who represents a political party for having re-acquired the powers that belonged to that office in the original 1973 constitution.

Whether it is the developing or the developed world, parliamentary democracy revolves around political parties. Congress leader Sonia Gandhi is a party leader and derives her strength from the party as its president. Tony Blair or Margaret Thatcher did not loose the vote of confidence in the parliament, but their party made them to resign as Prime Ministers. There are no two views that in a parliamentary democracy it is the party which remains supreme not the offices of the president or prime ministers.

Human rights of the people have not been violated (which is the third objection of Mr Pirzada) by making the party leader strong, who, in any case remains strong by virtue of his party's position in the assembly.

As regards Mr Pirzada's objection to concurrent list and the provincial autonomy, he is reminded of the days when he used to demand more provincial autonomy along with Mr Mumtaz Bhutto, when the duo discovered quantum of provincial autonomy insufficient and sought a confederal system rather than federal.

From being a champion of confederation to strong centre, Mr Pirzada has forgotten the fact that the abolition of the concurrent list represents the collective will of the people of the country, which should serve to lessen the differences between the provinces.

Ironically, some novices in the media and politics including a group of lawyers are whining over hereditary politics. In a country still suffering from mass illiteracy, feudalism, nepotism and frequent visitations of martial laws, how they can expect British or American type of democracy without fulfilling the conditions prevailing in those societies.

India, with uninterrupted civilian rule has not come out of the "Nehru dynasty". But before passing a judgment, it needs to be determined whether these "dynasties" have done good or bad for the country. The detractors of "Bhutto dynasty" will have to first match their charisma amongst the people and their sacrifices for the country. The Bhutto legacy continues to rule the hearts and minds of the toiling masses from their graves while those who betrayed the Bhuttos--likes of Pirzadas--have no doubt survived but only as monumental pygmies likely to be remembered in the footnotes of history.


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