Since the inception of independence in 1947, Pakistan has been facing a plethora of challenges at the outset of the political arena & constitutionalism. It is not exaggerated to claim that Pakistan has had three constitutions & three military coup d’état, democratic leaning regimes alternating with dictatorships at almost ten years of intervals. Moreover, after proper consolidation & implementation of the constitution of 1973, still there were more threats that lingered to weaken the federation of Pakistan; but the struggle doesn’t go in vain it brings that morning which blooms the destiny of nations. A myriad of issues was there before the 18th amendment that was creating the abyss of wretchedness for the masses; it included far more threats to democracy, civil rights violations, divide amongst people, weakened parliamentary system, extraordinary presidential powers, overcrowded cabinet members, state of confusion regarding caretaker government and election commission consolidation and obscurity in constitutional expressions. All these issues set into motion a movement that led the 18th amendment to embark on the national emblem.
However, there were three primary objectives to pass the 18th amendment;
First and foremost is that it aims to clean the constitution with later undemocratic additions and deletions.
Secondly, it aims to strengthen the democratic institutions and the federation of Pakistan.
Thirdly, it consolidates the observation of concerns, purposes, and impacts in the domain of democracy, civil rights, the strength of parliament, provincial autonomy, decrease in all powers of the president, the appointment of the election commission, and judicial matters.
Undoubtedly, through the 18th amendment, a serious and comprehensive effort has been made to settle the aforementioned issues. The government remained jubilant for passing it unanimously. It seems as if history was made when Mian Raza Rabbani led the parliamentary committee on constitutional reforms signed the draft. Moreover, it was observed the first time in the constitutional history of Pakistan that such massive settlements were settled and the president surrendered his powers to the prime minister voluntarily; it actually showed astonishing unity, amity, maturity, and extraordinary tolerance towards each other’s narrative. Therefore, it is proven to be the glue for the federation of Pakistan.
In the following paragraphs, the strengths of the 18th amendment have been debated that tried to improve the constitutional structure and federation of Pakistan.
Firstly, the most significant achievement of the 18th amendment is the overwhelming attachment with democracy and abhorrence with the military regimes. The amendment paves the way for democratic rule and blocks all possible ways which were used in the past to derail the democratic rule. Thus, it was the beginning of the democratic era in the country. In addition to this 18th amendment also repeals the 17th amendment which was passed during the rule of Musharraf. All of these laws were sanguine of encroachment in the constitution made under military rules and repealing them means the clear declaration of no place for dictatorship at least in pages of the constitution. The suspension and holding in abeyance of the constitution along with its abrogation and subversion have also been added in the list of the forms of high treason.
Moreover, in order to prevent the state of emergency imposition strict measures have been taken and declaration of emergency will have to approve by both houses of parliament separately. If the president is alone to impose the emergency it would be more difficult because the approval of both houses is mandatory to be taken within ten days.
Secondly, the 18th amendment accorded the fair treatment to fundamental civil rights, rights of education, fair trial, and information that has been added in the constitution. The hurdles through which political parties could be exploited on the changes of promotion of sectarian, ethnic regional hatred and militancy have also been put in.
Another attainment of the 18th amendment is that it also boasts to compensate the deprived and downtrodden parts & classes of Pakistan. The security shares of all provinces in all federal services have been added in sub-clause of article 38. Politically too it tried to improve inter-provincial & center-provincial coordination. The provinces have been made more autonomous. Akin to the compensations of the provinces and regional groups the minorities also gained support. To give equal representation to non-Muslims in the Senate, the seats of the Senate have been increased.
The remarkable accomplishment of the 18th amendment is that it established the institutions for resolving controversial issues.
The council of common interest is the authorized body act as arbiter for resolving disputes amongst provinces and federal. Similarly, in order to establish balanced development and equity, a council named National Economic Council has been assigned the role to meet twice in the year and resolve the issues.
The most embarking success of the 18th amendment can be marked in respect of empowerment to the democratic institutions of parliament. Especially the role of the Senate in various matters has been enhanced.
One of the extraordinary fulfillment of the 18th amendment is that the powers of the president have been curtailed & the prime minister has been empowered more like he was in the constitution of 1973. Moreover, the appointment of the chairman Senate, joint chiefs of staff committee, Chiefs of army, navy & air staff, the chairman of public service commission would be made by the president but not in his discretion and on the advice of the prime minister.
Another prominent work of the 18th amendment includes it removed some obscurities in the constitution, the obscure application of conditions for a member of parliament of being sagacious, righteous, honest and amen has been made obvious and now a contrary declaration of any court in this respect would decide for disqualification.
Lastly, the 18th amendment also boasts some interesting corrections like a change of spellings of two provinces i.e. Sindh & Baluchistan, and the renaming of NWFP to KPK.
Notwithstanding the amendments described above the 18th amendment has opened the door for new controversies that have posed altogether new challenges for policymakers. It has really buried many disagreements in the constitution but many new ones have emerged suddenly from it.
Firstly, the 7th NFC award has triggered a financial crisis for the center by increasing debt obligations and defense requirements. Thus the federal government combined total tax & non-tax revenues for last year was 2.66 trillion rupees giving shortfalls of 0.62 billion with respect to meeting just the two largest budgetary items. The federal government is also investing in border fencing, IF-88 issues & the FATA merger posed economical hurdles for the federal government.
Secondly, there still exists a danger to democracy. Twice in our recent history, Pakistan had all-powerful prime ministers who enjoyed large majorities in parliament, they both were toppled by soft power strategy. It means that it is a must to revive the judicial check with a political check.
In addition to the above-mentioned weakness following are given some more issues which are accentuating over the years, these include; Issues of incapacity in provincial governments, risks of macroeconomic stability of unrestricted provincial borrowings & problems of contradictory standards.
It is now worth mentioning the possible answers to the critics of the 18th amendment.
Firstly, on the issue provincial incapacity Senator Raza Rabbani answered the question in his book “History Constitutionalism; Biography of Pakistani federalism, Suppose I agree to contention, he writes; there is a lack of capacity in the provinces but the subject of health and education have remained with the federal government from 1947 till 2010. Can you tell me what contributions have been made? The literacy rate is 100%, Health coverage is 100%, he asked. Therefore, capacity is lacking on both sides, he continues. If the question is of capacity, the provinces can have training sessions.
Secondly, on the issue of unrestrained provincial borrowings, it is answered that provinces have given the power to revive international and domestic borrowings, subject to limits and conditions imposed by the national economic council.
Lastly, on the issue of consensus; either convinced or to be convinced policy. Convenience can also be explored on the issues of curriculum, cultural practices & criminal laws. Similarly, there is a council of common interest for distribution of issues related to federal legislation list part 2 that deals with subjects in joint ownership of federal & provincial governments.
Keeping in view the current scenario; the evolving issue of revoking the 18th amendment. Should we do this? My response is plainly in negation for there would be grave consequences to revoke this. The problem will not be single folded however it will be multi-factorial in its dissemination, evolving from a weakened federation to strong ethnic & nationalistic forces to inter-provincial & center-provincial disputes to undemocratic practices that will again weaken the fledgling democratic structure in Pakistan. Thus the provision of national unity would be at the stake of devastation for Raza Rabbani claimed; “Federalism is the root cause of Pakistan. If anyone tries to weaken it or do away with it, it will bring away negative impacts for the state of Pakistan.
After establishing both sides of the issue, it is now implicit that it is a fine step towards federalism albeit there are some obstacles that need the possible solutions. Therefore, in order to resolve the impasse, I am orchestrating some recommendations for provinces, center, and parliament that might be augur well.
For provinces, it is pertinent to raise the tax revenue through services and agriculture taxes. They should try to rationalize the policies and synchronize those with the center and finally, they should properly decentralize the powers to local levels.
For the center, it is suggested to reform the tax net, reduce expenditures, and realign its organizational structure. And for parliament it is imperative to give new and better NFC awards; it should hold a thorough debate on the 18th amendment and bring necessary changes through consensus. It should avoid presidential ordinances otherwise it would trigger political instability and subsequently affect the federation of Pakistan.
All in all, the Eighteenth amendment is an important milestone in the history of Pakistan. It is the first step towards the provincial autonomy and the second twist towards democracy after the 1973 constitution. It marked the dream of a true federation though it is not ideal yet it is irrational to revoke it. The only possible option is to improve it through comprehensive reforms, the consensus will have to evolve through negotiations instead it could be manufactured through repression.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Dunya News’ editorial stance.