Following the National Assembly’s passage of the 18th Amendment package of constitutional reforms, Pakistan’s upper house Senate approved the measure this morning, sending it to President Zardari for ratification. This historic event is culmination of unprecedented cooperation and consensus between Pakistan’s political parties.
Though Pakistan continues to face a number of challenges, in its struggle for democracy it is, perhaps, a lesson for other nascent democracies. By tabling a package of constitutional reforms that will repeal several aberrations adopted under dictatorships in the 1980s and 1990s, the democratic government of Pakistan has achieved a landmark in democracy and brought hope to people around the world.
Events over the past week have sent a ripple of hope and optimism through the nation and its diaspora as the government prepares to right past wrongs and prove that, even as dictators attempt to preserve their misrule through constitutional vandalism, the natural desire for freedom will always overcome their tyranny. English-language daily, The Daily Times wrote on Sunday,
With the strengthening of parliament, the provinces, local governments, dispute resolution amongst the provinces and with the centre, transparent appointments of chief election commissioners and the superior judiciary, the citizens of Pakistan can draw a sigh of relief and feel justly proud of the consensus-building inherent capability of a democracy, the odd hiccup notwithstanding. This is an all too rare moment to celebrate in our national life, and it would be best to let bygones be bygones and not labour the respective contributions (negative and positive) of all the parties to this historic compact.
Washington-based attorney and former Pakistani military officer Mohsin Awan wrote this past weekend that the constitutional reforms represent “The Greatest Moment in Pakistani Democracy.”
This week may very well be remembered in Pakistan as the greatest point in the restoration of democracy in its 63 year history. Yesterday, after a year long legislative effort led by President Asif Ali Zardari and his Pakistan Peoples Party in the National Assembly of Pakistan, agreement was finally reached on the most dramatic and sweeping constitutional changes in Pakistan’s history, restoring the 1973 Pakistani Constitution, which created a Pakistani parliamentary democracy based on the British Westminster model.
That Pakistan’s President, Asif Ali Zardari, has voluntarily pushed through a package of constitutional reforms that will repeal power consolidation by previous presidents is an unprecedented move that will secure his place in the history books as a leader who put his nation before his personal interest. Again, from Mohsin Awan:
Contrary to those who would belittle him, Asif Zardari is hardly a recent convert to the restoration of the 1973 Constitution. President Zardari had planned to complete the transition to democracy and to return the country to the foundations of the 1973 constitution from his first day in office. During his address to the joint sitting of the parliament last year, he advised the Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Fahmida Mirza, to immediately form a constitutional committee comprising representatives of all political forces in the parliament to look at not only doing away with the arbitrary amendments including the infamous 17th amendment inserted by the dictator but also to settle the question of provincial autonomy according to the wishes of the federating units. He called upon his party in Parliament to enact a package of constitutional reforms as quickly as possible.
Irrespective of what his detractors may like to say, the fact is that Zardari has ungrudgingly consented, as was his original promise and intention, to forgo the powers conferred on the President under the 17th amendment thus implementing the public commitment of his wife and of our Party. He is not being “stripped of his power” as some have characterized it either out of ignorance or mischief, but rather has been in the vanguard of democratic change. The constitutional committee that was created at his request, specifically for this purpose, has completed its job and the reform package will be put before the National Assembly on Thursday and the Senate on Friday.
Letters to newspapers in Pakistan echo these sentiments of optimism among the Pakistani public.
Perhaps it can be dubbed the best constitutional package after the 1973 Constitution. It has a great deal of resemblance to the original 1973 Constitution, as the former like the later — is expected to be unanimous when it is finally passed by parliament.
Credit goes to all stakeholders in parliament, the media, lawyers and the President without whose generosity and cooperation such an achievement was not possible, at least in a friendly environment.
An atmosphere of optimism would develop in the country. At large, all provinces — especially the smaller ones — would regain their powers. A sense of deprivation prevailing in the smaller provinces would decrease to a considerable level.
After decades of constitutional manipulation and bold power grabs by dictators Ziaul Haq and Musharraf, Pakistan is teaching the world a lesson in democratic governance.
In January of this year, we came together to form a new organization, Americans for Democracy and Justice in Pakistan. Our mission is to educate the media, political leaders and the public about the importance of supporting democracy and democratic institutions in Pakistan.
Pakistan is a country whose history is full of politically-motivated attacks against civilian rulers and outside influences that have destabilized the country, often resulting in takeovers by the military. We want what the Pakistan people want: the rule of law and a government chosen by the people.
Our goal is simple: Support the Pakistani people’s chosen leaders, whomever they may be, against misinformation, misrepresentation and unfounded attempts to undermine their authority. We are American citizens but we still have close ties to our ancestral country and we welcome other Americans who support democracy and justice in Pakistan to join our cause.
To this end, we were particularly pleased to see Farahnaz Ispahani’s column published on The Huffington Post yesterday. Ms. Ispahani is an esteemed Member of Pakistan’s National Assembly, and her reflections on Pakistan’s long struggle for democracy are worthy reading for anyone interested in the current political situation in Pakistan.
Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah envisaged a modern democratic state for South Asia’s Muslims. His entire life represented respect for rule of law, justice and fairness. Starting his political career as an ardent nationalist, he earned the title of “ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity.” His advocacy of a separate Muslim homeland began only after he was convinced that the Muslim nation would not get fair representation and protection without the creation of Pakistan. The Quaid’s conception of Pakistan was clearly rooted in the notion of a constitutional democracy. It is unfortunate that Pakistan’s leadership was hijacked within a decade of its independence by the dark forces of dictatorship. Within two years of the adoption of the 1956 constitution, the constitutional order was overthrown and the country did not get its first general elections until 1970.
Despite these setbacks, though, there has always been a strong democratic movement in Pakistan that continues today. As we write, the government is debating a package of constitutional reforms to undo anti-democratic measures enacted by dictators, including the infamous 17th Amendment promulgated by Gen. Musharraf.
The process of restoration of democracy would not be complete without the restoration of the 1973 constitution. A nation’s constitution is by definition a living document that can be amended through the constitutionally mandated process, reflecting changes and needs of the times. But Generals Ziaul Haq and Musharraf arbitrarily amended a consensus document to reflect their twisted thinking that only usurpers of power occupying the presidency through coups d’etat could protect the national interest. When President Asif Ali Zardari sought and secured election as President, some critics wrongly and unjustifiably attributed to him the desire to wield absolute power under the dictators’ distorted constitutions. In reality, President Zardari’s election to the highest office in the land was essential to complete the country’s transition to full constitutional rule. Had the presidency remained in the hands of a dictator, instead of being held by someone who has willingly accepted suffering for the sake of the struggle for democracy, the process of recreating consensus on a constitutional package would almost definitely have run into difficulties.
When Pakistan was founded, it was intended as a free and democratic state. History has unfortunately thrown up roadblocks, but we are now at a historic moment. A democratically elected President is preparing to voluntarily undo the expansion and consolidation of power by anti-democratic governments.
We are proud of our homeland, and we have faith in the greatness that it can achieve. For too long we have witnessed dictators and zealots abusing the vision of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Today we celebrate the return of the hope that inspired him and countless others – the birth of a free and democratic Pakistan.