Back to the 18th Amendment

On April 23, in London, heading a delegation of Pakistan Peoples Party’s politicians, PPP co-chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari met with Pakistan’s former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Both sides agreed to revive the Charter of Democracy (CoD) signed in 2006.  Both decided to take it up from the point where their parties had left it. Both also approved to bring the CoD Part II, in consultation with all the allied democratic parties that wish to continue work for the rule of law, the supremacy of Parliament and respect for the Constitution.

On the occasion, both leaders kept their deliberations focused on three main points: first, the disastrous economic management and unprecedented incompetence of the government of the Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (PTI) had made the people of Pakistan suffer greatly; second, the country’s democratic system had been spoiled beyond recognition; and third, terrible blunders and self-serving trade-offs had mutilated Pakistan’s foreign policy. Hence, there was a need to repair the system.

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The meeting reminds one of the day of 14 May 2006, when, in London, Pakistan’s two former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, who were both in exile, signed the CoD comprising 36 points. Both leaders took into account certain challenges such as the mockery of the Constitution, the threat to the federation’s unity, the supremacy of the military, the marginalization of civil society, the rampant brutalization ravaging society, the breakdown of the rule of law, and the financial hardships inflicted upon the people under the military dictatorship. Both concluded that military dictatorships had adversely affected the economy, democratic institutions, defence capabilities and the country’s integrity.

The culmination of the CoD was the 18th Constitutional Amendment that was approved on 8 April 2010. The Amendment remained the second most voluminous and comprehensive document after the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan. The hallmark of the amendment was provincial autonomy, besides the supremacy of the Parliament. Nevertheless, whereas the Amendment became the source of federal consolidation, it soured the civil-military relations.

The military considered that it had been cornered both politically and financially. This was how efforts were undertaken to bring up the third political force, the PTI. On 30 October 2011, at the Minar-e Pakistan, Lahore the Pakistanis saw the sudden appearance of the PTI on the national scene. Hopes were ripe that, after coming to power, the party would reverse the 18th Amendment. Unfortunately, the PTI failed to run the country. With that, the project to undo the Amendment was assumed over.

Compared to the pre-2006 era, the post-2018 time saw a new factor securing prominence on the political horizon, Maulana Fazl-ur Rehman of the Jamiat-e Ulema-e Islam (JUI), called the JUI(F). Since 2014 and especially since the electoral campaign for the 2018 elections, Rehman had been facing with utmost grace the PTI-sponsored vitriolic onslaught and rancorous derision publicly. In the face of the ignominy, Rehman refused to drop his patience; he persisted with fighting for the political space of his party. It was the Azaadi March of the JUI(F) on Islamabad in November 2019 that shook the foundations of the PTI’s government. Rehman arranged a sit-in, demanded the resignation of the then ruling prime minister Imran Khan and asked for fresh elections.

Not only did the protest counterbalance the “umpire”, but also it sapped the resolve of the PTI’s government to run the country unhindered. The protest hastened the surfacing of internal bickering and revealed the papered-over cracks in the PTI, which got unnerved and committed more mistakes subsequently. From 2020 to 2022, the PTI’s government struggled to stabilize itself but in vain. The street power of the JUI(F) threw a colossal challenge to the hybrid regime. On 10 April 2022, a no-confidence motion turned the tables. The PTI foundered on one point: no sportsman spirit.

Rehman remained the main player accelerating the fall of the PTI government. Presumably, in any new Part II of the CoD, his inclusion would be significant. Nevertheless, in the shape of the JUI(F), a religious party with political credentials raising the slogans of constitutionalism has made its mark in the recent democratic history of Pakistan. This kind of transformation must be appreciated. The inclusion of the JUI(F) in any new Part II CoD would fortify the liberal progressive claims of the main signatory parties.

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Despite all claims of neutrality and constitutionalism by the military, the civil-military crisis is not over. It cannot be finished as long as the 18th Amendment is around or until the military changes its outlook about the way the federation should run its affairs. The military comes with the claim that it has sacrificed more for the country and hence its share– in both power and finance– should be considerable. The military demands discretion. The argument given is that the soldiers have to be appeased.

On the other hand, population pressure is taking its toll on the national exchequer. Civil strife to have access to the sources of the economy has been increasing. The solution does not lie in expanding the government sector to accommodate ever increasing mouths, but in expanding the private sector to utilize the brains, who could earn their own living. Currently, Pakistan’s annual population growth is around 2.8 percent, making it the world’s fifth most populous country with 225 million people in 2021. With the same speed, in 2050, Pakistan would be having a population of over 380 million, making it the world’s third most populous country after China and India. It means that the civil-military strife for more financial resources is bound to increase. Seeking loans offers no permanent solution. Currently, Pakistan is at the crossroads where the number of disgruntled elements refuses to dwindle. The Karachi suicide bombing devouring the lives of Chinese teachers a few days ago is a relevant example.

Civil-military conflict on the share of clout and resources would continue. Expectedly, after another couple of years, under a new excuse, the 18th Amendment would again be a prime target, if democracy were to survive in Pakistan.

Dr Qaisar Rashid
Dr Qaisar Rashid
The writer is a freelance journalist and can be reached at [email protected]


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