Daily Dawn Editorial, Published April 09, 2010
They’ve done it. Proving all the naysayers wrong, dismissing all the conspiracy theorists, rejecting all those who would be spoilers, the National Assembly of Pakistan has approved a constitution that for the first time in decades will have the broad support of the people’s elected representatives.
Such was the bonhomie in the house yesterday that regular watchers of parliament may have rubbed their eyes in disbelief: was that really Chaudhry Nisar, leader of the opposition, the PML-N attacker-in-chief, a seemingly perennially angry man, praising the PPP co-chairman, President Asif Ali Zardari? Yes, it was. It was that kind of a day. A historic day in Pakistan’s parliamentary history, one that the MNAs deserve a heartfelt thanks for.
And yet the 18th Amendment is neither the panacea that its proponents suggest it is, nor will it transform Pakistan’s polity unless implemented with sincerity and purpose. There are four broad areas that this constitutional amendment package addresses: the repeal of the 17th Amendment; enhancement of provincial autonomy; the appointment process for the superior judiciary; and ‘other’ issues. That is a sizeable agenda and necessitated nearly 100 clauses of the 280-article constitution to be amended. But many big issues were never put on the table. For example, the Islamic clauses gratuitously inserted by Gen Zia in the constitution were not touched and the colonial-era status of Fata was not looked at. Perhaps the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms headed by Raza Rabbani should not be disbanded and should instead be allowed to work on the next raft of changes that are needed. Consider that the security threat that has radiated from Fata is unprecedented in the country’s history and yet the committee did not see fit to amend its constitutional status at this stage. In fact, even the relatively minor changes (allowing political parties to participate in elections, for example) promised by the president have not yet been signed into law by the NWFP governor. The security challenge in Fata has to be dealt with by more than just guns and money — the ‘wild west’ political status of the place is part of the reason that the area has become the greatest threat to internal security.
Democracies must necessarily be forward-looking. To suggest that more needs to be done at this stage is not to detract from the historic achievement of the present parliament. Mr Rabbani and his committee have done a phenomenal job — which is all the more reason to keep them together and set them to work on the next set of constitutional reforms. ‘Do more’ in this context is not a quibble; it is the essence of democracy.