Why Eighteenth Amendment Matters?

Nizam Rahim Baloch
The debate on Eighteenth Amendment has been initiated in a peculiar modus operandi after the passage of it eight years ago. There is no an iota of doubt, that the then political leadership brought a paradigm shift in Pakistan’s Democratic history by gifting this nation an amendment that revived the original constitution. The latter was molded by the dictators for their personal interests to prolong their unconstitutional regimes one way or the other.
Let not the critics of Eighteenth Amendment success in their propaganda because in Pakistan conspiracy theories are most attractive. The role of 26 members Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms (PCCR) header by Raza Rabbani is undeniable in bringing out the Magna Carta type reforms in Pakistan’s political system. After the then President Asif Ali Zardari gave his assent on April 19, 2010, Eighteenth Amendment became a reality. It was not an amendment to deal with a single article in the constitution nor was it for a single political party or single individual rather it was an absolute constitutional package that brought changes in 97 articles out of total 280 articles in 1973 articles.
It is this very constitution that restored parliamentary spirit of constitution from semi-presidential system. The latter was the favorite form for the military rulers. The concurrent list which had impeded the separation of powers due to its complexities was abolished altogether and the Council of Common Interests (CCI) was made a decisive constitutional body to resolve inter-provincial issues. Under article 164 it was made obligatory for the CCI to meet at least once in 90 days. Secondly, the 58- 2 (b), which was used as a tool to dissolve the parliament, was abolished. By doing so, the president became a true president in a parliamentary system. Here one should give credit to Zardari who fully supported this move.
Thirdly, it strengthened the judiciary by setting up its genuine jurisdiction to ensure checks and balances in the political system. Islamabad High Court (IHC) was established and the composition of IHC depicts the federation i.e., the judges, according to the eighteenth amendment should be taken from the federal capital as well as from all four units of the federation. Fourthly, four seats (One seat for each province) for the minorities in the upper house were increased. The renaming of the then NWFP to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the transferring of 18 federal ministries to the provinces vindicate the intention of provincial autonomy.
The demand of provincial autonomy has always been the bone of contention in center-province relation. Though, provincial autonomy is a normal practice in federal states but in Pakistan the attitude of the center has generated a controversy. This rude attitude of the center resulted in separatist voices and Pakistan had to lose its erstwhile Eastern Wing as well as insurgency in its territorially largest federal unit: Balochistan. Let’s come back to Eighteenth Amendment. Few months ago, there was no debate on Eighteenth Amendment but with the change in the political atmosphere and the explicit tussle between the institutions particularly between the executive, judiciary and military establishment, the debate on Eighteenth Amendment has come to limelight. It is a set reality that Pakistan political culture is very receptive to conspiracy theories. Haste is cardinal feature of people’s orientation.
There is no denying the fact that the Eighteenth Amendment has not been fully implemented. For instance, CCI is not being used well to pacify political feuds, provinces are unable to collect taxes with accordance to the spirit of Eighteenth Amendment, provincial Higher Education Commissions are not delivering well and other such weaknesses exist. But it does not mean that having some discrepancies in the implementation of amendment could be settled by revisiting the entire constitutional amendment. If such a hasty step were taken, the repercussions would give a serious blow to the federation.
Now a question may arise that how to further the pace of its implementation. Here are some recommendations. Provincial governments should opt for self-reliance instead of depending on the center especially in the monetary affairs. The federal government should not interfere in the internal affairs of the provinces for political point scoring. Bureaucracy needs massive reforms in order to expedite its true role. For this “Accountability” is essential. As an illustration, the rampant corruption particularly in the provincial bureaucracy needs to be taken as a serious issue. The Mushtaq Raisani case in Balochistan and Ahad Cheema’s case in Punjab reflects the pros cons in the bureaucracy. Is it not better to form provincial accountability mechanism to deal corruption instead of depending fully on National Accountability Bureau (NAB)?
Thus, Eighteenth amendment is not an end itself; it is a mean to many ends. Those ends include good governance, empowerment of the provinces, transition of fragile political culture into participant political culture and last but not the least tackling the undemocratic moves such as Anti-eighteenth amendment moves prudently by implementing Eighteenth Amendment so that its fruit reach to the masses and the masses can protect undemocratic moves.
DisclaimerViews expressed in this article are those of the author and Balochistan Voices not necessarily agrees with them.
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