Historic national consensus

In a landmark move, the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms has finally reached a consensus on the draft 18th Amendment bill on March 31. Senator Raza Rabbani, who headed the all parties constitutional reforms committee, handed over the draft to Speaker National Assembly Dr Fehmida Mirza on Thursday. Senator Rabbani said that despite differences of opinion, the members of the committee have proved that “as people’s representatives, they are capable of achieving anything for the sake of the nation”. Dr Mirza was hopeful that the two houses of parliament – the National Assembly and the Senate – would soon pass the bill. She said that the political leadership has proved that parliament is supreme. It would not be wrong to say that this consensus has been the most historic one to date since the 1973 Constitution.

The draft bill would have been finalised on March 25 had it not been for the PML-N’s blunder. Mian Nawaz Sharif’s u-turn earned him a lot of criticism from all the political forces of Pakistan. Despite this, Mr Sharif was in no mood to budge from his stand on the judicial commission as well as the renaming of the NWFP. Senator Rabbani should be commended for not letting months of sheer hard work of the constitutional committee go to waste. In the end, the demands of the PML-N were incorporated. Now the proposed judicial commission, to be headed by the Chief Justice (CJ), would have a retired Supreme Court judge as its seventh member. The seventh member will be one who never took oath under a Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) and would be nominated by the CJ.

One of the most historic provisions of this draft amendment bill would be the renaming of NWFP. Notwithstanding the note of dissent by the PML-Q, the committee has reached a consensus that Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa would be the new name of the province. There have been celebrations all over Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa after this historic decision. It took more than a hundred years to do away with this hangover from the colonial times. What is even more significant is that the Concurrent List of the 1973 Constitution will be abolished, a belated and overdue redemption of the pledge by the framers of the original 1973 Constitution. An understanding was reached when the 1973 Constitution was promulgated that the Concurrent List would be abolished after 10 years but the decision was overtaken by events. The issue of provincial autonomy has also been settled in the draft bill. It should be noted that within hours of the promulgation of the 1973 Constitution, fundamental rights given under it were suspended, with adverse consequences for the people of Balochistan and their elected representatives, but that is another story. It is hoped that this time around, the Baloch people would not be treated as they were in the past. Historical mistakes should not be repeated, as it would be tantamount to putting the federation at stake. Removing the name of the most despicable of dictators, General Ziaul Haq, from the constitution is also a welcome move and one that was long overdue. This aberration had to go sooner or later. Zia’s era was the darkest period in Pakistan’s history and his legacy still continues to haunt us in the shape of the growing militancy in the country. The reforms committee has also abolished that most controversial of clauses, 58-2(b), which gives the president the power to dissolve the Assemblies.

The 18th Amendment draft bill is a landmark in our history. The PPP should be given due credit for this as no government has been able to bring about such a consensus in the past. Hopefully, democracy is well on the way to consolidation now.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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