What the 18th Amendment means for Balochistan

The Baloch Hal Editorial: What the 18th Amendment means for Balochistan
By Malik Siraj Akbar

It has taken the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) a long and tiring journey to restore the essence of the 1973 Constitution it gave to the country. The PPP is justified in proudly celebrating the consensus it managed to earn among all the political parties. What needs to be recalled is the hard circumstance under which the ruling party thwarted all conspiracies hatched against President Zardari and proved that democracy was the best revenge. The drums of victory would have surely sounded much louder in the national media, which is predominantly subservient to the country’s military establishment, if a similar historic initative had been taken by a military dictator. Yet, the PPP has once again outvoted dictatorship, autocracy and the rule of gun with the power of ballot.

Founded on June 23, 2009, the 27-member parliamentary constitutional committee was tasked to revisit the 1973 constitution in order to strike a balance of power between the President and the Prime Minister. It was also assigned the task to repeal the controversial 17th Amendment, which was introduced by former military dictator General Pervez Musharraf to empower the president against the prime minister to such an extent that the latter could even dismiss the parliament and sack the elected prime minister at any time without being answerable to any authority for his deeds.

Senator Raza Rabbani, the chairman of the Constitutional Committee, rightly deserves to be extolled for his perseverance to carry on with the constitutional package in spite of a brazen effort by opposition leader Nawaz Sharif to sabotage the entire process. In fact, it was the only time when many parliamentarians, irrespective of their political affiliations, realized that the country desperately needed consensus on a number of crucial constitutional matters and Sharif could not be allowed to single-handedly highjack an urgently needed process of constitutional reforms.

Sanity prevailed among all the parliamentarians who acknowledged that the country had never come so close to revoking the damage done to the constitution of Pakistan by successive military dictators such as General Zia-ul-Haq and Pervez Musharraf.

Under the historic accord signed by members of all political parties represented in the parliament, the sovereignty of the parliament has been restored as powers snatched from by the elected prime minister and given to the president under the infamous 17th Amendment would now once again be given to the prime minister. Hence, the president of Pakistan would now be deprived of the power to dissolve the parliament by arrogantly exercising his powers under article 58 (2)- b.

By renaming the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), justice has rightly been done with the people of that province. This has been a longstanding demand of the people of the Khabar-Pakhtunkhawa that the name of their province should reflect their identity. Pakhtun nationalists had to struggle very hard for several decades to get their province’s name changed.

Another area of progress is the pledge in the 18th Amendment to get rid of the Concurrent List. Even though a promise was made while introducing the 1973 Constitution that the Concurrent List would be abolished ten years after the promulgation of the constitution, the pledge was never fulfilled due to Islamabad’s unwillingness to share powers with the provinces.

The 18th amendment is another major success by the PPP in its efforts to restore real democracy in the country and strengthen the federation. Previously, the PPP succeeded in sorting out a new consensus formula on the National Finance Commission (NFC) award among the four provinces and the federal government. Similarly, efforts were made to assuage the Baloch anger by presenting a Balochistan Package and reforms were inducted in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

The measures taken under the 18th Amendment will require more time to fully yield fruits. What is important to understand is the limited period of time during which the democratic government has worked tirelessly to settle political issues through peaceful dialogue. The PPP government has, unfortunately, come under the conspiracies of a troika of military, judiciary and the media since day one. The government faced all the pressures tactfully and forced the detractors of democracy that it was for the democrats, not the dictators, to run the affairs of the state.

From Balochistan, Senators Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo of the National Party (NP), Agha Shahid Bugti of the Jamori Watan Party (JWP), Israrullah Zehri of the Balochistan National Party(BNP-Awami) are the prominent Baloch leaders who have signed the 18th Amendment Bill. On its part, the biggest Baloch nationalist party, the Balochistan National Party of Sardar Akhtar Mengal has categorically rejected the constitutional package by saying that the government ‘April-fooled’ the Baloch with the constitutional package. According to Mengal, a former chief minister of the province, his party was not a part of the constitutional committee and the abolition of Concurrent List is utterly irrelevant in the current situation when Balochistan is engulfed in a war-like situation.

Seen in the backdrop of Sardar Akhtar Mengal’s reaction, it is safe to conclude that the armed groups involved in Balochistan for separation, who hold more radical views than Sardar Mengal, will not take the constitutional package very seriously. Many of these organizations have not even considered the package worth commenting on which translates into the stark rejection by Baloch nationalists representing a large segment of the annoyed Baloch youth.

It has yet to be seen how the federal and provincial governments interpret the 18th Amendment for the restive province of Balochistan. Does the package include what it takes to put out the fire in Balochistan is something that the government has to explain.

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