Monday, March 22, 2010

Amending the Constitution

Editorial -- Express Tribune (coming out soon in the market)

The results of the parliamentary committee led by Raza Rabbani to suggest changes to the Constitution are eagerly awaited, not least because if implemented they could perhaps bring about some much-needed changes to the 1973 Constitution. While several reports have appeared of late touching on this important matter, for all intents and purposes the actual content of the proposed reforms is not yet known and will perhaps only become known once they are unveiled in parliament. However, one issue which has been reported on a bit more has been a proposal to rename the NWFP that has been a key demand of the ANP which controls that province’s government and which for many decades has championed the cause of Pakhtun nationalism. According to some reports, the issue threatens to derail the whole process of constitutional reform with the issue leading to severe bickering between the ANP and the PML-N. In this context, the latter’s stand is widely believed to reflect the aspirations of its electoral constituents in NWFP’s Hazara district which is Hindko-speaking and who have been quite vociferous against any attempt to rename the province to reflect exclusively the province’s Pakhtun population.
Moving beyond this issue, the committee does have serious work to do. For instance, the issue of distribution of power between the three institutions of state – the executive, legislature and the judiciary – needs to be sorted out in a manner so that the recent acrimony and conflict of the past is avoided. Key among this is the question of who is to have the deciding authority to appoint the chief justices and jugdes of the Supreme Court and the high courts. Some legal experts have already expounded – and quite eloquently -- on this matter and have tried to point out that the system currently in place lends itself to confrontation by placing perhaps too much authority with the chief justice. The argument behind this is that the prime minister is after all the leader of the National Assembly and by that position can claim to be the one individual who not only is accountable to parliament but also the chosen representative of the people of Pakistan to govern the state and institute policies as deemed fit by the electorate.
There are some other important issues as well and perhaps foremost among them is the character of the Constitution and hence of the state that it seeks jurisdiction over. Do we want to see a state as envisaged by Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Allama Iqbal or do we want to have a state as thought by Maulana Maudoodi? What role is religion to have in this state? What space are the minorities of Pakistan to occupy in the political and private sphere? Can a Christian, Hindu, Parsi or even Sikh citizen of Pakistan aspire to become the president or prime minister of the country or should he resign himself to being a second-class citizen of a country that treats him and his rights unequally simply because of his beliefs? Here, of course, one is referring to the Objectives Resolution which was inserted into the very first Constitution in 1949 and which remains with us till this day. In essence benign and even well-intentioned, the presence of the Objectives Resolution in any constitution, in the current environment, will only embolden the conservatives and their ideological allies in the form of the Taliban and other militant groups. One can only hope – perhaps wishfully – that the committee’s fruit will be an effort will be made to transform the constitution to fully reflect the ideal of the Quaid.


  1. Omar, while I agree with the overall thrust of your argument, don't you think that the very foundations of this state, as well as the relationship shared between the provinces and the Centre also need some revisiting?

    Constitutional reforms are good and well, but if they don't touch upon substantive issues of the federation -- confederation, if I had things my way -- wouldn't this turn out to be merely a cosmetic exercise rather than a more holistic solution?

  2. true -- i think that's what the editorial was trying to say