18th Constitutional Amendment
Appears as Constitutional Settlement
and Not Constitutional Reform
Pakistan’s Prime Ministers have so far traditionally been political pawns in the hands of Pakistan Army military dictators and the handful of civilian Presidents too. Pakistan’s 18th Constitutional Amendment signed by President Zardari recently transfers a number of vital powers, more prominently the powers to appoint the Chief of the Pakistan Army and the other two Services. The Prime Minister now also becomes the constitutional head to control Pakistan’s nuclear forces and conventional forces. It is too good to be true to believe that the Pakistan Army Chief will now submit himself to civilian control and cease to control Pakistan’s policies towards the United States, India and Afghanistan. More importantly he would hand over the button of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal to the Prime Minister. It seems that a trade-off has taken place in what amounts to a Constitutional settlement with the Pakistan Army Chief rather than a welcome and long-awaited democratic reform.
President Zardari’s signature on the 18th Constitutional Amendment needs to be welcomed as an ostensible step taken towards strengthening democracy in Pakistan. He voluntarily signed away a number of presidential powers assumed and accumulated by Pakistan Army military dictators over the years. The more notable powers signed away by President Zardari included the powers to dismiss Pakistan’s Parliament and the powers to appoint the Chief of the Pakistan Army and the other two Services. Pakistan Supreme Court Judges would no longer be appointed by the President but based on the recommendations of a Judicial Commission.
The Prime Minister is from President Zaradari’s ruling party and was a nominee of Zardari for this post. In the last two years there has been speculation that he has cozied himself to the Pakistan Army Chief as compared to President Zardari with whom the Pakistan Army Chief General Kayani is reported to have an uneasy relationship
Had this Constitutional Amendment not come along then it was unlikely that President Zardari would have agreed to grant an extension of service to General Kayani who is due to retire in November 2010, a few months away. It now remains to be seen whether Prime Minister Gilani to ingratiate himself with the Pakistan Army grants extension of service to General Kayani, a move favored by the United States.
Some news reports emanating from Pakistan also speculate that President Zardari’s voluntarily ceding powerful powers to the Prime Minister is a prelude to Zardari himself moving from the Presidency to getting elected as Prime Minister of Pakistan. It would then confer a really powerful Prime Ministership on him.
The moot question that arises is whether this constitutional reform or constitutional settlement has the potential of contributing to the restoration of placidity in Pakistan’s turbulence which extends all across the political spectrum, insurgency, terrorism and sectarian unrest. It seems unlikely to happen as the fissures in Pakistan are deep and divisive.
The Constitutional Reform notwithstanding one can visualize the Pakistan Army Chief continuing as the pivotal power center in Pakistan and now that he is a blue-eyed boy of the Washington policy establishment. The political reform towards parliamentary democracy at best can be considered as a cosmetic one designed to silence US Congressional critics who insist on tying US financial doles to Pakistan with moves towards democracy.
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Dr. Subhash Kapila
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