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18th constitutional amendment set to be Pakistan's game-changer

By Sheela Bhatt
Last updated on: March 25, 2010 13:53 IST
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Pakistan is currently at the turning point of history, believes Hamid Mir, the political editor of Geo Television.

"Within the next two days, Pakistan parliament at a joint session will take up the 18th amendment of its constitution, which will change some 80 articles. This amendment is set to curtail the president's powers," Mir told rediff.com.

Mir is currently on a visit to New Delhi, where he will be honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Foundation of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation of Writers and Literature.

Mir says, "The new amendment will make parliament more powerful than it ever was. The amendment is so wide-ranging that Pakistan is going to acquire, almost, a new constitution."

The Pakistan People's party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Awami National party and other political parties are supporting the amendment.

Not surprisingly, Pakistan's military establishment is not happy with the amendment. Some politicians fear that at the last minute, the situation can change and that may break the consensus in Pakistan's polity. But Mir says, "We are hopeful that Pakistan will get a true platform for democracy after this amendment." 

According to Mir, if this amendment is passed, Pakistan will never be the same again.

Once the amendment is passed, the North West Frontier Province will be renamed Pukhtunkhwa and Baluchistan will get greater autonomy.

On the contentious issue of the appointment of judges to the apex court too, many radical changes are being introduced.

Under this constitutional amendment, to appoint judges to Pakistan's apex court, the chief justice and two of his colleagues will shortlist the names of judges, which will then be sent to the parliamentary judicial commission comprising eight members, four from the ruling coalition and four from the opposition parties. At least six members will have to approve the selection of judges. The prime minister will be guided by the advice of the parliamentary judicial commission.

Representatives from the various political parties held over 70 meetings, most of which lasted for 6-7 hours, to finalise the sweeping change in Pakistan's constitution.

Mir says, "The new amendment weakens the army because it will snatch away the powers of the army chief. There is resistance from the military (against the amendment)."

"In effect, it will also weaken America's space for maneuverability within Pakistan's establishment," argues Mir.

The 18th amendment is the culmination of various pro-democracy initiatives like the Charter of Democracy signed by PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif and late PPP chief Banezir Bhutto in London in 2006 and the movement launched by Pakistani lawyers demanding more transparency in the country's judiciary.

"This is PPP chairman and Pakistan President Asif Zardari's democratic revenge on the military establishment. All of us in Pakistan have understood that our survival lies in democracy," observes Mir.

In a lighter vein, Mir added, "Zardari wants to become the Sonia Gandhi of Pakistan."

When asked whether the army will resist the passing of the 18th amendment and stage a coup, as then army chief Pervez Musharraf did in 1998 to oust the Nawaz Sharif-led civilian government, Mir said, "All of us have decided to not resist peacefully if any coup takes place."

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Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi