Ambushing democracy

The brazen manipulations, corruption and intervention by intelligence agencies in the recent Senate elections has exposed the hollowed and farcical nature of the current “ republic “ which doesn’t qualify anymore to  be called even a  mere facade of democracy. On the one hand the creeping coup going on for the last few years has now culminated into a  blatant and direct control of the upper echelon of military and civil bureaucracy over not only the internal and external state policies but also over the electoral processes to an extent where the system has turned into a mere selection process. On the other hand the real rulers have also been able to successfully exploit political feuds among major political players for pitting them against each other by  using carrot and stick. The de fact seems to have defeated the de jure. From overthrowing of provincial government in Balochistan through a parliamentary coup orchestrated by the prime Intelligence agency of the country in January for paving ground for election of a group of “independent “ senators, to using pressure and dirty deals for getting a little known and totally inexperienced senator elected  as chairman Senate, everything smacked of mala fide. There is nothing secret about it as  some political parties publicly accused a senior intelligence operative by name for his involvement in the rigging of recent Senate election but nothing happened as the bosses of the concerned institutions decided to ignore such demands and the civilian government is too weak to make the concerned guy accountable.

As if all that wasn’t enough COAC General Qamar Javed Bajwa had a detailed interaction with a large group of journalists, tv anchors and analysts. Among other things he advised the Parliament to revisit laws such as the Police Act ( passed in 1861 by Colonal rule) and the 18th Constitutional Amendment that was passed by consensus in 2010. Reforming the Police Act of colonial period is something that everyone agrees upon but call for  rolling back the 18th Amendment is like calling for the rolling back of federal system in the country. It has raised eyebrows for many reasons. First this statement has given special meaning to the recent manipulation in the senate election. The purpose seems to be not only controlling Senate for blocking legislation in future by any “ undesirable “ elected government but also to create  conducive atmosphere for rolling back of 18th Amendment. Senate being the custodian of the federation plays very important role in protecting the federal system. Second, such a demand by a sitting army chief is direct intervention in the country’s politics, something which is not permitted by law. A government servant , even after his/her retirement has to wait for two years before joining political  activities. Three, provincial autonomy is a very sensitive subject. The population wise smaller provinces have struggled/sacrificed a lot and have achieved the present quantum of provincial autonomy after a prolonged struggle. Some of the nationalists from these provinces are even not satisfied with it. But rolling it back would certainly open a flood gate for centrifugal movements. Four, such statements also raises questions about army as a national institution. How can it take a position that is a challenge to the interests of the the three federating units? Insistence on such a position will give the impression as if the army represents only the population wise biggest province.

Be that as it may, but the question is what is the problem with the 18th Amendment and why is it opposed by the generals? The basic thrust of the 18th Amendment was to restore the original federal, democratic and parliamentary 1973 Constitution by cleaning it of distortions and deformations imposed on it by General Zia’s Martial Law and General Pervez Musharraf’s military rule. Although some of the “land mines” ( like Gen Zia’s Article 62 and 63) could not be taken out because of the lack of political consensus but substantial reforms were implemented. Presidential power to dissolve assemblies were taken away and given back to elected Parliament. Concurrent list of legislative powers was abolished and powers were devolved to the federating units as envisaged by framers of the 1973 Constitution. Eighteenth Amendment was supported by fourteen political parties and groups, practically by every political party present in Parliament at that time. But this Amendment is a thorn in the side of authoritarian circles for many reasons. Like it has done away with the authoritarian instruments inserted in the Constitution by military dictators for subverting the democratic process ( dissolution of assemblies by the President) that were used time and again by putschists in the past. The emergence of stronger provinces makes the undemocratic intervention more difficult. Although the prolonged existence of the Apex Committees has some what diluted it but even than greater access to financial resources has given edge to the federating units.

But the most important aspect in this whole thing is a competition for share the national financial cake. The National Finance Commission ( NFC) Award decides the formula for distribution of resources between the federation and the federating units. Under the NFC Award of 2009 declared by elected government the share of provinces was raised to 57 per cent ( unlike 45 per cent under General Musharraf in 2006 Award) and Constitutional protection was given to the provincial share in the 18th Amendment. This formula was agreed upon in 2009 and the 18th Amendment was passed in 2010 ( it was implemented in 2011). In the CCI meeting in June 2011 it was agreed that the federation would provide financial resources to the provinces for health and education as provisional arrangement till the next NFC Award which was to be declared in 2014. It’s pretty clear that provinces will demand further rise in their share on the basis of the logic of 18th Amendment. This will further reduce the quantum of federal resources putting constraints on allocation to all federal ministries including defense. That’s why the present government hasn’t declared a new NFC Award in the last four years. This is the actual reason of the attack on 18th Amendment.

But this isn’t a zero sum game. There can be debates about national priorities, about requirements of national security and human security. But using “ political engineering “ for rolling back the 18th Amendment by constitutionally and legally questionable means would send a very wrong message  to the population wise smaller provinces. Undermining the sanctity of the Senate which is the house of federation doesn’t augur well for the future of the country.


The writer is a retired Senator and an analyst of regional affairs.

Afrasiab Khattak is a retired Senator and an analyst of regional affairs

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