The Rebel Road…

I know you’ve come to kill me. Shoot, coward, you’re only going to kill a man. – Ernesto Che Guevara

Of book and sword.

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Pakistan has endured various ‘forms’ of democracy over the years. Ranging from Ayub Khan’s Basic Democracy to Bhutto’s Social Democracy and now to Gen. Musharraf’s ‘enlightened’ democracy – all of these different formats have had one thing in common – these democracies have seldom served the interest of the common man. It is generally believed that the political constitution of a country is a ‘sacred’ document for any society which claims to be ‘civilised’. Pakistan, however, stands as an exception to this understanding just like it is an exception to most rules that apply to the ‘civilised’ world. Drafted after years of teeter-tottering between relatively democratic and outright authoritarian interest-groups and state-institutions, the 1973 constitution of Pakistan is the first version, ever, created by a representative government – the earlier versions having been created by ‘nominated’ governments rather than those which came to power as a result of democratic elections. In spite of this, unfortunately, the governments which came to power in Pakistan since the promulgation of the 1973 constitution have dedicated more ‘creative power’ to revisions through amendments, to serve their own vested interests, than most lovers devote to love letters.

The drafting of the constitution itself was no small feat. The rise of political consciousness within the masses and the sheer number of citizens that came out on the streets in the early 1970s, due to the social democratic exhortations of Mr. Bhutto’s oratory, was the catalyst to this drafting. Therefore, it would not be incorrect to say that perhaps we would still be living under a sham-constitution, as was seen in the first two decades of Pakistan’s existence, had these protests and sacrifices not been given; it would not be incorrect to say that the Pakistani nation has paid, for its constitution, in blood. These triumphs on the part of the masses, however, did not settle well with those institutions of the State which had found great ‘leeway’ in their actions before such a potentially ‘restrictive’ document was formed.

The drafting of the constitution involved great constitutional minds of the time such as Hafiz Peerzada, the only individual in the world who has helped with the drafting of the constitutions of three separate countries, the late Maulana Noorani, Mufti Memood, Sardar Shauqat Hayat, Sherbaz Mazari but the committee was headed by Mehmood Kasuri. Since all these individuals represented different political parties and different interests it was felt that the committee had good representative qualities.

Before the 1973 constitution the powers were primarily vested in the President with the prime minister occupying merely a figurehead role. However, due to popular demand and criticism by the opposition this balance of power shifted dramatically. This was in keeping with the principles of Parliamentary democracy which has the prime minister as the key player. Having analysed this shift, Mr. Bhutto, in power at the time and responsible for the constitutional drafting, shifted from running for the President of the country, since the constitution he had had drafted curtailed the power of his previous office, to running for the seat of prime minister.

Having discussed the history of the constitutional document it is also relevant that the need for a constitution, to Pakistani society, be analysed in detail. Pakistan, today, exists in the form of a federation of provinces with unequal resources and population. Sindh is connected to a port and is well populated but has no access to river heads. Baluchistan has access to a port but resides only 5 percent of the country’s population. NWFP has river heads but is in the clutches of religious extremists. Punjab is the most fertile area but also has the largest proportion of the total population and is land locked. The provinces are so inter-dependent yet resentful of each other that a very delicate balance comes into being and is maintained, consciously, to ensure continued union. The incessant interruption by the military of, what passes for, democratic rule in Pakistan is also a factor which plays out in this provincial balance. Most of the Army is recruited from Punjab and whenever the military assumes control of the State the rest of the provinces are meted out the ‘step child’ treatment – with most of the resources dedicated to Punjab. It is for this reason that one or two provinces always go up in rebellion whenever the military comes to power – in Gen. Zia-ul-Haq’s time it was Sindh; today, arguably, it is Baluchistan and NWFP.

In such difficult conditions the only way for the sustainable continuance of the Federation of Pakistan is through political discourse; through democratic means of addressing issues and problems; through discussion rather than intimidation. It is here that the constitution really comes into its own. In other words a military coup d’état is a direct attack on the integrity of the Nation.

The constitution of Pakistan came into effect on 14th August 1973. Seven amendments were introduced into the constitution all in the first four years of its existence – all of these amendments designed to restrict human rights and privileges rather than to broaden their horizon. Unfortunately, this last observation can be made about almost all seventeen ‘packaged’ constitutional amendments to date. Another consideration is that all the constitutional amendments made in the American constitution were supported by the American masses. This, too, cannot be said about amendments made to our constitution.

The ‘manipulation’ of the Constitution found new heights during the reign of Gen. Zia-ul-Haq – the individual famous for coming in power for ‘a few days’ but staying there almost eleven years. Gen. Zia changed the nature of the constitution entirely – spun it on its head, so to speak – and bestowed over-riding powers, once again, to the President. The eighth amendment, passed in November 1985, is not one amendment rather a whole galaxy of sub-amendments designed to tailor the constitutional set up to favour Gen. Zia as well as to legalize his illegal and unconstitutional regime. Stephen P. Cohen, in his book The Idea of Pakistan comments on the nature of Gen. Zia’s regime. He says,

A. K. Brohi, and the inevitable S. S. Pirzada, were brought in to rationalize Zia’s Martial Law and his subsequent unilateral changes to the Pakistani constitution. Zia suppressed the political parties, stopped mass rallies, and tried to depoliticise politics. To balance the still-strong PPP, he entered into a temporary alliance with some of the Islamic Parties, notably the Jama’at-i-Islami, only to dump them when the job was done. The result was a narrow political elite that drew heavily from the ranks of retired officers, shorn of idealism, suspicious of democracy, and convinced that it was the saviour generation, rescuing Pakistan from grave domestic and foreign threats.

This depoliticising stance, adopted by Gen. Zia, can be seen in the amendments he proposed within the constitution of Pakistan.

Today this legacy left by Gen. Zia has come back to haunt us, in more ways than one. The same tactics used by Zia in the 80s, as regards to the constitutional amendments, are now being repeated by Gen. Musharraf. The latest proposed amendment i.e the Seventeenth amendment to the constitution is, again, a collection of sub-amendments designed to keep Gen. Musharraf in office by increasing his overall powers and removing any ‘constitutional’ or legal hurdles that he may encounter on the way.

A constitution is an organic document designed to outlast individuals and serve the greater good of society. It is not supposed or designed to serve one individual or institution since it outlasts them. It is ironic, and perhaps this sufficiently explains the parallels between Gen. Zia and Gen. Musharraf, that the Pakistani constitution is an exception even to that, most basic, rule – that these two Generals are the only two people referred to, by name, in the Pakistani Constitution, both in the name of ‘expediency’. Hamid Khan, one of the lawyers representing the Chief Justice of Pakistan recently, says it best,

Unfortunately, ever since the commencement of the Constitution on 14 August 1973, Pakistan has suffered from absence of the Parliament for sustained periods of time. During the Martial Law of General Zia, both the Houses of the Parliament were suspended for about eight years (from July 1977 to March 1985). Similarly during the military regime of General Musharaf, both the Houses of the Parliament remained suspended for three years (October 1999 to October 2002). In addition, the National Assembly was dissolved in 1977, 1988, 1990, 1993 and 1996-97, the total period of dissolution adds up to more than one and half years.

In this way, the Parliament did not exist or was not functional for a total period of twelve and half years out of thirty one years of the commencement of the Constitution. In other words, the Parliament in Pakistan has been functional only for less than nineteen years under the Constitution.

It is high time that we, as a nation, come to respect ourselves and our rights; that we come to realize that our rights are inalienable, inviolable and, above all, constitutional; that we come to realize that there are groups of people in our society that will do everything they can to minimize this set of rights for their own purposes. Armed with a judiciary, that has come to terms with its past mistakes and wants to rectify them, and a media, that is compelled to speak out against and report wrong doings, the people of Pakistan finally have a fighting chance.

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