A Moment for the History Books

Today’s must-read article: Attorney and former military officer Mohsin Kamal Awan offers an excellent review of the past week’s historical significance in a column for the Huffington Post.

This week may very well be remembered in Pakistan as the greatest point in the restoration of democracy in its 63 year history. Yesterday, after a year long legislative effort led by President Asif Ali Zardari and his Pakistan Peoples Party in the National Assembly of Pakistan, agreement was finally reached on the most dramatic and sweeping constitutional changes in Pakistan’s history, restoring the 1973 Pakistani Constitution, which created a Pakistani parliamentary democracy based on the British Westminster model.

The 1973 Constitution had been perverted by the actions of two military dictators, Generals Zia ul Haq and Pervez Musharraf by stripping power from Parliament and creating a powerful extra-constitutional Presidential system, centralizing political power into their own hands after their respective coup d’├ętats. The National Assembly and the Senate of Pakistan, meeting in Islamabad of undoing this tragedy by making our constitution whole and uniting our country across provinces, ethnicities and politics. What makes this even more remarkable is that the process was initiated and has been directed by the current President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari. This may be the first time in recorded history that a national leader willingly sacrificed his own political power for the sake of restoring constitutional, democratic rule of law. The Parliamentary Committee, created at the request of the President last year, not only voted to restore the powers of Parliament, but also to depoliticize the judicial appointment process by creating multipartisan judicial selection. This too was another example of Zardari willingly directing that powers held by the president be returned to the National Assembly.

As the world fully understands, Pakistan has had a difficult path to sustained democracy since its creation in 1947. Events since the toppling of the elected democratic government of Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1977 and his subsequent judicial murder, have been particularly painful and destabilizing for my nation. Military dictators General Zia ul Haq and General Pervez Musharraf played havoc with the constitution and our state institutions. General Musharraf’s assault on the constitution is fresh in the memory of the Pakistani nation. Benazir Bhutto’s return to Pakistan in October 2007 and her sacrifice of her own life for the liberty of our people gave the nation the strength to face down the Musharraf dictatorship and to ensure a peaceful return to democracy as a result of the February 2008 elections.

Yet democratic elections alone have not fully restored democracy in Pakistan. That true resurrection of our democratic institutions and the strengthening of our democratic infrastructure was dependent on the restoration of the 1973 constitution. The restoration of the 1973 Constitution, and the aberration of those clauses that usurped power from the parliament into the hands of military dictators who had self-anointed themselves as President, was the most central plank of the Pakistan Peoples Party platform drafted by our late beloved leader Benazir Bhutto before her assassination in 2007. Although she never lived to see her dream achieved, the honor of removing the remnants of dictatorship in Pakistan has been bestowed on the democratically elected PPP government under the stewardship of Zardari. Under his leadership, the Constitution is being restored with the support and participation of all major political forces in the country. And by decentralizing critical powers to Pakistan’s four great provinces, the reform package is fundamentally strengthening the Pakistani federation.

Contrary to those who would belittle him, Asif Zardari is hardly a recent convert to the restoration of the 1973 Constitution. President Zardari had planned to complete the transition to democracy and to return the country to the foundations of the 1973 constitution from his first day in office. During his address to the joint sitting of the parliament last year, he advised the Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Fahmida Mirza, to immediately form a constitutional committee comprising representatives of all political forces in the parliament to look at not only doing away with the arbitrary amendments including the infamous 17th amendment inserted by the dictator but also to settle the question of provincial autonomy according to the wishes of the federating units. He called upon his party in Parliament to enact a package of constitutional reforms as quickly as possible.

Irrespective of what his detractors may like to say, the fact is that Zardari has ungrudgingly consented, as was his original promise and intention, to forgo the powers conferred on the President under the 17th amendment thus implementing the public commitment of his wife and of our Party. He is not being “stripped of his power” as some have characterized it either out of ignorance or mischief, but rather has been in the vanguard of democratic change. The constitutional committee that was created at his request, specifically for this purpose, has completed its job and the reform package will be put before the National Assembly on Thursday and the Senate on Friday.

As a Pakistani, a lawyer and a former Pakistani army officer, I am proud of the steps my country has taken to strengthen our democracy through bold institutional reform. This is truly one of the greatest achievements in the history of our Nation. And whether one personally likes him or not, the full credit for the implementation of this central plank of the Pakistan Peoples Party’s commitment to our nation belongs to the president of our country, Asif Ali Zardari. His actions are both historic and unprecedented, what John Kennedy would have called a “profile in courage.”

6 thoughts on “A Moment for the History Books

  1. Sycophants are available at a little cost and all
    self-centered personalities will find ways to hide
    and divert their guilt from the masses by other means.The credit in reality goes to senator Rabbani and those whose names only he can forward
    are the one’s with the moral courage to bring this
    change,so blantly claimed by Zardari’s sycophants.
    The 18th amendament will become effective when President Zardari relinquishes his post as the co-
    chairperson of PPP and allows free and fair elections within the party to elected the office
    bearers just like in JI and not run a MOM and POP store?

  2. Certainly there is credit to senator Rabbani, but how can no credit go to Zardari? You don’t have to like the man, but let us face the fact that there is no other world leader who would voluntarily give up powers. This was an admirable move by the President. And why does Zardari have to relinquish his post at PPP co-chair? Who cares if he has some party office. In other democracies like UK, France, USA, Germany – the head of state is usually the head of his political party. Why can’t it be the same here? There is no problem with Shahbaz Sharif
    as Governor of Punjab and also President of PML-N.

  3. In most countries of the West the party leadership
    is not with the Head of State or the Government.In
    the US it certainly is not.We have had discussion
    in the media about reformation of the political parties from their present state of MOM & P0P stores to Corporate where shareholders elect the
    board of directors including the chief.Mr Zardari
    went along with the amendment to divert attention
    from some other serious issues and prevent serious
    division within the party since December verdict
    of Supreme Court on NRO.

  4. @khalid Actually, you are incorrect. In the USA the President is the leader of his political party. PM Gordon Brown is the leader of his Labour Party. Angela Merkel is the Chancellor of Germany and also the Chairwoman of the Christian Democratic Union political party. It is very common for head of state in Western countries – as in all countries, I believe – to be the head of the party. This is very natural because the head of state is naturally going to be a politician, and that politician is naturally going to be at the head of his party.

  5. Adeel,I wish I was incorrect but you need to brush
    your shoes daily to see the reflection of your mistake.Unfortunately for you Tim Kaine heads the
    Democratic Party in US and not Obama despite being
    the President in the WhiteHouse. The GOP Republic
    Party did have George Herbert Bush as chairperson
    after he was removed as Director CIA.But his son
    was never the head of GOP, presently the party is
    headed by Michael Steele. The West talks about the
    democratic reforms in Third World Nations but not
    in the manner as in their own.

  6. Khalid bhai, I admit that you are correct that Tim Kaine is the head of the Democratic Party in US, but I think that maybe it is more complicated than just this because he was given this title by Obama http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE50785D20090108 Also there are reports about how Obama even though he is President is focused on building his political party http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=its_his_party_08 So I do see that you are correct, but I also must say that I think perhaps the political party system in US must be more complicated. Also, even if his title is not head of the Democratic Party Obama certainly seems to be very much involved with party politics.

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