For the last few years Pakistan’s democracy was subject to a creeping coup undertaken by the security establishment. Removal of prime ministers under charges of corruption, backroom manipulations to create splits within political parties and decide who among the civilians will be allowed to be in power. The recent Senate elections, however, demonstrate open and public erosion of democratic institutions.
These events need to be seen alongside the Pashtun long march and discriminatory attacks against Pashtun and Baloch students in Punjab. In the words of former Senator Afrasiab Khattak the establishment’s use of ‘political engineering’ in the recent Senate elections needs to be seen in context of attempts to roll back the 18th Amendment “by constitutionally and legally questionable means.” These, have sent “a very wrong message to the population wise smaller provinces.”
In a recent piece former Senator Afrasiab Khattak argues that instead of debating about national priorities “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.”
According to Khattak the recent Senate elections “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.”
The purpose of these elections Khattak remarks was not simply to control the Senate to block future legislation by any “undesirable elected government” but “to create conducive atmosphere for rolling back of 18th Amendment.” He argues that the recent demand by the Army Chief Qamar Bajwa that the 18th Amendment should be rolled back should be seen for what it is “direct intervention in the country’s politics, something which is not permitted by law” and that 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 three federating units? Insistence on such a position will give the impression as if the army represents only the population wise biggest province.”
The reason why the 18th Amendment is opposed by the generals according to Khattak is “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.”
Further, “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.”
Khattak concludes by stating that “this isn’t a zero sum game” and “undermining the sanctity of the Senate which is the house of federation doesn’t augur well for the future of the country.”