The increasing attempts by Pakistan’s military and judiciary to alter the country’s constitution and reduce the autonomy of provinces and ethnic groups led the South Asians Against Terrorism & For Human Rights (SAATH) Forum, a group of dissident Pakistani intellectuals, writers and human rights activists, to release a statement expressing grave concern.
The SAATH Steering Committee, which includes prominent personalities like former ambassador to U.S. Husain Haqqani, Dr Mohammed Taqi, Rashed Rahman, Gul Bukhari, Dr. Asim Yusufzai, and Taha Siddiqui, said that “unelected individuals were casting doubt over the landmark 18th amendment to the constitution of Pakistan,” taking away whatever remains of democratic rights.
“We are perturbed to note that first the Pakistani Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa had cast aspersions over this unanimous piece of legislation through his so-called Bajwa Doctrine by likening it to Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman’s Six Points and now the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Justice Saqib Nasir has attempted to create controversy over an amendment, which is as important as the 1973 constitution itself,” the statement said.
“By insinuating that the 18th amendment was not debated by the parliament, the CJP is trying to muddy the waters around not just this amendment but the constitution itself, the lawmakers and indeed the people’s right to elect their representatives,” the SAATH statement continued.
According to the prominent Pakistani democrats, “The 18th amendment represents the will of the Pakistani people residing in the four federating units of the country and the original spirit of the 1973 constitution.
The statement continued that the amendment was thoroughly discussed by various political parties represented in the parliament at the item as well as groups outside the parliament and came to fruition through the broad consensus of the lawmakers.
“The 18th amendment has done away with the virulent mutations introduced into the constitution by assorted military dictators and has blocked the way for any aspiring usurper,” SAATH pointed out
SAATH members said, “The Pakistani parliament, through this amendment, has delivered the quantum of provincial autonomy and the fiscal resources that the framers of the 1973 constitution had envisaged. It has delivered an independent, permanent election commission and electoral reforms, in line with the spirit of parliamentary democracy.”
“The SAATH Forum believes that the remarks by the unelected individuals impugning are not one-off, random comments. They are part of a concerted effort by the unelected forces to upend the multi-party parliamentary system,” the statement asserted.
SAATH said, “The smearing of the 18th amendment, the blatant gagging of free press, hounding of rights activists and a witch-hunt against the politicians under the garb of accountability, are a systematic campaign to steer the country towards a monolithic, if not one-party, state.”
According to SAATH, “Pakistan is a multi-ethnic, multicultural state where the federating units have rich resources and manpower and even richer cultural heritage. Any attempts to deny the people their rights and resources by rolling back the 18th amendment are bound to backfire.”
The SAATH Forum called upon “the Pakistani people, political parties, civil rights activists and opinion leaders to jealously guard the 18th amendment and the constitution, which it is a part of.”