Selective amnesia

April 18, 2004

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Those loyal citizens now jumping up and down in zealous indignation at the 17th Amendment to the sacrosanct Constitution of Pakistan and at the foisting upon it of the NSC act, have short memories, extremely short memories. The 'violation' of this much-mangled document is nothing new.

The maker of the 1973 Constitution, pseudo democrat president Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, had the singular honour of being the first civilian martial law administrator the world has known. In April 1973 his legislators accepted his Constitution by consensus and it was promulgated at noon on August 14, 1973, a historic date in the history of the unfortunate Republic of Pakistan.

Four hours later, at 1600 hours, as prime minister, Bhutto had his supine hand-picked president, Fazal Elahi Chaudhary, put his signature to a presidential order proclamating "that the right to move any court for the enforcement of such of the fundamental rights conferred by Chapter I of Part II of the Constitution as may be specified in the order, and any proceeding in any court which is for the enforcement, or involves the determination of any question as to the infringement of the rights so specified shall remain suspended for the period during which the proclamation is in force."

Twenty-one articles (8 to 28) of the Constitution guaranteed us our fundamental rights. The presidential order effectively deprived the people of ten of these major fundamental rights within four hours of their having been guaranteed. Was this not a violation? Was it not premeditated fraud, duping and deceiving both legislators and people? And what was his purpose? To arrest, the next day, a number of his political opponents and jail them on trumped up charges, and they remained incarcerated until Mard-e-Momeen Mard-e-Haq General Ziaul Haq assumed sole charge of the Islamic Republic.

Bhutto and his acolytes remained in power for some 2000 days during which his Constitution was amended seven times. Rules of procedure were suspended, amendment bills were rushed through parliament without deliberation or discussion, and in some cases literally within the space of hours. And, though parliament was often in session, he chose to rule by the promulgation of 219 ordinances (one every ten days or so) and issued close to 100 presidential orders.

Then followed President General Ziaul Haq and his disgraceful 8th Amendment which was debated in his Majlis for almost six months until the bill was passed, and he appointed his chosen prime minister, Mohammed Khan Junejo, whose government brought in the 9th Amendment which was not passed and the 10th Amendment which was passed after due deliberation.

Benazir Bhutto, who took over the country after Zia fell from the skies, only managed to come up with one amendment, the 11th, which was not passed. Then, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who replaced BB was far more successful in his amending exercises. His 12th Amendment concerning special courts and speedy trials was rushed through parliament with all rules suspended during his first term in office.

His second term brought the 13th Amendment, on April 1, 1997, amending the 8th Amendment. With all rules of procedure suspended, it was introduced into assembly and Senate on the same day and passed by both that very day. His 14th Amendment which provided for no dissent within a political party and no defection from the party was introduced on July 1, 1977, rules of procedure were suspended and it was passed the same day.

His 15th Amendment was introduced in the National Assembly on August 28, 1998, adding a new Article 2-B, and amending Article 239. It was passed by the assembly on October 10 and referred to the Senate on October 13. It never came up for debate in the Senate, where Nawaz's party had no majority. The plan was to wait until the Senate elections of March 2000, when Nawaz was sure of gaining a majority, and then rush it through the upper house. The Quran and Sunnah were to be the supreme law, thus, inter alia, disempowering the Chief Justice of Pakistan, with Nawaz ipso facto transforming himself into the Amir-ul-Momineen.

He managed to squeeze in one more amendment in August 1999, the 16th, which was passed unanimously, amending Article 27 and extending the quota system from 20 years to 40 years. By October of that year he was gone, and in stepped General Pervez Musharraf, firstly as Chief Executive of the republic, and then as president. His chosen government installed at the end of 2002, after the passage of one year abided by his wishes and tabled the 17th Amendment Bill on December 26, 2003.

Vociferous objections were raised by the clerical fraternity to the inclusion of the intrusive National Security Council, the bill was duly amended to reflect their wishes, and on December 29 it was adopted with 248 votes in favour and none against as the opposition, despite the omission of the NSC, decided to boycott that day's proceedings. It was rushed to the Senate and on December 30 passed by that honourable body, sent to the president for his assent, which was duly accorded, and on New Year's Day 2004 Musharraf got his presidential vote of confidence.

The next uproar was raised over the moving in the National Assembly on this April 2 of the National Security Council bill. On April 5 and 6, the bill was briefly discussed in the assembly amidst much shouting and thumping by the president's loyal opposition and his allies, the gentlemen of the Book, and on April 7, shouting and thumping notwithstanding, the bill was adopted by the assembly. On April 15, breaking all previous records, the Senate of Pakistan approved the NSC Bill within the record space of three and a half minutes after the opposition had walked out.

Top priority on the uproar list is now the contentious issue of the dual role, that of president and army chief residing in one man - Pervez Musharraf. His 17th Amendment decrees that he will resign the post of army chief by December 31 of this year. But, as he has said, when the time comes it will be he who decides what he will or will not do - with, foremost in his mind, neither mere national interest nor larger national interest but the supreme national interest.

He has his coterie of political dependents beseeching him not to relinquish his military role. It is not inconceivable that within the coming six months a group of bright spark sycophants, wishing to solve the issue, will suggest to him that he declare himself monarch of all he surveys and become king.

This also will be nothing new. In the early 1960s, Pir Ali Muhammad Rashdi represented our country in the Philippines. There he had a dream. Writing to President General Ayub Khan on the drafting of his constitution, he declared : "Sir, the country needs a father...." and continued from there to elaborate on his dream. He made an impassioned appeal, entreating Ayub to convert himself into a king and to establish a hereditary monarchy in Pakistan. This would be the answer to not only Ayub Khan's problems but to all the woes and tribulations besetting the nation.

Fortunately, perhaps, in 1961 Ayub Khan still had his faculties intact and was able to better his horde of sycophants. He waved away Rashdi's dream, telling him that a monarchy would not suit the genius of the Pakistani people. The then foreign minister, Manzur Qadir, one of the framers of Ayub's constitution, wrote to the gentle dreamer : "I am willing to concede that this is your genuine and sincere sentiment unmixed by any desire for sycophancy.... This sort of arrangement is not workable in this country." Rashdi responded : "I am relieved to find you have not attributed the endeavour on my part to sycophancy. (Later on, of course, Ayub was 'persuaded' to promote himself to become the first Field Marshal of Pakistan.)

That was then. Times and circumstances have changed. Who knows what now might be workable? The monarchies of the world of today preside over highly democratic countries. However, it does seem that Musharraf is still in control not only of the republic but of himself and, as he has a pretty good sense of humour; any suggestion of kingship might be taken by him merely as a very jolly joke. He has already brushed aside the Field Marshal suggestion. But perhaps he should have a second think. Field Marshals never retire. They die with their boots on.

E-mail: arfc@cyber.net.pk