Constitutional Reforms (30 March, 2010) Daily Times

Speaking candidly in his book “Between Dreams and Realities —

Some Milestones in Pakistan’s History former Finance and Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz had characterised his leader Nawaz Sharif: “He (NS) is very impulsive by nature and therefore thrives on dramatic moves rather than well-considered decisions …. He therefore ran the government on his terms through a system of personalized decision making without adequate consultations or participation of cabinet colleagues….”

This partly explains the U-turn taken by the PML (N) leader Nawaz Sharif on the 18th constitutional amendment last Thursday. A day earlier his nominees on the constitution reform committee were happy that months’ of labour has been successful and now the amendments could be tabled on Friday, 26th March before the Parliament. First Shahbaz Sharif’s faux pas in which he had appealed to the Taliban to spare Punjab and now back-tracking by his elder brother from what had been agreed in the committee is going to hurt the party’s image. Perhaps all, but Nawaz Sharif, realise that.

Soon after he finished his press conference the media and politicians of other parties started lashing at him for stalling signing of the 18th Amendment draft at the eleventh hour.  PML (N) leaders have been wearing high moral values on their sleeves for the last two years. They were the ones most vocal about abolition of the 17th Amendment. They were the ones who were blaming PPP for not implementing the Charter of Democracy, which goes much beyond the 17th Amendment. But in reality what they wanted was just plain deletion of clauses in the constitution which were inserted by General Musharraf. Perhaps most important to PML (N) was the deletion of the clause which bars a person from becoming prime minister for the third time.

Having supported and invested in the movement for the restoration of the Chief Justice and other judges, Nawaz Sharif has no interest in implementing the clauses related to judicial appointments as agreed in the COD. He has a friendly judiciary now. His demand that prior consultation should be done with the Chief Justice is constitutionally untenable. Strange that nobody in his party had told him this before he went to the media.

The other unresolved issue he said was the renaming of the NWFP. He says that his party leaders from the Hazara area are not willing to accept Pukhtunkhawa as it does not reflect their identity. Pukhtunkhawa is the historical name of the area and has been used in the past by the rulers and poets of this area in the 19th and early 20th century. The same Hazara area PML (N) leader had voted for this name when they were in the provincial government in alliance with ANP in the nineties. In any case ANP had shown its flexibility by accepting “Khyber” as a prefix or a suffix.  Sharif could have passed the new name with the majority in the party instead of sabotaging something in the national interest just because of a couple of dissenting colleagues from Hazara. If Hazara people logic is accepted then all the minorities in Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab would start raising the demand to rename the provinces to acknowledge their identity. So Mian Sahab do you realise you have a self-defeating argument as in your province the Seriaki belt is already demanding a separate province. They can also ask to rename Punjab adding Seriaki with it.

Since both the PML (N) excuses are unreasonable, it seems that there is more that meets the eye. Perception in smaller provinces is that PML (N) has backed out because the vested interest of Punjabi establishment does not want to give more provincial autonomy as promised in the draft 18th Amendment. Nawaz Sharif says that such issues should not have been clubbed with the deletion of controversial clauses of the 17th Amendment. It shows that he has conveniently forgotten that provincial autonomy was promised in the COD, the document he loves to refer to embarrass PPP. As Mushtaq Minhas said the other day PPP alone does not have a copyright over making political blunders, PML (N) has its right to it also.

Then what is or are the unsaid reasons? The guessing game in Karachi business circles is that perhaps he was pulled back by his jurist friends, who do not want a parliamentary committee for the judges’ appointment.

The other lobby which includes some diplomats believes that impasse would be over in a few days as the government is working on the draft that might make the position of Chairman Joint Chief of Staff (CJCS) more powerful so that General Kayani retains the actual powers when he is promoted. In the past this non-effective post has been treated in the forces as ceremonial. This fits into the American’s plans also who have developed good working relations with General Kayani and for the first time are talking positively about Pakistan’s contribution in the ‘War against terror.’ And it would also not disrupt the promotion process within the army as no extensions would be needed. “Wait till the General comes back and the proposed draft in this regard is approved, then all stumbling blocks in the way of the 18th Amendment would be removed,” a well informed source maintained confidently.

Does that mean that the constitutional goodies will only get through if the Khakis are also compensated as quid pro quo for abolition of National Security Council? And poor Nawaz Sharif has to play delaying antics till the new division of power between the CJCS and COAS is approved.  That’s intra-department so people have no problem with this move. Let’s hope all this is sorted out before Wednesday’s meeting of the Raza Rabbani committee. Hope is the only balm for the wretched-people of Pakistan! (ayazbabar@gmail.com)

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