‘Undoing 18th Amendment will be toying with federation’
KARACHI, Nov 6: The mindset that encourages increased centralisation in Pakistan needs to be addressed as this approach has led people to believe that Islamabad is more patriotic than Karachi, Lahore, Quetta or Peshawar.
Senator Mian Raza Rabbani said this here on Tuesday while speaking in his capacity as chief guest at an international two-day conference on ‘Federalism in pluralistic developing societies: learning from the European experiences’, held at the University of Karachi.
KU’s Area Study Centre for Europe has organised the conference in collaboration with the Hanns Seidel Foundation, Islamabad.
“When we are talking about federalism or democracy, then making comparisons with Europe is not fair. It is also not practical”, observed Senator Rabbani, considered the architect of the 18th Constitutional Amendment.
“We can learn and understand various concepts. We looked at several constitutions of countries [with a federal system] including Switzerland, Germany and Canada when drafting the 18th Amendment. But at the end of the day it came down to home-grown solutions,” he said, adding that the circumstances of European states and Pakistan were totally different.
“There is hardly any example in Europe where the democratic process has been derailed every 10 years. [However] military dictatorships have been a regular part of our history. The concept of federalism was thrown to the winds while the concept of centralisation gained,” said the seasoned politician.
Mr Rabbani claimed that federalism has never been practised in Pakistan and that after the death of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah the “direction was lost. Pakistan was supposed to be a welfare state, but it was converted into a garrison state”. He added that the Quaid’s Fourteen Points of 1929 contained references to provincial autonomy.
Coming to the 18th Amendment, Raza Rabbani said it has given rise to federalism in Pakistan. “Seventeen ministries have been devolved. After 1947 it is perhaps the biggest structural change in our governmental machinery. It is not a perfect document — it has its ups and downs.”
Senator Rabbani said the road ahead was “long and arduous”. However, he cautioned that if any attempts were made to undo the gains of the 18th Amendment, it would be akin to playing with the federation of Pakistan.
In his keynote address, Prof Dr Imtiaz Ahmed of the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh, said that “the problem lies with the practice of democracy itself in South Asia”, which some critics refer to as ‘electoral authoritarianism’ or ‘authoritarian democracy’. This is because democracy in the region is confined to holding elections alone, while there is no internal democracy within the parties, which leads to misrule.
He said the notion that South Asia has been “bereft of civil society historically and civilisationally” and hence “qualitatively different from Europe” is the “worst intellectual assessment bordering on ignorance”. Dr Ahmed said the South Asian region had “well-founded structures” of rashtra (state) and samaj (society) “civilisationally with the latter remaining autonomous and often independent from the former”.
He added that the federalism practised in Europe is unique to that region and cannot be replicated in Asia.
Prof Dr Muhammad Waseem of the Lahore University of Management Sciences spoke on federalism in Pakistan after the 18th Amendment. He said the 1973 Constitution introduced bicameralism but resulted in the over-representation of minority provinces in the Senate to “constrain the Punjabisation of the state. The provinces were equal in the Senate”. However, Dr Waseem felt this did not work as the Senate was “powerless” as it had no control over money bills.
One Unit & ethno-nationalism
He said Pakistan’s ruling elite were afraid that increased autonomy would result in “anarchy”, though he pointed out that the creation of One Unit — amalgamating the provinces of then West Pakistan into a single unit — actually gave birth to ethnic nationalism in the country.
The scholar felt there was some cynicism about the 18th Amendment for while the legislation had been passed, the changes were not being implemented. “There is opposition from the Punjab, the army and the civil bureaucracy”. He added that the process had given identity and privilege to the majority communities of provinces, however the secondary communities were being left out. This was one of the reasons behind calls for stronger local governments, especially in the case of Karachi and Hyderabad within Sindh.
Prof Dr Lok Raj Baral of the Nepal Centre for Contemporary Studies discussed federalism in the Himalayan nation. He said Nepal had experimented with six or seven constitutions over the last few decades, yet there had been no evolution, which has resulted in revolutions. “[Currently] ideologically things are not clear. The [ruling] Communist Party is not committed to liberal democracy. Nepal is politically divided”, he said, adding that the Brahmin caste were the power wielders in Nepal.
He said that efforts at decentralisation had actually led to more centralisation in the mountainous country. “It is not clear what system we’ll end up with in future. Personally, I feel the presidential system may work as parliamentary democracy may not be suitable”.
Prof Dr Wee Chong Hui of the University of Technology MARA, Sarawak, Malaysia, Dr Usman Mustafa of Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad and Elisabeth Alber of the Institute for Studies on Federalism and Regionalism, Italy, also read out their papers.