Pakistan : No separation of ‘Religion and State’ is addressed in 18th constitutional Amendment

18th Amendment-Position Statement – WSC

The pretence of ‘reforms’ will prove counterproductive. Since its inception, Pakistan has been under direct or indirect military rule. Never has Pakistan established itself as a true federal and democratic state, and today’s current constitution has proven completely inadequate in progressing towards that end. Rather than safeguarding the rights of the oppressed  Nations, of the religious minorities and of other marginalized groups (i.e. women), the constitution has become the very instrument of hegemonic control and military domination by which the Punjab majority subjugates all other ethnic and religious minorities into a tyrannical majoritarianism.

The current 18th Amendment passed in National Assembly, though a step in the right direction, does not sufficiently address the genuine concerns of equality of all the peoples of Pakistan.

As Sindhi speakers were not adequately represented in the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms (PCCR), this committee cannot be called truly representative of the entire ‘federation’, nor can it claim to recommend articles of crucial importance to all the constituent units.

Furthermore, the new amendments do not resolve the issue of Provincial ‘Sovereignty’. The need for a true federal structure where provinces have rights to their revenue collection, rules and laws, and equal representation is not addressed.

The request by the Senate (upper house) for equal representation and sharing of power has been ignored, granting the National Assembly—and more specifically, the Punjab majority within it– the sole authority to do whatever it deems fit, as it has for the past six decades, and which has resulted in such unfair plans and policies such as:

· Construction of Mega Projects over River Indus

· Manipulation and Demographic Changes in Sindh and Balochistan to convert their Indigenous population into minorities

· Manipulating historical nations’ homelands and their boundaries

· Misappropriation of national resources, theft of water etc.

· Abolition/Discrimination of Sindhi and other national languages in favor of Urdu

Usually in democratic federal structures the upper houses (Senate) must be entitled to carry out critical policies. The Senate in the US, for example, was especially created to safeguard minority states from large-population states, and to give equal voice to each of its states. Hence a tiny state like Rhode Island or Wyoming has same number of Senators as of California or Alaska – many folds higher in population and area etc.).

In Pakistan, there is no check and balance structure on the Prime Minister, which is elected by the National Assembly. Now with Punjab having 60% seats in assembly, it is likely that they will solely decide on the prime minister. Many federal and multi-nation states have structures which guarantee some sort of ethnic balance of power for the premier of state; Nigeria, Lebanon, Bosnia etc are the examples. No such guarantees are given at all in Pakistan.

The promulgators of the Amendment say that the curtailment of the Presidential powers will bring an end to military rule and military oriented all-powerful Presidents. This is nothing but farce. The new amendment puts the power of the PM in the hands of a single ethnic majority, and, in the event of a military coup, the coup leader can abrogate the constitution at will. Even if the constitution remained unchanged, the ‘President’ could easily appoint a handpicked PM and carry on all his dictatorial deeds through him. This scenario is not far from truth and has been used in all Martial Laws of 70s, 80s, and 90s.

Also unchanged are the Issues of Equality: Religious minorities still don’t enjoy an equal status at par with Muslims (issue of Head of State etc. Blasphemy Law, Ahemdis being labeled as Non-Muslims) . Women do not enjoy equal status to men.

Furthermore, No separation of ‘Religion and State’ is addressed in this constitution. Since these amendments do not address the core issues of Rights of Nations: separation of religion and state, equal citizenship, basic democracy for all; but rather attempt to cover-up deeply rooted problems, they end up creating the false pretence of reforms while the peoples remain disenfranchised and hopeless in this crippled democracy and may ultimately resort to unconstitutional and violent revolutions. Pakistan , once again, has wasted a great opportunity for true reform and has yielded to the conservation of the status quo , in which Punjab province remains a hegemonic and military institution and continues exerting its power, now through the creation of insubstantial amendments that do nothing more than extend the depth and breadth of its own power.

Suraiya Makhdoom

Senior Vice Chairperson, World Sindhi Congress

Saghir Shaikh, Ph.D.Organizer, World Sindhi Congress – USA Chapter

May 24, 2010

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