ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani parliament on Tuesday took up the historic process of purging the Constitution of the dictatorial amendments introduced in it by former military rulers, General Ziaul Haq and Gen Pervez Musharraf.
Earlier in 1997 with the active cooperation of the leader of the opposition Benazir Bhutto, the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif had struck the amendments made in the 1973 Constitution by Gen Ziaul Haq that gave discretionary powers to the president to dissolve the National Assembly.
It remains a sour fact that in the first five years after the introduction of the constitution on August 14, 1973, its mentor Zulfikar Bhutto had polluted it with seven amendments. He remains the only prime minister who in his tenure introduced such a good number of amendments in the constitution.
Nawaz Sharif made six attempts but succeeded in introducing five amendments. One was withdrawn. Mohammad Khan Junejo succeeded in bringing two constitutional amendments out of three attempts. One of them was the notorious 8th Amendment that enabled Gen Ziaul Haq to dissolve the National Assembly.
Benazir failed to secure the required two-thirds majority on two occasions while in power and thus could not inflict any harm on the constitution. The National Assembly adopted the 1973 Constitution unanimously but the process to introduce amendments in it began soon after. Six amendments were introduced in it between May 8, 1974 and Jan 4, 1977, and the seventh on May 16, 1977 in its short tenure.
On the fateful day of July 5, 1977 Gen Ziaul Haq, who suspended the constitution, also removed the Bhutto government. The Supreme Court endorsed the action of the chief martial law administrator followed by authorisation to the CMLA to inculcate necessary amendments in the constitution.
A number of constitutional amendments were incorporated between Feb 1979 and Jan 1985. Zia, however, issued the order to end abrogation of the constitution on March 17, 1985, but by that time the basic ingredients of the constitution had been altered.
Ziaul Haq organised the 1985 general elections on non-party basis. The assembly that came up after the elections had to pass the 8th constitutional amendment that was necessary for its own survival.
A review of the history of constitutional amendments reveals that first constitutional amendment in the 1973 Constitution was introduced on May 8, 1974. Fourteen articles including 1, 8, 17, 61, 101, 127, 193, 199, 200, 209, 212, 259, 260 and 270, and the First Schedule were amended. Under these amendments, curbs were imposed on political parties and they were barred from indulging in activities against the national interests, besides making it mandatory on them to declare their sources of income.
Under the amendments, the power to transfer judge of a high court into another high court was also obtained. After recognising Bangladesh, the word ‘East Pakistan’ was scrapped from the constitution.
Under the second constitutional amendment on September 21, 1974, changes were introduced in articles 106 and 206. Qadianis were declares non-Muslim community and seats were reserved for them in assemblies.
Through another amendment in the constitution on February 18, 1975 articles 10 and 232 were amended. Under these amendments the executive was authorised to arrest and detain persons involved in activities against national security for any period of time. The executive was also authorised to impose emergency in the country through the joint session of the Parliament.
Under the fourth constitutional amendment, brought into effect on November 25, 1975, changes were introduced in articles 8, 10, 17, 19, 51, 54, 106, 199, 271, 272, 273 and the Fourth and First Schedules. Under these amendments laws pertaining to fundamental rights were diluted and high courts were barred from allowing bail to political detainees.
The fifth constitutional amendment was introduced on September 5, 1976 in which 16 articles including 101, 160, 175, 179, 180, 187, 192, 195, 196, 199, 200, 204, 206, 212, 260, 280, and the First Schedule were amended. Through these amendments the Bhutto government badly impaired upon the working of an independent judiciary and the high court was stripped of the power to issue order on fundamental rights. Among the amended articles, 10 pertained to the judiciary.
After one and a half months, sixth amendment in the constitution was introduced on January 4, 1977 in which alterations were made in articles 179, 195, 246 and 260. Under these amendments further curbs were imposed on the independence of judiciary and retiring age of the Supreme Court and High Court judges was fixed at 65 and 62 years, respectively.
The seventh amendment in the constitution was made effective on May 16, 1977 under which articles 101 and 245 were altered. The prime minister was given the power of referendum to prove his popularity and judiciary was restrained from touching issues pertaining to the armed forces.
The eighth amendment in the constitution was made on October 17, 1985 by General Ziaul Haq. Under this amendment the parliamentary system of governance was tilted towards quasi-presidential. The president was empowered to dissolve the National Assembly, appoint services chiefs of the armed forces and governors and designate the prime minister.
Two power centres were created vast powers were vested in the president. Under these presidential powers, four successive elected governments could not complete their constitutional terms.
The ninth amendment in the constitution was presented in the National Assembly in 1988 but it could not be approved. The 10th constitutional amendment became effective on March 29, 1987. The 11th amendment was tabled in 1988 but it could not be passed. In that amendment bill, the restoration of special seats for women was proposed.
Through the 12th constitutional amendment, Nawaz Sharif established special courts to ensure speedy trial of accused involved in heinous crimes.
The 13th constitutional amendment became effective on April 4, 1997. Through this amendment the powers of dissolving the assemblies were taken back from the president and vested in the prime minister. This amendment was made with mutual agreement of the government and opposition.
The 14th amendment became effective on June 30, 1997. Through this amendment the political parties were empowered to terminate the Parliament membership of their members involved in floor crossing to strengthen the political parties.
The 15th amendment is about Shariat Bill, which was approved on August 28, 1998. Through this amendment, the Holy Quran and Sunnah were declared the guiding principles for running government. Under the banner of Islamic system, Nawaz Sharif tried to get absolute powers. This amendment was passed by the National Assembly but could not be passed in the Senate.
The 16th constitutional amendment became effective in 1990. Through this amendment period of the quota system was extended up to 2013. Only the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) voted against the move.
The 17th amendment became effective in December 2003 in which the president got back the powers of dissolving the assemblies and LFO was made part of the constitution. The Parliament is now abolishing the 17th Amendment.