Volume 23 Issue 2, February 2019


The passing of the 18th Amendment back in 2010 can be referred to as a ‘Constitutional Revolution’ in Pakistan’s political history. To me, the word ‘revolution’ better describes the passage of the 18th Amendment because it is an extraordinary achievement for a country that had, for decades, languished in colonialism even after its independence from British rule.

After Pakistan became an independent country, a Federal-centric power structure thwarted the devolution of power and authority owing to an inherited colonial mindset that always relished in subjugating the masses and believed in serving the upper crust at the cost of further depriving the deprived of their right to respectful existence.

In the past, the country’s civil-military establishment extenuated this mindset that led to a further state of denial regarding the nation’s cultural diversities. A well-calculated effort was made by the ever-growing civil-military bureaucracy to push these cultural diversities under the carpet to prevent them from becoming a formidable threat to the federation. World history, particularly that of the Third World, suggests that the more a country brings cultural diversities to the fore and allows them to flourish within the structure of the state, there is a greater synthesis in national culture.

The amalgamation of regional cultural diversities enriches the overall culture. It was Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government which helped regional cultures to develop, flourish and blend into the country’s dominant cultural scene.
Earlier, Sindhi, Pashto and Punjabi folk tunes and dances were limited to their respective areas, but ZAB brought them to the national scene and made them an integral part of the national cultural milieu. Instead of being fearful of diversity and multiplicity in cultural norms, cohesion and solidarity of the federation was strengthened in this manner.

The 18th Amendment is an endeavour to empower and expand the jurisdiction of the constitutional institutions of the country. It paved the way for the democratic devolution of power to the provinces, turning coercive federal control into a mutually shared responsibility that means democratic dispensation as stipulated in the Constitution. It aims for service delivery at the grass-root level.

A constitutional institution, the Council of Common Interests (CCI) was already in place, but with a limited role, particularly when it came to conflict resolution among provinces and with the federation. Thanks to the 18th Amendment, the role of the CCI has rightly been expanded and provinces can now raise and discuss their issues such as water distribution and resource allocation, etc.

Establishment of the Council of Common Interests (CCI) was a great leap forward. However, only eleven meetings of the CCI were held from 1973 to 2010. The 18th Amendment made it a constitutional requirement of a CCI meeting to be held at least once in every 90 days. Similarly, the country’s natural resources (oil, gas and other minerals) used to be the sole property of the federation. In light of Article 172 of the Constitution, 50 per cent of these resources are now owned by the provinces as well.

The CCI also functions as a policy-making institution for those ministries and departments that fall in the Federal Legislative List-II, i.e. shared provincial and federal responsibilities. Fears about the possibility of conflict or tensions between the CCI and the Federal Cabinet are not true, as no such thing could take place if the Constitution was strictly followed.

The Principles of Policy state that the quota for backward areas, as specified in the Constitution, should be implemented to bring the remote areas at par with the developed ones. Most importantly, for the first time in the history of the country, minorities were given representation in the Senate and it was again for the first time that the nation’s parliament refused to validate martial law in the form of the 18th Amendment.

A new article, 25A, was inserted into the Constitution to provide the right to free education, mandating the provinces to provide free secondary school education to all citizens. The amendment expanded the provinces’ tax domain to include sales tax on services. The provinces now have a free hand in all public services that are delivered within their territory and they also have control over all local government institutions.

The 18th Amendment has enhanced provincial harmony, ending the decades-old trend of Punjab-bashing. Provincial autonomy given in the Constitution was useful in most respects as it subdued the sense of deprivation among smaller provinces. Pakistan`s civil-military bureaucracy decided after the death of the Quaid-I-Azam that they should not let go the levers of power.

The 18th Amendment came into existence after a long struggle which grew after the smaller provinces in Pakistan realised their sense of deprivation and began to feel that they had no control on their resources. Even the foundation of Pakistan started with the demand for provincial autonomy and four out of the Quaid`s 14 points catered to provincial autonomy. Therefore, any move aimed at withdrawing provincial autonomy as guaranteed in the 18th Amendment will cause very serious consequences to the federation.

In addition, the provinces can now raise additional revenues through capital value taxes on property and estate and through inheritance taxes and environmental taxes and charges. They can also directly borrow from domestic and international sources and thus have greater access to capital finance.

A look at the history of the NFC shows it was awarded only during the democratic governments with delays and interruptions. The federation and other state institutions felt that their share was being reduced, a prime reason which prompted them to create repeated delays in announcing the new NFC award. A complete devolution of education and health sectors to the provinces also brought huge pressures from various quarters.

Before the 18th Amendment was passed, someone said the amendment was gravely against Pakistan, while another view was that the amendment was more dangerous than Sheikh Mujibur Rahman`s 6 points. There are people who still feel the 18th Amendment is too little and too late. Contrary to the establishment’s propaganda, the 18th Amendment was not passed in haste or without proper preparation.

The committee for the amendment comprised 27 members representing every political party in the Parliament. It met for nine months and went through the Constitution para by para and article by article. The committee received a total of 988 proposals from various quarters and went through each one. Every party gave its suggestions, which were duly looked into and, finally, the historic dossier was unanimously passed. In place of giving rise to bloated provincialism, the amendment is thus a giant leap towards exclusive federalism.

The Pakistan Constitution is an organic document and the 18th Amendment is not the last word by itself. There is always room to rectify the amendment which is only the beginning of provincial autonomy.

The writer is a member of Pakistan’s Senate and has also served as the Senate Chairman from March 2015 to March 2018. He can be reached at chamberpcns@yahoo.com

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