Pakistan's bid to return to the 1973 Constitution — an election promise of Pakistan People's Party (PPP) — got further delayed on Friday in the absence of a consensus over appointment of judges and renaming the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). This has again raised questions over the government's intent in clubbing the repeal of the 17th Amendment with the larger exercise of constitutional reform.

Though the Committee on Constitutional Reforms (CCR) was to have tabled its report — including a recommendation for removing the 17th Amendment — in the National Assembly on Friday after 75 sittings over nine months, a last-minute effort to resolve differences over the two contentious issues in the afternoon proved futile and the CCR will now meet only next Wednesday.

Through the 17th Amendment, the former President, Pervez Musharraf, had “rehabilitated” Article 58 (2) (b) — an invention of military ruler Zia-ul Haq — by which the President can dissolve the National Assembly at will.

What is upsetting those who have been championing the cause of getting rid of the 17th Amendment is that this much awaited deletion is being held up by two unrelated issues.

Increasingly the question being asked is why the present dispensation chose to club removal of the 17th Amendment with the larger issue of constitutional reforms. Given that getting rid of the 17th Amendment is part of the Charter of Democracy signed by PPP and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) on May 15, 2006, and has support from across the political spectrum, the 18th Amendment could have had a single point agenda of reverting back to the 1973 Constitution.

Pointing out that the Government had made similar promises in the past also, PML (Quaid-e-Azam) secretary general Mushahid Hussain said there has been a lot of posturing by the PPP leadership but “I see a major reluctance on the part of the President to give up his powers.” However, the PPP leadership maintained that it was unfair to blame the ruling regime for a delay caused by the about turn made by the PML (N).

With the sudden volte face by the PML (N) on Thursday evening after going along with the Committee's recommendations on appointment of judges, the mood for consensus within the all-party CCR appeared to have disappeared as rival groups dug their heels in.

Justifying the PML (N) stance, party representative on the CCR Ahsan Iqbal said the issue of appointment of judges should be decided through consensus and by carrying along all stakeholders. “Otherwise, any decision taken by the Committee and seconded by Parliament could be questioned by the courts and this could lead to a confrontation between the legislature and the judiciary; something the two institutions can ill afford at this juncture when the country is trying to strengthen its institutions.”

Though the PML (N) central leadership had been hopeful of resolving its differences with the Awami National Party (ANP) over renaming NWFP as Pakhtoonkhwa, the former “Sarhad” (frontier) chapter vetoed it. The NWFP leadership of the PML (N) is against even a hyphenated name in which Pakhtoonkhwa finds mention. A late night meeting between Leader of Opposition, Nisar Ali Khan of PML (N), and ANP senior Asfandyar Wali Khan failed to break the deadlock.

In this, the PML (N) has support from breakaway group PML (Q) which feels that Pakhtoonkhwa does not represent the ethnic-linguistic diversity of theprovince. The PML (Q), however, is not opposed to a hyphenated name; citing the instance of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

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