Pakistan's Constitutional Reforms Are A Move Towards Democratization

In January of this year, we came together to form a new organization, Americans for Democracy and Justice in Pakistan. Our mission is to educate the media, political leaders and the public about the importance of supporting democracy and democratic institutions in Pakistan.

Pakistan is a country whose history is full of politically-motivated attacks against civilian rulers and outside influences that have destabilized the country, often resulting in takeovers by the military. We want what the Pakistan people want: the rule of law and a government chosen by the people.

Our goal is simple: Support the Pakistani people’s chosen leaders, whomever they may be, against misinformation, misrepresentation and unfounded attempts to undermine their authority. We are American citizens but we still have close ties to our ancestral country and we welcome other Americans who support democracy and justice in Pakistan to join our cause.

To this end, we were particularly pleased to see Farahnaz Ispahani’s column published on The Huffington Post yesterday. Ms. Ispahani is an esteemed Member of Pakistan’s National Assembly, and her reflections on Pakistan’s long struggle for democracy are worthy reading for anyone interested in the current political situation in Pakistan.

Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah envisaged a modern democratic state for South Asia’s Muslims. His entire life represented respect for rule of law, justice and fairness. Starting his political career as an ardent nationalist, he earned the title of “ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity.” His advocacy of a separate Muslim homeland began only after he was convinced that the Muslim nation would not get fair representation and protection without the creation of Pakistan. The Quaid’s conception of Pakistan was clearly rooted in the notion of a constitutional democracy. It is unfortunate that Pakistan’s leadership was hijacked within a decade of its independence by the dark forces of dictatorship. Within two years of the adoption of the 1956 constitution, the constitutional order was overthrown and the country did not get its first general elections until 1970.

Despite these setbacks, though, there has always been a strong democratic movement in Pakistan that continues today. As we write, the government is debating a package of constitutional reforms to undo anti-democratic measures enacted by dictators, including the infamous 17th Amendment promulgated by Gen. Musharraf.

The process of restoration of democracy would not be complete without the restoration of the 1973 constitution. A nation’s constitution is by definition a living document that can be amended through the constitutionally mandated process, reflecting changes and needs of the times. But Generals Ziaul Haq and Musharraf arbitrarily amended a consensus document to reflect their twisted thinking that only usurpers of power occupying the presidency through coups d’etat could protect the national interest. When President Asif Ali Zardari sought and secured election as President, some critics wrongly and unjustifiably attributed to him the desire to wield absolute power under the dictators’ distorted constitutions. In reality, President Zardari’s election to the highest office in the land was essential to complete the country’s transition to full constitutional rule. Had the presidency remained in the hands of a dictator, instead of being held by someone who has willingly accepted suffering for the sake of the struggle for democracy, the process of recreating consensus on a constitutional package would almost definitely have run into difficulties.

When Pakistan was founded, it was intended as a free and democratic state. History has unfortunately thrown up roadblocks, but we are now at a historic moment. A democratically elected President is preparing to voluntarily undo the expansion and consolidation of power by anti-democratic governments.

We are proud of our homeland, and we have faith in the greatness that it can achieve. For too long we have witnessed dictators and zealots abusing the vision of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Today we celebrate the return of the hope that inspired him and countless others – the birth of a free and democratic Pakistan.