Islamic presidential form of government By Syed Akhtar Ali Shah

The country is abuzz with the talk of an Islamic presidential system with all the TV channels and social media tuning to the topic and newspapers churning out articles on the issue, denial of the Prime Minister notwithstanding. The views expressed by the likes of Shah Farman, the Governor of Khyber- Pakhtunkhwa, on a TV channel supporting the presidential form do not appear to be off-the-cuff remarks but rather betray a well-schemed plan orchestrated by an oligarchy who had been ruling the country in one way or the other.
Such ideas and debates are intentionally generated in order to gauge the pulse of the public. Those masterminding the idea might have thought that Mr Imran Khan was riding on a horse of popularity, therefore, the Constitution could be amended through a referendum and be implemented. One possible object of floating such an idea might be to get rid of the 18th Amendment and stuff the cabinet with non-elected, handpicked individuals. But opposition to the idea has been so vociferous and strong from all democratic and nationalist forces, particularly the smaller provinces, that the schemers of the misadventure were taken aback.
Nothing is wrong or good about the presidential system itself as there are plenty of arguments both for and against the system. But in Pakistan’s context, its historically negative impact haunts us. The presidency in the history of Pakistan was the product of the intrigues and martial law of General Ayub Khan in 1958. Sikandar Mirza, the first president, got the taste of his own medicine and was soon shown the door and had to live a life of ignominy in London. Fundamental rights were the first casualty. The new presidential form of the constitution of Pakistan was tailored to suit the personality of a dictator. What happened during the reign of the self-proclaimed Asian Charles de Gaulle and self-appointed guardian of national interests? Pakistan became the most trusted ally of the United States of America by providing an airbase in Peshawar and becoming a partner in the sinister designs to checkmate the Soviet Union under the Policy of Containment of John Foster Dulles. His Operation Gibralter proved to be a disaster and led to the 1965 war. Pakistan had to go to Tashkent of the same USSR against whom spy planes were operating from the Peshawar base, to rescue its prestige under a Peace Agreement.
A crony industrial class of 22 families exploiting the labour of the working class emerged amidst claims of robust economic growth. Ayub started celebrating the so-called decade of development, being ignorant that the benefits of the economic growth had not reached the common man. Oblivious of the surroundings, the sentiments of the masses burst out and his tailor-made system could not stand the gushing tide of the protest and came crashing down like a house of cards. The malady of the story is that he even did not adhere to his own much-trumpeted Presidential Constitution and handed over power to the commander-in-chief General Yayha Khan who also became the president. Laced with all the powers, he conducted elections but later on refused to accept the public mandate. The culmination of all this was the end of united Pakistan; a blood-stained and shameful chapter of our history.
Learning from the history of Pakistan, all the national leaders drew a new social contract in the form of the Constitution of Pakistan, representing the aspirations of the people of the country. Even successive military coups could not do away with the 1973 Constitution which was only held in abeyance considering it sacrosanct as it bridged all nationalities within the scheme of the federation. While maintaining the outward features of the Constitution, those military rulers through the doctrine of State Necessity and Successful Revolution concentrated all powers in the office of President. And the final outcome was: suppression of fundamental rights, jihadi culture, violent extremism, the rise of violent non-state actors and again entering into alliances which we today consider inimical to our social and national interests. What we are reaping today is the harvest of the seeds sown by different presidents of Pakistan in the past.
If we accept for the sake of argument that the presidential system is the panacea for all our ailments, then the question arises which type of a presidential system we want? Today the US presidential system is considered to be the best. Will it be acceptable to our planners? The US Constitution, based on a system of separation of powers and checks and balances, gives immense powers to the states and the Senate. In order to secure the interests of the states, the Senate enjoys far more powers if compared with those of the Senate of Pakistan. Not only can the Senate impeach the President, but all key appointments made by the President and the executive treaties need its approval. The success of the constitutional system depends upon the observance of due process of law, meaning thereby that all functionaries of the state derive the authority either from the constitution or a statute. No room is envisaged for any institution except in accordance with the law. In our country, any deviation from this concept is detrimental to the stability of the country as well, and therefore must be avoided at all costs.
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