Dossier 22: Pakistan - Attempt to Exploit Religion for Political Gain

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Extracts from the text of the 15th Constitutional Amendment Bill, 1998
January 2000
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“Whereas sovereignty over the entire universe belongs to Almighty Allah alone and the authority which He has delegated to the State of Pakistan through its people for being exercised through their chosen representatives within the limits prescribed by Him is a sacred trust; And whereas Islam is the State religion of Pakistan and it is the obligation of the State to enable the Muslims of Pakistan, individually and collectively, to order their lives in accordance with the fundamental principles and basic concepts of Islam set out in the Holy Qur'an and Sunnah;

And whereas in order to achieve the aforesaid objective and goal, it is expedient further to amend the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan; now therefore, it is hereby enacted as follows:

1. Short title and commencement - (1) This Act may be called the Constitution (Fifteenth Amendment) Act, 1998 (2) it shall come into force at once.

2. Addition of new Article 2B in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, hereinafter referred to as the said Constitution after Article 2A, the following new Article shall be inserted, namely 2B Supremacy of the Qur'an and Sunnah (1) The Holy Qur'an and Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) shall be the supreme law of Pakistan.

Explanation: In the application of this clause to the personal law of any Muslim the expression "Qur'an and Sunnah" shall mean the Qur'an and Sunnah as interpreted by that sect.

(2) The Federal Government shall be under an obligation to take steps to enforce the Shariah, to establish salat, to administrate zakat, to promote am bil ma'roof wa nahi anil munkar (to prescribe what is right and to forbid what is wrong) to eradicate corruption at all levels and to provide substantial socio-economic justice, in accordance with the principles of Islam, as laid down in the Holy Qur'an and Sunnah.

(3) The Federal Government may issue directives for the implementation of the provisions set out in clauses (1) and (2) and may take the necessary actions against any state functionary for non-compliance of the said directives.

(4) Nothing contained in this Article shall affect the personal law, religious freedom, traditions or customs of non-Muslims and their status as citizens.

(5) The provisions of this Article should have effect not withstanding anything contained in the Constitution, any law or judgement of any Court."

• Pakistani Legal experts condemn bill

Prominent legal experts declared the Pakistan government's move to enforce the 15th Amendment an attempt to alter the nature of the state.

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Chairperson Asma Jahangir, said the passage of the constitutional amendment in this regard would mean that the fundamental rights of people were at one's man discretion.

Jahangir said: "I have no doubt in my mind that by undermining the supremacy of the Constitution and independence of judiciary, an attempt is being made to establish a Talibanish government headed by Mian Nawaz Sharif and overseen by President Rafiq Tarar."

The proposed amendment, by making judges the federal government functionaries, has put the judiciary at the mercy of the government which will be able now to send any judge packing, she said. "I can say with authority that, at least, four judges of various high courts and two judges of the Supreme Court are contemplating resignation if this bill goes through," she disclosed.

The amendment will destroy the balance among federating units guaranteed through equal representation in the Senate, the upper house of the Parliament, and will, therefore, revoke the entire Constitution, Asma pointed out and added the passage of the amendment would deal a blow to provincial autonomy and unleash a reign of terror in the country in the name of Shariah.

She wondered how Nawaz Sharif could emancipate people plagued by poverty, lawlessness and illiteracy by imposing his own interpretation of Shariah. Nawaz Sharif has suddenly discovered that he cannot tolerate crimes against women but, surprisingly, nowhere in the bill presented in the National Assembly protection of women is guaranteed, she observed. "In fact, after the passage of the bill, Pakistani women will be in the hands of local Taliban," she said. (The News, 30-8-98)

The 15th Amendment Bill is a recipe for social and political disaster. WAF urges political parties not to let this move succeed. WAF especially calls upon nationalist progressive forces all over Pakistan to play their role to prevent the dishonest Punjabi leadership from injuring the interests of the whole country and to seriously address the severe crisis facing the nation.

Women's Action Forum

• Women's rights activists quit government committees

On the call of Women's Action Forum (WAF), women rights activists of various NGOs sitting in the government committees on Beijing Platform for Action and implementation of CEDAW resigned from these committees in protest against the proposed 15th constitutional amendment.

Those resigned include Asma Jahangir, Hina Jilani, Shahtaj Qazalbash, Nigar Ahmad, Neelam Hussain, Insha Hamdani, Tahira S. Khan, Tahira Syed, Khawar Mumtaz, Farida Shaheed, Shahla Zia and Fariha Zafar.

They issued a joint statement which stated that the introduction of the 15th amendment makes it clear that the government was not serious towards its commitments to women's rights and democratic processes. The involvement of women and women organisations in committees regarding CEDAW and other commitments appeared to be a mere formality that were being carried out only for the sake of avoiding international embarrassment.

They said they were convinced that the modified 15th amendment bill still threatened the basic principles of the Constitution, the parliamentary process and the concepts of the federation.

"It is clear that those in the vanguard of pushing through the 15th amendment are the same elements who supported the various so-called Islamisation measures brought in by the dictator Zia-ul-Haq," they added. - (The News, 22-11-98)

• Citizens rally against shariat bill

A large number of activists from major opposition parties took part in an anti-Shariat bill rally organized by the Joint Action Committee for People's Rights which comprises 35 NGOs and human rights organizations.

A large number of women who took part in the rally declared that the bill was aimed at usurping their basic rights. Carrying placards and banners, the march raised slogans against the prime minister, saying that he was introducing authoritarianism and fascism and snatching the rights of women, minorities and provinces in the name of Islam. - (Dawn, 16-10-98)

• Opposition vows to block amendment

The Constitution (15th Amendment) Bill 1998, after having been passed by the National Assembly, is sure to be blocked in the Senate as the government is short of two-thirds majority, despite winning over the votes of all parties except those constituting the combined Opposition.

In the House of 87, the government requires 58 votes to get the Bill passed. To be more precise and exact in the number game in the Senate, the government still falls short of tow votes even if Senator Shafqat is not included in the combined Opposition camp.

The results of the voting for and against the Bill in the National Assembly must have been quite shocking for the government as except the FATA members and four minority members, no other party favoured amendment in the Constitution. - (The Nation, 11-10-98).