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Home Media Reports 2010 The next round
The next round
The next round
Saturday, 10 Apr, 2010
The parliament must re-examine the Hudood and blasphemy laws to undo the legacy of Gen Zia. - Photo by APPPrime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani spoke from the floor of the National Assembly on Thursday after the unanimous approval of the 18th Amendment package, and pledged: “We are not thinking of power, we are thinking about our future generations who could say that [the people’s] representatives of today have given a direction to the nation.”

The remarks were made in the context of suggesting that further constitutional reform is possible if support for those changes is developed. The prime minister did not specify what ‘improvements’ he had in mind, so let us suggest at least one: excising from the constitution the so-called Islamic clauses gratuitously inserted by Gen Zia and validated by the 8th Amendment.

Oddly, our parliamentarians didn’t see it fit to address even those of Gen Zia’s clauses that directly impact them: the qualification and disqualification criteria in articles 62 and 63 that have been infused with an ‘Islamic’ spirit. And stranger yet for a federal government formed by a coalition of the country’s most secular parties, the clause dealing with the prime minister’s election has been amended to make only Muslim members of the National Assembly eligible as candidates. True, the oath of office that the prime minister has to take (set out in the third schedule of the constitution) has always made clear that he/she has to be a Muslim and, realistically speaking, there is a remote chance of a non-Muslim candidate emerging for the prime minister’s slot. But it is an odd message to reinforce: don’t bother applying, you are second-class citizens. That is what the government seems to have told the country’s religious minorities.

Perhaps the government was afraid that visiting the Islamic clauses issue in this round of constitutional change would have made the whole package controversial and jeopardise the repeal of the 17th Amendment and the enhancement of provincial autonomy — the key demands as we speak. Going forward though this should be less of a concern. If it means taking on the fringe, ultra-conservative elements in politics and society, then so be it. There is something terribly peculiar about the argument that a military general who toppled a government and executed a prime minister before disfiguring the constitution drawn up by the country’s elected representatives could be introducing ‘God’s laws’ which by definition are sacrosanct and untouchable. Gen Zia exploited religion in the most cynical and destructive way possible to prolong his hold on power. Parliament must undo the legacy of Gen Zia, and to do so it must re-examine the Hudood and blasphemy laws too.

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