April 08, 2010

Pakistan catch up - What's in a name?

Sometimes, you go on holiday for a bit and you return to find everything has just...gone very wrong! I came back from visiting Ms Henley-on-Thames to find the Islamabad electricity board had managed to cut off my power, my car had flat tires, and... they changed the name of NWFP?!?!

Renaming NWFP to "Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa", is part of a raft of legal changes that were passed by parliament on Thursday. The 18th amendment to the constitution, as it's called by the local press, basically erases changes made to Pakistan's 1973 constitution by General Zia ul Haq and later General Parvez Musharraf. The main points of the legal move (according to Reuters) are:

- The president can no longer dissolve parliament

- Executive power passes to the prime minister, the cabinet and chief ministers of the provinces

- The courts will not be able to validate the suspension of the constitution

- The power to appoint judges passes to a commission headed by the chief justice of the supreme court

- The chief election commissioner will be appointed by a committee and not the president

- The prime minister chooses the heads of the armed forces, which is then rubber stamped by the president

- Oh, and the Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa thing.

In Pakistan, this is largely being hailed as a major democratic breakthrough. Not everyone was convinced that Musharraf's departure and an election meant Pakistan REALLY was a democracy. And many would still say that a largely disenfranchised population and a military with outsized influence on political decisions means Pakistan's democracy is far from even adequate. But Pakistan's ability to recognise the difference between good and bad governance, and ultimately accept what needs to be done is the kind of thing that makes me optimistic about the country's fortunes. It also shows potential partners that there are people and processes that can be engaged with in Pakistan.

And just to prove the point, here's a dissenting voice from the eminently sensible Dawn newspaper:

"...many big issues were never put on the table. For example, the Islamic clauses gratuitously inserted by Gen Zia in the constitution were not touched and the colonial-era status of Fata was not looked at."

What would Dawn do?: "Consider that the security threat that has radiated from Fata is unprecedented in the country’s history and yet the committee did not see fit to amend its constitutional status at this stage... The security challenge in Fata has to be dealt with by more than just guns and money — the ‘wild west’ political status of the place is part of the reason that the area has become the greatest threat to internal security."

And of course, not everyone is happy about NWFP's name change, as a disgruntled reader says in The Nation's letter's page

"I am often surprised by inventiveness of the intelligent people in our political fraternity. Their latest masterpiece is this new fudge of a name ‘Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwah... Campbellpur was changed to Attock for no rhyme or reason. Only people without the slightest knowledge of history could do such a thing. We also changed the name of Montgomery to Sahiwal, I do not know why?... This Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwah is like taking the joke too far. A few visionless people should not be allowed to distort history and the age-old facts. Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwah is not a name, it’s a joke, a practical joke on people of the province. -ARBAB ALAMGIR, Hoti, April 8."