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The Sword And The Shield That The 18th Amendment Is

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Usman Khan explains how the 18th amendment had not only allowed the PTI government in KP between 2013 and 2018 to gain a foothold in national politics but also protects it now from those who’d seek to remove it from the center.

Once again, the government is after the 18th amendment and it is also criticizing the National Finance Commission (NFC) award. The criticism was met with fierce opposition from all the democratic stakeholders. The ruling party was forced to clarify that it is not against the concept of provincial autonomy. To understand this conflict, we must first understand what the 18th amendment is.

The 18th amendment is the widest-ranging amendment in Pakistan’s constitution to date. It amended over 1/3rd of the constitution and changed the form of government to the parliamentary republic after it had effectively become a presidential democracy under General Musharraf. The amendment is most famous for its conversion of the country from a centralized state to a de-centralized democracy where the provinces were given vast autonomy rendering the center, which had enjoyed massive power over the provinces since the independence of the country, to become merely a bridge between its federating units – the provinces.

Indeed, the amendment was not properly discussed in parliament. The PPP government bypassed this exercise, claiming that the two major political powers in the country, PPP and PML-N, along with most other parties, were supportive of it.

However, the problem with the current government is that it feels the amendment has tied its hands. It was only after Imran Khan came to power that he realized that the prime minister was not synonymous with a monarch and thus did not enjoy the all-encompassing powers. It must have been shocking for him to learn that Pakistan was a de-centralized republic and the reason was the 18th amendment and within it the National Finance Commission which oversaw the distribution of revenues among the central and provincial governments, based on factors such as population density, urbanization, etc.

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Under the 18th amendment, over 80% of the resources were allocated to the provinces, leaving very little for the central government to initiate big developmental projects that would get them the votes they need to win the elections. The KP administration kept complaining throughout the last five years that it was unable to keep its promises due to not being in the center and the moment PTI reached the center, it discovered that the center was far more chained than the provincial government was. So now, the party looks at the 18th amendment with disgust and seeks to take control of the provinces by annulling it.

Imran Khan remains oblivious to the fact that it is due to this amendment that he was able to reach the position he is in today. The 18th amendment allowed PTI to establish a foothold in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The same 18th amendment barred the central government from dislodging its provincial government. It was the development in KP that PTI had projected through its social media accounts. The funds for that development had also come from the NFC.

But now, in his thirst for power, he is hell-bent on tearing down the one thing that gave him the position he now holds and which also protects him from the establishment that cannot remove him as easily as it could before the 18th amendment. That is the shield and the sword the 18th amendment has given the democratic republic of Pakistan. It is time the premier and his supporters came to realize this, before they, knowingly or unknowingly, take steps that would damage not just the republican spirit of the constitution of Pakistan but also their present government.

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Naya Daur