The year 1997 will be one long remembered in Pakistan's history. It is not only the fiftieth anniversary of the creation of Pakistan, but it will also be marked as the first time in the history of independent Pakistan that parliament has assumed supremacy in the governance of the state. The Thirteenth Amendment to the constitution, adopted unanimously by the parliament in March 1997, rescinded the power of the president to dismiss the prime minister and dissolve the National Assembly. This has made parliament, the directly-elected National Assembly and the indirectly-elected Senate, sovereign. The action also disestablished a main pillar of the late Zia ul-Haq's authoritarian constitutional system.
Ironically when President Farooq Leghari invoked the since rescinded Article 58(2)(b) of the constitution to dissolve the government of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in November 1996, he sent packing what has been alleged by many as the most inefficient and corrupt government in Pakistan's difficult history. At that time the state faced not only instability in its political system, but was also confronted with an almost catastrophic economic situation and a social system that performed at a level that placed Pakistan at or near the bottom of almost any list of social indicators that had been devised for such measurements. This was especially true in standards for education, health delivery, and the status of women. The integrity of the legal system had been compromised by attempts by the Benazir Bhutto administration to tamper with the tenure and appointments of members of the superior judiciary. Environmental policy was directionless. Religious intolerance, particularly the sectarian divide in Islam between Sunnis and Shia, had led to widespread terrorist activities. Ethnonational violence continued to plague Pakistan's most populous city, Karachi. Pakistan remained unable to conduct a fresh national census. Pakistan's place in the regional context of South Asia, notably concerning India and the continuing warfare in Afghanistan, remained problematic; and its international role in the aftermath of the Cold War uncertain. The year 1997 seemed not destined to be a happy semicentennial for Pakistan.
The chapters in this book address many of these issues. In the first, Mohammad Waseem, currently Quaid-i-Azam Professor at Oxford University, analyzes the