Pakistan's constitution could see revolutionary changes with the country's provinces being given greater autonomy and the federal government responsible only for defence, foreign affairs and finance if a bill on this clears parliament.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM)on Monday filed the draft bill with the National Assembly secretariat to remove the controversial 17th Amendment that had been enacted at former president Pervez Musharraf's behest and to loosen the federal government's control over the provinces.
That the bill has the tacit support of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) federal government can be gauged from the fact that Rehman Malik, a key aide of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Monday met MQM leader Altaf Hussain in London, where he lives in exile, to discuss the legislation and the sub-continental tensions in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks.
The MQM supports the federal coalition and is the junior partner in its stronghold of Sindh, where the PPP leads the provincial government.
"The proposed piece of legislation the 18th Amendment bill has an effective and powerful recipe for provincial autonomy in real terms," The News daily said on Tuesday.
Speaking to reporters outside parliament after filing the draft bill, MQM parliamentary leader Farooq Sattar said it would ensure parliament's supremacy and would strengthen the federal structure by removing the sense of deprivation the provinces felt.
"The prime objective of our effort is to empower masses instead of any individual, which we have been doing during the last 61 years. This will be a paradigm shift from ad hocism, opening an era of socioeconomic wellbeing," Sattar, who is also the MQM deputy convenor, maintained.
The MQM, Sattar contended, wanted the transfer of power from the centre to the provincial, district and even block levels.
"It is time to strengthen Pakistan and pull the national economy out of morass," he stated.
The draft bill would also ensure independence of the judiciary at the central and provincial levels and also envisaged an inter-provincial judicial council, Sattar added.
MQM leader Altaf Hussain has been living in self-exile in London since the mid-1990s when he was named in the killing of a Pakistani Army officer. He draws huge crowds in Sindh capital Karachi whenever he addresses his supporters on the telephone, with the speech being relayed through a public address system.