The present Constitution of Pakistan was ratified in August 1973. In the years that have passed since then, it has suffered much abuse. That it remains today, mutilated as it is, the law of the land is due to the legitimacy of the parliament which ratified it. This parliament was the result of elections held in 1970 which are widely accepted as being the cleanest and fairest elections ever in Pakistan’s history. And it is the unanimous approval with which this parliament enacted the 1973 Constitution that has given it its longevity.

Since 1973, both civilian and military rulers have sought to modify it. Their motivation for doing so was to suit their needs, not the public interest.

The first person to tamper with it, ironically, was one of its main architects, the democratic Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. His second amendment to the Constitution in 1974 declared Ahmadis to be non-Muslims and inserted a definition for ‘Muslim’. The third amendment in 1975 limited the rights of the detained. The fourth amendment, also in 1975, curtailed the judicial rights of political opponents. And the fifth in 1976 focused on curtailing the power and jurisdiction of the judiciary.

Next in line to bring change was General Zia ul Haq. After ousting Bhutto in a coup in 1977, he went to work in remodelling the constitution. His objectives were two fold. First, to perpetuate his illegitimate rule. And second, to further Islamicise an already Islamic state. His wide ranging eighth amendment, enacted in 1985, fundamentally changed the character of the constitution. What was in essence a parliamentary system of government became a semi presidential hybrid.

The next significant amendment - the thirteenth - was made by democrat Nawaz Sharif in 1997. This amendment stripped the President of powers to dismiss parliament. Mr. Sharif had narrowly survived such a dismissal and was keen that it should not be repeated. His following amendment, the fourteenth, also in 1997, allowed for the dismissal of elected National Assembly members if they defected to another party.

In 1999, Mr. Sharif was overthrown in a coup by General Pervez Musharraf. The General, now President of Pakistan, was also keen to mould the constitution in his favour. His contribution, the seventeenth amendment, was made in 2003. Just as the eighth amendment in 1985 had helped to consolidate an earlier General’s hold on power, the seventeenth enabled Musharraf to do the same. The amendment, amongst many other changes, restored to the President the power to dismiss parliament - a power that had been taken away by the thirteenth.

Three more amendments - the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth - remained to be made. These were enacted by Asif Ali Zardari who became the democratically elected President of Pakistan in 2008. Of the three, the nineteenth and twentieth, were relatively benign and involved generally positive changes to the judicial system and electoral process.

However, the eighteenth amendment enacted in 2010 was a different beast altogether. Under the guise of devolving power to the provinces it abolished a part of the constitution known as the concurrent legislative list. This was a list of legislative subjects which could be legislated on by both the federal and provincial assemblies. These subjects included social services, health care, environmental protection and, importantly, criminal law. The objective of the concurrent list was that the federal legislature would broadly frame laws on these subjects. The provinces could then fine tune these laws to their particular circumstances providing that there was no infraction of the federal statutes.

In doing away with the concurrent list, the eighteenth amendment transferred exclusive responsibility for these subjects to the provinces. The implications are profound. Now each province can have its own legal system. It is no longer possible, for example, to have a nation wide anti terror law, or anti corruption laws, or even a uniform national environmental policy. Ruling political parties in each province can tailor laws to favour their members. We now have one country with four legal systems.

So what started as a practical and universally accepted constitutional document in 1973 has today morphed into an exotic chimera which is wholly unsuited to our needs and arguably the cause of many of our problems today.

There is only one way out: A future assembly of competent and sincere legislators will need to muster a supermajority to strip the present constitution of all amendments and restore it to its pristine 1973 status. This has to be the starting point from where we begin to address the existential issues of religious intolerance, sectarian and criminal violence, terrorism, corruption, environmental degradation and a whole host of other subjects that require the sound legal substructure and broad acceptance which the original 1973 constitution established.

The writer is a Chairman of Mustaqbil Pakistan.