Sunday, January 8, 2012

Provincial Autonomy and More Provinces in Pakistan

January 3, 2012

By Saeed Qureshi

Pakistan must have as many more provinces as possible. The existing four provinces are like four states within a state. These four big administrative units create regional and provincial friction bordering on hatred. Ever since the creation of Pakistan, one of the overriding hurdles in the way of coveted national cohesion and unity are these administrative elephantine units that vie and remain at loggerheads with each other.

With a separate language of each province, the four separate nationalities look conspicuously distinct. Besides it creates communication barriers between the people with less or no knowledge of the national language Urdu.

The fruits of devolution of powers are universally known for balanced and effective development of both rural and urban areas of a country on one side and the backward and advanced areas on the other. In big units as we have in Pakistan, the major chunks of allocation of funds go to those cities or towns from which the politicians or the members of the parliament come.

Even otherwise in Pakistan, the rural development has mostly remained neglected as most of the development funds are spent in the urban settlements. For better utilization of resources and quick development more provinces should be created.

The long-standing demands for decentralization of power should be actually fulfilled by transferring more powers to the provinces and from provinces to the local bodies.
Unfortunately, due to rampant corruption and lack of effective accountability, the funds are misused and misappropriated. The development projects sometimes exist on the paper only.

The quality of work on building roads and other projects in Pakistan is woefully inferior. The oversight and strict compliance of codes and regulations are more often than not, violated and breached with connivance of the bureaucracy and government officials.

The scams and scandals, the nepotism and favoritism in doling out contracts, permits and lucrative licenses are given mostly to the party members, friends, and kith or to those who grease the palms of the members of the officialdom, bureaucracy and the parliament members.

The social and civic development remains largely confined to the big cities. The people have to travel all the way to the provincial capitals to meet the provincial assembly members at a big financial cost and time.

Pakistan, even after 60 years of its existence, is devoid of highways between major cities and an efficient railway system. The people suffer from poor, inadequate or deficient civic utilities. The political chaos takes it spillover toll on the quality of life.

The availability of sustained water and power, solid waste disposal, health, education, orderly traffic and good transportation that are components of good city management and a smooth civic life have remained woefully unrealized. The quality of life in Pakistan is abysmally low.

In comparison to Pakistan, Bangladesh that separated from the West Pakistan in 1971, despite being much smaller in area (56000 sq miles to 340000 sq miles of Pakistan) has 6 provinces and 64 districts. Bangladesh has a system of distribution of resources and funds for development that is much transparent, grass root and effective than Pakistan because the money is spread over more administrative units and therefore is spent on a vast area. India has 28 provinces and 610 districts.

In comparison Pakistan has four big federating units and only 127 districts. It would be a breakthrough and a milestone step forward if the present four provinces are partitioned into smaller provinces. The inhabitants of the new provinces would benefits in the following manner:

1.They won’t look up to the provincial capitals and the politicians sitting there to send them the funds.
2.With the decentralization and devolution of powers, the people of smaller units can make their own decisions locally and undertake the development and progress that they deem suitable.
3.It would create more sense of participation by people because of more provincial governments and political freedom.
4.With more courts in the new provinces the perennial backlog of pending cases would be speedily decided.

More provinces will lessen the prevailing acrimony and mutual apprehensions and tension between the four provinces. It would readily assuage the sense of deprivation and discrimination nursed by the smaller provinces against the big province which in this case is Punjab.

At present provinces of Balochistan, Sindh, NWFP, harbor a host of grievances against Punjab that range from taking more share of funds to the undue use of water as well as because of the army whose bulk comes from Punjab. Punjab is the target of complaints and grudge of other provinces for being a privileged province as was West Pakistan compared to the former East Pakistan.

East Pakistan’s cessation (for Bengalis independence) could have been averted if the Eastern wing of Pakistan had been fairly and equitably treated. Similar kind of threat and danger of disintegration looms over Pakistan now and that can be averted or removed if more provinces are carved out of the existing ones.

The long standing demands of many regions with common language and ethnic bonds such as Siraiki belt and Hazara could be met by creation of more provinces. The population of Hazara region wants to separate from the Pushto speaking parts of NWFP (now Pakhtunkhwa Khyber) because their language is Pahari, a mixed dialect of Pushto and Punjabi.

Siraiki speaking people want to have a separate province because they look different from both Sindh and Punjab as for their language and culture is concerned. The FATA (the federally administered tribal areas) can be converted into a separate province. The valleys of Chitral, Swat, Hunza, and Dir each can also be given separate status of provinces.

Such considerations as common folklore, common language or dialect, common ethnic and cultural milieu and administrative efficiency should be kept in view in creating more provinces. The increase in the number of provinces would help alleviate the inter-provincial friction that so apparently exists now between the four provinces.

As enshrined in the constitution of Pakistan, it is time to give the promised autonomy to the provinces. While the provincial autonomy is a long standing demand and is the constitutional right of the provinces, the powers in the concurrent list that are due to provinces, should be transferred to them.

Already MQM that holds sway in Karachi and other urban areas of Sindh has categorically called for provincial autonomy, which in their view means only the portfolios of foreign relation, currency and defense should be left with the center.

Such a demand should also be a priority issue with other provinces and the sooner it is accepted the better it would be for the harmonious relationship between provinces and federation on one hand and between the federating units on the other.

Once the question of creation of more provinces and transfer of the promised powers to the provinces is addressed, the stability of Pakistan can be guaranteed. Otherwise the clash of interests would keep the center and provinces in mutual bickering and feuding. The break-away feelings and insurgency that is going on in Balochistan can be nailed and quelled, once and for all, if the constitutional obligation of devolution of powers to provinces is fulfilled.

The incumbent democratic government of PPP has also committed in their party manifesto to grant provincial autonomy. It is a pledge whose time to be translated into reality has come. It would be a feather in the cap of the sitting government if it takes this revolutionary and momentous measure that would irrefutably ensure the viability of the state of Pakistan.

Let the PPP government prove that it was capable of taking far reaching decisions in the best interest of the people of Pakistan. Let it prove that Pakistan is bound to stay and is not a failed state.

There can be a quid pro quo in sharing powers with the provinces. But essentially as is the practice and custom with other federations around the world, most of the powers must reside with the constituent geographical units. United States of America is one country where such a remarkable model for division of powers is in vogue. The states (provinces) are almost independent in running their local governments. This model can be followed in Pakistan as far as possible.

The provincial autonomy once given would relieve the center of the bureaucratic over-lordship. The function of the center would be to make policy decisions and with the coordination of the provinces implement these. The shifting of most of the ministries to the provincial domain would alleviate enormous administrative and financial load on the center.

So it is also in the interest of the center to go ahead with the settlement of the lingering question of provincial autonomy which together with the creation of more provinces would catapult the much coveted paradigm of good governance in Pakistan. Such a landmark decision would undoubtedly put Pakistan on the road to economic prosperity and socio- political stability.

1 comment:

  1. A formula across the board should be applied in Pakistan, based on instability, insecurity, and economic deprivation. Karachi is the most instable and insecure city of Pakistan .The Idea to divide Karachi in to manageable four portions along with the Sindh’s underdeveloped territory will create four small provinces providing better Safety, Security, equal opportunity and Economic wellbeing uplift of underdeveloped areas of Sind, this should be applied to other mega cities of Pakistan also.