Creation of More Provinces in Pakistan
Pakistan must have more provinces. 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. More provinces should be created for better utilization of resources and quick development. 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.
Those individuals and the groups who grease the palms of the members of the officialdom, bureaucracy and the parliament members also share the booty. 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.
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 which is much transparent, grass-root and effective than Pakistan.. In Bangladesh, money is spread over more administrative units and therefore is spent on a vast area. India has 28 provinces and 610 districts. 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:
They won’t look up to the provincial capitals and the politicians sitting there to send them the funds..
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.
It would create more sense of participation, nationalism and togetherness by the people because of more provincial governments, decentralization and political freedom to make their decisions.
More provinces will lessen the prevailing acrimony, mutual apprehensions and tension among 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. Presently, 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. The provinces of Balochistan, Sindh, NWFP, harbor a host of grievances against Punjab which range from taking more share of funds to the undue use of water. The larger portion of armed forces from Punjab is yet another cause for the smaller provinces to be in a state of over-lordship from Punjab.
East Pakistan’s cessation on March 26, 1971 (for Bengalis independence) could have been averted, had the Eastern wing of Pakistan been fairly and equitably treated. Similar kind of threat and danger of disintegration looms over Pakistan now which can be averted or removed if more provinces are carved out of the existing ones.
The creation of more provinces would meet demands of many regions with common language and ethnic bonds. For instance, the Saraiki and Hazara provinces are long standing demands of the people of that areas. The population of Hazara region wants to separate from the Pushto speaking parts of NWFP because their language is Pahari, a dialect mix of Pushto and Punjabi. The Saraiki speaking people want to have a separate province because they look different from both Sindh and Punjab as for their language and culture are concerned… The FATA (the Federally Administered Tribal Areas) can be converted into a separate province. The scenic and hilly 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 the constitutional rights of the provinces and the powers in the concurrent list 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. If the constitutional obligation of devolution of powers to provinces is fulfilled, the break-away feelings and insurgency that is going on in Balochistan, can be nailed and quelled, once and for all.
The government of PPP and PMNL failed to address this highly important issue although they had promised such a provision in their parties ‘manifestoes. That pledge which stands valid can now be translated into reality by the PTI government with Imran Khan as the prime minister and a revolutionary in his own right. 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 PTI 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 prosper and that is not a failed state.
There can be a quid-pro-quo in sharing powers with the provinces. But essentially as is the practice in other federations around the world, most of the powers must reside with the constituent geographical units. The 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.
It is also in the interest of the government at 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.
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 implement those with the coordination of the provinces. Addiotnally, the shifting of most of the ministries to the provinces would alleviate enormous administrative and financial load on the Center..
The writer is a senior journalist, former editor of Diplomatic Times and a former diplomat.