Pakistan badly needs overhaul and uplift to rescue and revive it. Through decades of misrule and mismanagement, it has suffered grievous harm. A way has to be found to arrest the rapidly permeating rot and decay that has set in. The main cause of this rot and decay is mal-administration by successive governments which have primarily either catered to self-interests to financially prosper beyond their own wildest dreams, or have obediently served foreign and indigenous vested interests which pull strings behind the curtain and manipulate events to bring them to power and sustain them therein with their support and protection to achieve their objectives.
Either way, the country pays a heavy price as national and public interests remain unattended and neglected. That is why political parties and politicians, who have nothing to show for their tenures in power, can do no better than to appeal to voters’ sympathies to win their support rather than contest elections on the grounds of services rendered or manifestos for a better future.
It has been suggested that one possible means of facilitating good governance is the creation of smaller administrative units for better efficiency. The ‘units’ that presently comprise Pakistan are, in fact, not ‘units’ or even ‘provinces’, but nations which have enjoyed sovereignty and independence in the past. They have distinct cultures, languages, traditions and histories.
It must also be kept in mind that it was possible for Pakistan to come into being only when these nations consented to pool in their territories, people and resources to create this new state. Without their acquiescence there would be no Pakistan. It is, therefore, most unfair to now reduce them to mere ‘units’ and whimsically split them up for the sake of ‘administrative convenience’. This harkens back to the ways of imperial and colonial masters for whom indigenous and ethnic realities carried no weight and they subdivided their empires solely on the criteria of administrative efficiency.
The nations comprising Pakistan came into the union on a very specific and unequivocal promise contained in the Pakistan Resolution that they would be ‘autonomous and sovereign’, they would have jurisdiction over all subjects other than defense, foreign affairs, currency and those aspects of communications related to defense which would be vested in the center, they would be known as ‘states’ headed by premiers and would have their own flags.
If they had been told that after being absorbed into Pakistan, their national and ethnic identities would be disregarded and dispensed with, why would they have fought and struggled to throw off the yoke of the gora sahibs only to be subjugated by the kala sahibs? In fact, a closer scrutiny of the phrase ‘autonomous and sovereign’ in the Pakistan Resolution reveals that the makers of Pakistan intended to go beyond giving the ‘provinces’ greater autonomy. Provinces may be autonomous in a federation, but they cannot be sovereign, since the existence of a federal government intrinsically curtails their sovereignty. Pakistan, therefore, was clearly meant to be a loosely knit confederation of nations, in recognition of the vibrant multinational mosaic of its ethnic diversity.
But far from confederation, even the promise of autonomy was never honored as Islamabad evolved into a dominating Mount Olympus, casting an overbearing shadow across the land. The nations comprising Pakistan have been subjected to highly centralized control and have been denied the benefits accruing from their God given resources. This has, predictably, created mistrust, tensions and a sense of depravation among the smaller nations and precious little has been done to address this state of affairs.
In such an environment, how can a commonly accepted sense of national identity and affinity germinate and grow? And now you want to tell these nations that they are to be carved up for ‘administrative convenience’? It is precisely such a disregard of ethnic identities that has created the problems we confront today. Have we learnt absolutely nothing from our past mistakes? The evolution and acceptance of a common national identity is a sine qua non before the proposed structural changes can be justified and workable. But such an identity can only emerge after the sense of disparity, depravation and mistrust are addressed and removed. Without this, it will be madness to start dividing provinces.
It must also be understood that the issues of the size of the provinces and mal-administration are not intrinsically intertwined. There are numerous examples, some of which I quoted in my last article on this subject, which amply illustrate this. Some countries smaller than our smallest province in terms of population are so badly governed that they have been designated ‘failed states’, whereas some countries have provinces larger than Punjab but are administered most efficiently.
The size of the provinces is, therefore, irrelevant. What matters is the quality of leadership and governance. This country is cursed with inept and corrupt leaders who have no nexus with the people. Unless people learn to make the right choices through the ballot box, based on merit, past record and prospects for the future on the strength of manifestos and vision, it will matter not one iota whether the size of the provinces is reduced to that of existing divisions, districts or even tehsils. If the same crooked, useless leaders remain at the helm, they will find new and novel ways to sink the boat, whether it is big or small.
It has been suggested, on these very pages, that the divisions, as they now exist, may be given the status of provinces. Sounds neat on paper, but this may not be practicable. Some divisions may not be economically viable and would be entirely dependent on the center. That is one of the gravest dangers of chopping up the provinces into tiny units; they will lose even the meager modicum of autonomy they now have and an even more all encompassing dictatorship of Islamabad will emerge. That is what Musharraf tried to do with his local government system, even going so far as to establish direct contact with district nazims to bypass provincial authorities and reduce their significance.
As if proposals to deny the provincial assemblies the right to determine the future of their people and vest all such authority in Islamabad was not bad enough, it has also been suggested that, in order to avoid the prohibiting cost of forming new provincial governments and bureaucratic structures, the new provinces should be headed by a governor and there should be no assemblies, cabinets and secretaries, etc. That would be the final nail in the coffin of democracy. This is a recipe for creating absolute kings, with the people denied any say whatsoever. What a sad epithet indeed to the concept of government of the people, for the people and by the people.
The only justification for the creation of new provinces may be to resuscitate the national identity of those nations which had been ingested or annexed into another territory in the past. But they would have to satisfy strict criteria; they would have to show that they have a distinct history and identifiable culture, customs, language and above all, their own territory. In such instances, a case may be made for the creation of a new province. But administrative efficiency alone will not suffice as a justification. There are other things more important than that. You are dealing with people, not zoo animals that can be locked up in different enclosures at will. People cherish their roots and origins and do not easily suffer infringement on these domains. Extreme care must be exercised in this explosive matter, for even well meaning efforts to remake Pakistan may not be entirely free from potentially ineluctable dangers of unmaking it.
This article was posted in Pakistan’s The News on Jan. 24, 2012. The writer is vice-chairman of the Sindh National Front and a former MPA from Ratodero.