The case for more provinces –II

November 01, 2017

A province is a principal administrative division within a country. The terms like ‘state’, ‘region’, ‘territory’ or ‘unit’ are also alternatively used for a province in different countries across the world. The distribution of power between the center and provinces generally determines the form of government in any country. In the federal system of government, the federating units wield significant authority while the central government is only responsible for the country’s defence, foreign relations, currency, and communications etc. Thus a provincial government deals with a large number of crucial subjects ranging from education to health, agriculture, justice, and law and order etc. Moreover, it also oversees the performance of local government institutions in the province. Therefore, provinces can play a crucial role in ensuring good governance in a federal state.

It is evident from the Objective Resolution of 1949 that our founding fathers were desirous of making Pakistan a federal republic. But regrettably, the successive political and military regimes in the country have keenly been evolving a centralized governance model at the cost of federating units. So the notions like ‘provincial autonomy’ and ‘local governance’ have mostly been missing in our political discourse. Recently, a significant attempt in the form of 18th constitutional amendment has been made to ensure good governance by devolving power and resources to the provinces. However, in the absence of vibrant local government institutions, now the provincial governments simply look incapable of improving the state of governance in the mega-sized provinces.

At the moment, almost all political parties are utterly disinterested in creating more provinces in Pakistan on any basis whatsoever. So there is also no political consensus for making new provinces on the basis of sub-nationalism. However, there is a general consensus to create more provinces on the administrative grounds after taking into account some geographical and demographical factors in Pakistan. There are people who favour the subdivision of existing provinces into a number of equivalent ‘administrative units’ in the interest of good governance. To them, this measure also help ‘balance the federation’ in Pakistan.

Paradoxically, while there are strong sentiments against creating provinces on ethnolinguistic basis, most of the demands for new provinces in Pakistan have been made on similar basis e.g. Saraiki province, Mohajir province, Hazara province etc. Therefore, the issue of creating more provinces has somehow become controversial and politicized. Nevertheless, the current ethnolinguistic configuration of Pakistan can offer a pragmatic plan to subdivide existing provinces into smaller units. Certainly, there can be created a number of new provinces primary on the basis of various sub-national assertions in the country.

Owing to the 1971 East Pakistan debacle as well as the subsequent rise of various violent sub-national movements in the country, there has been a strong opinion in Pakistan against creating new provinces on ethnolinguistic basis. However, it should not be forgotten that sub-nationalism is currently the primary basis for the formation of principal administrative divisions in most of the counties in the contemporary world. UK is the formal union of English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh sub-nationalism. The administrative divisions in Canada are primarily based on the Anglophone and Francophone nationalism. Similarly, 29 States and 7 Union Territories are the representatives of different ethnolinguistic communities in the multilingual India. Even Pakistan’s current federal configuration just represents Punjabi, Sindhi, Baloch and Pashtun nationalism.

A large number of countries in the world are actively adhering to the doctrine of ‘multiculturalism’. Based on the principle of ‘unity in diversity’, this doctrine essentially maintains that multiple ethnic groups can collaborate and coexist peacefully in a single country without compromising their distinct ethnic identities. Therefore, the subdivision of a country on ethnolinguistic basis does necessarily not result in the disintegration of that country. It is not the territorial fragmentation on the administrative grounds but the growing sense of deprivation and alienation among the communities that really are a potential threat to the territorial integrity of a sovereign state. In fact, it was not the Bengal nationalism alone but the perpetual perception of exploitation, subjugation and alienation among the Bengalis that led to the bifurcation of Pakistan in 1971.

At present, Pakistan direly needs to create more provinces to cater to the administrative needs of its more than 207 million people. Indeed, before making this crucial decision, a detailed study should be conducted to precisely ascertain how many new provinces should be created, and what would be the geographical boundaries of the proposed provinces. However, in my opinion, as many as 9 new provinces can be created by subdividing Punjab into three parts, and other three provinces into two parts each. I also believe it is really appropriate and equally pragmatic too, to create more provinces primarily on the ethnolinguistic basis to give territorial Identity to various subnational entities in the country. In fact, on this very basis, the geographical contours of most of the proposed new provinces can conveniently be shaped. These provinces would also be administratively viable in the new federal plan. Therefore, while carving out the new provinces, some necessary geographical adjustments can be made to satisfy or accommodate the long-standing demands for the subnational provinces; including the Saraiki province, Hazara province, Potohar province, Mohajir (Urban Sindh) province, and a province comprising Pashtun belt of Balochistan.

In addition to aforementioned provinces, FATA should also be made a separate province. This measure would help effectively introduce the intended adminstrative and legal reforms in this long-neglected part of the country. Moreover, Pakistan should also seriously consider the option of formally absorbing the territory of Gilget-Baltistan (GB) after formally holding a due referendum. In my column titled “Question of GB and AJK”, published on August 24, 2016; I have exhaustively discussed this issue in its historical and legal perspective. So GB could be another future province in the country. In this way, Pakistan can conveniently increase the number of its provinces from 4 to 10-12.

The current federal structure and general dynamics of politics in Pakistan are by no means conducive for randomly creating a singular new province. In fact, a demand for a particular new province instantly becomes controversial. This is the reason all the isolated demands for a particular province in the country have largely been ignored so far. Therefore, it is quite advisable to look for the possibility of creating adequate number of new provinces collectively by fragmenting each province into smaller parts simultaneously.

The Constitution of Pakistan has clearly defined the powers and functions of the federal and provincial governments. There also exist a number of constitutional bodies like Council of Common Interests (CCI), National Finance Commission (NFC), and National Economic Council (NEC) etc to regulate the relationship between the federal and provincial governments. Similarly, the successive NFC awards in Pakistan have also gone a long way in evolving a pragmatic mechanism for the distribution of financial resources among the federal units. Indeed, these constitutional bodies would also be equally capable of fairly distributing the financial and other resources among the proposed new provinces.

Concentration and centralization of power are just the hallmarks of a totalitarian or fascist regime. Therefore, decentralization and devolution of state authority can ensure good governance in a polity. In order to overcome its underlying administrative woes, Pakistan needs to adopt a two-prong strategy. Firstly, it should create an adequate number of new provinces by thoughtfully and carefully subdividing its existing federating units into smaller administrative divisions. Secondly, it should also focus on devolving the power and resources from the provincial governments to the local government institutions. Without taking these measures, I am afraid all our endavours to ensure good governance in the country would eventually end up in a disappointing fiasco.