The case for more provinces –I

October 25, 2017

Pakistan has been quite indecisive and inconclusive about the legal status of FATA for the last 70 years. However, this year, the government of Pakistan has finally decided to ‘mainstream’ FATA by formally merging it into KP province. Though this decision has been welcomed by most of the political parties in the country, a large number of tribesmen look dissatisfied with this merger plan. The people of FATA have long been demanding the introduction of some extensive constitutional reforms in FATA after simply making it a separate province. At present, there are numerous complexities and hurdles in the way of final merger of FATA into KP. Ideally, FATA should have been granted the status of a full-fledged province. This is the best way to introduce the intended administrative and legal reforms in FATA keeping in view the distinctive history, culture, socio-economic settings and character of tribesmen. Certainly, they will find it hard to instantly assimilate with the people in the settled areas. But, regrettably, Pakistan’s current politico-constitutional framework is hardly conducive for making FATA a separate province.

As a matter of fact, there is no such thing as a ‘new province’ in Pakistan’s national discourse. Since its inception, Pakistan has been quite disinclined towards creating more provinces through subdividing its federating units on any basis whatsoever. Nor has this matter ever been seriously debated or discussed in the country. So there has been not a single new province in Pakistan during the last 70 years. However, during the same period, India has increased the number of its provinces from 14 to 36 (29 States, 7 Union Territories). Haryana and Himachal Pradesh are two Indian states that were carved out of a single Indian province of Punjab in 1966. Similarly, after getting ‘independence’ in 1971, Bangladesh was also subdivided into a number of administrative divisions. Unluckily, the issue of creating more provinces in Pakistan has long been politicized.

Ever since the establishment of Pakistan, the successive regimes have been obsessed with the Idea of concentration of power at the center to ‘strengthen the federation’. Therefore, they have constantly been trying to establish a strong central government to preserve national cohesion and territorial integrity. Consequently, there was only a centralized political system in Pakistan in which the federating units were merely the constituent parts of a monolithic state’s structure. One of the most glaring example of this sort of obsession is the establishment of One Unit by consolidating the four provinces of erstwhile West Pakistan in 1955. At that time, this action was justified in the name of balancing the two federating units. Surprisingly, the then government didn’t opt to balance the federation by subdividing the East Pakistan into smaller administrative units to match the West Pakistan. This act essentially shows the sense of direction and priorities of our early rulers. Paradoxically, instead the maximizing the number of provinces, there have been deliberate endeavours to minimize the same to make Pakistan a strong federation.

Pakistan has the largest provinces in the region both in terms of area and population. At present, there are 36 provinces in India; 34 provinces in Afghanistan, 31 provinces in Iran; 34 provinces in China; and 9 provinces in Sri Lanka. According to 1951 census, the population of West Pakistan (present-day Pakistan) was just 33 million. Now, according to the recent census, Pakistan’s population is more than 207 million. Worryingly, despite a manifold increase in the country’s population, not a single new province has ever been created in Pakistan. With 110 million people, Punjab is the largest province in Pakistan. Now this province alone is larger than any European country in terms of population. Certainly, a single chief minister, based in Lahore, can’t effectively monitor and manage of administrative affairs of such a large province. Similarly, just 4 provinces can by means cater to the administrative needs of Pakistan’s massive population. Therefore, Pakistan seriously needs to create more provinces to ensure good governance to its subjects.

There are a number of factors that have contributed to Pakistan’s failure to create more provinces or principal administrative divisions. Firstly, the successive civilian and military rulers have been lacking the required political will and vision to increase the number of provinces in the country. The political instability and several constitutional crises just made things even worse. Secondly, the 1971 East Pakistan fiasco is also a crucial factor. The severance of Pakistan’s Eastern wing was indeed a great national tragedy. In fact, this tragedy just gave rise to strong sentiments against sub-nationalism in Pakistan. It led to the evolution of erratic national narrative whereby sub-nationalism was equated with separatism. This maladaptive behaviour as a nation has led us to think that creating new provinces on ethno-linguistic basis would eventually result in the further fragmentation of the country. Therefore, the demands for new provinces have widely been rejected in Pakistan as most of these demands are about creating more provinces on ethno-linguistic basis: Seraiki province; Mohajor province; Hazara province etc. Similarly, these province aspirants’ sincerity and patriotism are also mostly doubted.

Another major factor is the rise of provincial nationalism. Over a period of time, the inhabitants of each province have developed a strong fixation on their respective provinces. They proudly called themselves as Punjabis, Sindhis, Pukhtoons and Sindhis. Similarly, they have also started considering their province their ‘Dharati’ (motherland). Therefore, now the creation of more provinces is being reckoned as the ‘division of motherland’ by the sons of the soil. Indeed, the regional and nationalist political parties have been playing an instrumental role in fostering the provincial nationalism.

Unfortunately, the mainstream political parties have also started behaving like the regional parties in the provinces. In 2013, no political party could sweep the polls in more than one province. Consequently, four different political parties formed their governments in four provinces in the country. Now each political party has somehow fortified itself in the province where lies its primary political support base. Therefore, the subdivision of any existing province looks to them like the division of their vote-bank. In reply to any demand for a so-called Mohjar province, we have frequently been hearing the slogan raised by PPP in Sindh: “Marso Marso Sindh Na Desi” (we would die, but won’t surrender Sindh). Currently, the JUI-F is also strongly opposing the KP-FATA merger for similar reasons.

Lastly, the constitutional scheme and dispensation of federation’s authority in the country also discourage the formation of more provinces. Since Pakistan is a federation, each federating unit has been given equal representation in the Senate, the upper house of the Parliament. Therefore, if a new province is created, it will get as many seats in the Senate as any larger province. Obviously this development would be undesirable for the larger provinces. Similarly, there has been a perpetual confrontation among the federating units over dividing the monetary and water resources in the country. So the more provinces only mean the more controversies.

A few years ago, the Parliament passed the 18th amendment whereby provinces were ensured greater provincial autonomy. A number of federal ministries and departments were devolved to the provinces. Similarly, the Concurrent Legislative List was also abolished, enabling the provinces to exclusively legislate on a large number of crucial matters. Therefore, it was being expected from the provincial governments that they would also focus on the devolution process to strengthen the location government institutions. However, they have yet not made any serious endavour to empower the local government institutions. Consequently, now there is a concentration of power at the provincial level. These provinces are just behaving in an arbitrary and totalitarian fashion. Therefore, there is no significant positive impact of 18th amendment on ordinary Pakistanis as the large-sized provinces look absolutely reluctant to devolve power to the grassroot level.

(To be continued)