In Pakistan, there is a visceral fear of the demand for more provinces –people calling for this are often described as anti-state, wanting to cause the breakup of Pakistan or its ‘Balkanization.’ I am not sure whether this arises from the painful memories of the 1971 post East Pakistan loss, or from a more pernicious desire from major political parties to keep the status quo since it benefits them; but the cynic in me thinks it is the latter. The very reasons why we need more provinces; a dispersal of economic resources and administrative power and hence a breakdown of the concentration of political power in the hands of a few elites, is why the status quo parties do not want to discuss the nationwide creation of many more administrative units as provinces. It is this capture of state resources both at the federal and provincial levels that helps them to maintain their political and socio-economic hegemony.

To clearly understand how this works on the federal level, presently, there are 272 directly elected seats in the national assembly. Out of these, Punjab with over 60 percent of Pakistan’s population has 148 seats. For any party to form a single party government, it needs 172 seats. Currently, a situation exists in which one party, by capturing Punjab alone (once it gets its share of reserved seats) can run the federal government. Similarly, if we look at Sindh to understand power capture at the provincial level, we can see that the PPP can rule the province just by winning seats from rural Sindh. It is able to enjoy the perks of government and control resources of the province; much of which come from Karachi, a city of over 20 million people, close to one half of the population of Sindh, where they did not win even a handful of seats. It is no wonder the MQM talks of two Sindh’s: the rural Sindh and the urban Sindh. All of this gets compounded by the fact that we have a first past the post electoral system in which the winner takes all.

If new states are created, especially on linguistic grounds, then India should have broken up into a much smaller country by now. India currently has 29 states and 7 union territories. Since the 1950s, it has created an additional 15 states from existing ones; Telangana the latest in 2014, created out of Andhra Pradesh. There have been divisions along linguistic lines as well as administrative lines; Punjab was divided along linguistic lines, creating a new Hindi-speaking state of Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, and Punjab. Reducing the size of provinces will enable better governance and a dispersal of administrative control as opposed to the centralization that currently exists.

At this time, the Pakistani Punjab province with over 110 million people, is much bigger than many countries in the world; yet it is dependent on the chief minister and his small coterie of bureaucrats to take note of every murder and rape, and for him to personally announce that they will capture the culprits and that justice will be done. Every flood season we see him wading through the rain along with his bureaucrats once again, announcing they will provide relief to the affected. If every crime or misfortune requires the personal attention of the CM, then we need many more CMs than we currently have.

More provincial capitals will help create local centers of power and economic growth around that area. There will be a more equitable distribution of state resources – a big gripe of south Punjab has always been that Lahore often gets more than 50 percent of the development expenditure budget of Punjab. Distribution of resources also including that of water resources may solve some current controversies such as the Kalabagh dam. In addition, people will no longer have to travel many kilometers to the nearest provincial city to get approval for many documents. Given that Pakistan has a first past the post political system, the creation of more provinces will enable more equitable seat distribution amongst many more parties incorporating their desires and needs within the political system. It will become more difficult for an outside power to make one telephone call and ask, ‘Are you with us or against us?’ It does not need a military dictator in power to accede to such requests.

Creation of a greater number of new provinces should be seen as part and parcel of establishing stronger democratic accountability in this country. The way I see it, Tahir ul Qadri’s ‘Post Revolution Pakistan’ is not being revolutionary enough on the topic of the provinces. Pakistan can easily be broken up into at least ten provinces with four coming out of Punjab alone – Bahawalpur, Seraiki and central Punjab and Potahar provinces.

Two in Sindh: one region incorporating Karachi and Hyderabad areas and upper Sindh (more rural); KPK has potential for two as well after the division of the Hazara province and the same for Balochistan. New provinces help to improve governance and bring greater accountability, as well as countering ethnicity discontent and disconnect to the state. While we are at it, let’s conduct the population census as well!

 The writer is a Director at Governance & Policy Advisors.