It was disappointing to see the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf give such a shoddy treatment to the important issue of new provinces last week. The party introduced two aimless resolutions in the provincial assembly of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where it heads the government and, with numbers on its side, got them passed. The resolutions, that actually change nothing on the ground, call for carving out a new Hazara province from KP and for renaming KP as Hazara Pakhtunkhwa. The shoddiness of our democracy and the debates within its corridors is nothing new. But a party that talks about transforming Pakistan and its politics could have done better than that.

Certainly, Hazara Pakhtunkhwa is a more apt name for the province. There’s also no doubt that the rationalization of Pakistan’s federating units is a pressing issue that the political leadership must address sooner rather than later. But PTI’s resolutions hang within a provincial and political vacuum. There’s no complimentary national initiative without which such resolutions cannot hope to change anything on the ground. And, of course, there’s no reference to the wider political debate without which any move in the direction of new provinces is bound to be meaningless and divisive.

Clearly, there are serious problems with the constitutional scheme of our federation and it needs a comprehensive overhaul. The unwieldy provinces created by the British colonizers for efficient exploitation have remained intact decades after their departure. The governance is centralized in distant provincial capitals and far-flung districts are especially at a disadvantage. Then there are the discriminatory aberrations. FATA is governed by FCR. Azad Kashmir has a Prime Minister instead of a chief minister and Gilgit-Baltistan’s chief minister is not really a chief minister as GB is not a full-fledged province. The political response of mainstream parties to this challenge has been abysmal.

What we’ve seen so far is opportunistic appeasement of ethnocentric elites who have turned the issue into one involving ethnic identities and their persecution. The regions where these champions of various ethnic identities are calling for the creation of new provinces on the basis of ethnicity are actually ethnically diverse, and the ethnicity-based provinces are bound to be divisive and discriminatory to the minority ethnic groups. It is a sure way to further the colonial divide-and-rule game without benefiting the people in whose name such demands are being made.

What we need to untangle in this mess is a political leadership that has a post-colonial perspective on governance and understands the true significance of decentralization and devolution of power, a leadership that is more interested in public welfare than the traditional jor -tor of power politics that the colonialists thrived on. The established parties have shown their preference for elitist politics within a colonial paradigm, not only on the issue of new provinces but also on most other challenges facing the country. It is unfortunate that the PTI is following their lead in every way that really counts.

For it to be effective, the issue of new provinces must be grounded in the idea of decentralization and bringing the government closer to the people. The prevalent democratic system is essentially elitist as it relies too heavily on representation. The creation of new provinces could be used to push the system towards participatory democracy. In fact, power should devolve further to local bodies and, eventually, communities should be able to take charge of running most of their affairs. Besides, there is little point in devolution of power if it is not accompanied by the power to collect revenue. The debate on new provinces does not address these issues and is mired in ethnic or regional identities instead. It is not grounded in considerations of public welfare that would demand much smaller and more numerous federating units.

In a world undergoing the birth-pangs of a new order, the vision of Pakistan’s political leadership is seriously restricted by colonial blinkers. Lost in the maize of our crumbling corridors of power built on the foundation of a colonial mindset, our leaders behave like trapped mice without imagination. When it comes to rationalization of Pakistan’s federating units, they treat the colonial constructs as sacred, and there is no political will to take bold initiatives grounded in our reality and inspired by public welfare. When it comes to managing the economy, they go around in colonial grooves, too timid to sing a new song without the IMF and borrowed dollars in the lyrics. In a world ripe with immense possibilities of international cooperation that could benefit Pakistan, they refuse to come out of the deathly embrace of a barbaric parasitic empire.

Our political leaders seem to be imprisoned in colonial frameworks that were never meant to work for this land and its people. Politics is not about people and changing things, but about finding your place in the sun within the criminal status quo. Our elitist representative democracy is designed like a colonial game that people with big money play and everyone else watches from the sidelines. It suits imperial interests because their tyranny and exploitation is never questioned by such leaders in any meaningful way. And it suits our leaders because there is no hard work involved, only largesse and questionable glory.

Isn’t it a bit strange that while there is talk of Sindh-2, Seraikistan and sooba Hazara in Sindh, Punjab and KP, nobody talks about carving out new provinces from Balochistan, the province that needs them the most? Though it is the largest and the most unwieldy province in the country, housing concentrated pockets of Pakhtuns, Mekranis, Brahvis, Sindhis and Seraikis, no political party in the country has chosen to call for its division. Is it because any division would mar the imperial plans for this important chunk of land marked for secession? Is it because our political leadership is only interested in furthering the imperial narrative by strengthening the Baloch elite being cultivated in imperial capitals and claiming to speak for the entire province?

Our political leaders do not have either the sense or the courage to question the sanctity of colonial constructs. At a time when the narrative of the empire is coming down like a house of cards, such stupidity or cowardice, whatever the case may be, is even more disturbing.

The writer is a freelance columnist.