Post-devolution federalism

Daily: The News
Date: 16.07.11

On July 1, 2011, the federation of Pakistan entered the post-devolution phase. In this
phase, the federation is beset with three main challenges, though the line between them is
quite blur.

The first challenge is the existence of intra-provincial disharmony. The idea of devolution
was not only to empower provinces at the cost of the centre but also to establish inter-
provincial harmony. Pakistan passed that phase however belatedly. Unfortunately, now a
new situation has surfaced in the shape of intra-provincial discord. Out of four, two
provinces are confronted with strife for division of the provinces along linguistic lines. In
Punjab, there is a voice to carve Seraiki and Bahawalpur provinces out of it. In Khyber-
Pakhtoonkhawa (KPK), the demand is to constitute Hazara province by dividing the KPK
province into two halves.

The presence of inter-ethnic conflict is the second challenge. For instance, in Sind,
especially in its urban centres such as Karachi, the inter-ethnic condition is grave and
invites attention. Just a month ago, no one had imagined that the elections in the AJK would
jolt the political arrangement in Pakistan. The MQM, the then ally of the ruling PPP, parted
its company owing apparently to an electoral disagreement on (the candidature of) two AJK
seats. In fact, the MQM resorted to an extreme measure and resigned from all government
positions. That act was tantamount to destabilization of the central government.
Subsequently, a sort of civil war broke out in Karachi and continued for almost three days
while the police and Rangers remained spectators.

Interestingly, a political difference between the PPP and MQM on the AJK electoral affairs
was expressed in terms of ethnic confrontation between the workers of the ANP and those
of the MQM in Karachi. To promote one ethnic party to counterweight another ethnic party
in Karachi is quite perilous. That strategy is loaded with serious repercussions and hence is
necessarily an anti-federation policy. Nevertheless, in general, politico-economic
deprivation breeds ethnic disunity.

By and large, Pakistan’s political sphere has three kinds of contenders. There are big
political parties such as the PPP and PML-N projecting one political ideology or another;
there are small ethnic-turned-political parties such as the MQM and ANP promoting one
ethnic agenda or another; and there are yet smaller religious-turned-political parties such
as the JI and JUI propagating one Islamic program or another.

For the federation of Pakistan, if religion is considered a unifying force, ethnicity is deemed
a splitting factor: both ethnicity and religion are potent but have been working at cross-
purposes with each other. Further, both ethnic- and religious-turned-political parties
interpret federalism in their own ways. Nevertheless, two features are common between
these parties: first, in an effort to be heard both predicate on resorting to violence; and
secondly, both flourished under the military regimes. In a way, the military rule in the past
might have benefitted Pakistan economically but weakened the ties of federation.

The third challenge is the consequent effect of absence of the local bodies across the
country. Under the Constitution, the local body elections were due in September 2009. On
one pretext or another, the elections were postponed. No politician is realizing the fact that
people cannot prize democracy at the national level if they do not practise and enjoy the
fruits of democracy at the local level. Quite recently, revival of the commissionerate and the
attendant systems in Sindh (through Ordinances issued by the acting Governor of Sindh on
advice of the President of Pakistan) is less to administrate the province on sound footings
than to penalize the MQM for its forsaking the treasury benches. In this exercise is hidden a
dilemma for Pakistan. To even the score with the MQM on its perfidy, the incumbent
government has put the whole system at stake. The situation is a reminiscence of
imposition of the Governor Rule in Punjab in February 2009 for two months when Sharif
brothers were disqualified by the Dogar court; the Rule was basically to preclude Punjab
government’s efforts of buttressing the lawyers’ movement.

One of the reasons of denial of the local bodies to people is that the local government
system introduced in 2001 is considered a legacy of a military dictator, General Pervaiz
Musharraf. That may be true but then the political government may opt for introducing its
own version of the local body system. The elected representatives of the MQM through the
local body system performed a number of public works in Karachi and became an example
for the rest of Pakistan to follow. Restoration of the commissionerate system in Sindh is a
disgrace to those efforts of the MQM.

Generally speaking, the vigour of intra-provincial disharmony to avow one’s linguistic
identity and the force of inter-ethnic conflict to grab more politico-economic space for one’s
ethnic community are indicative of the fact that the dream of formation of a homogenous
community under the formula of federation has not yet realized. Ethno-linguistic
heterogeneity is still a reality and, instead of contributing constructively to the state, is
blighting the concept of federation. Ideally, after sixty years of formation of Pakistan,
regional and ethnic identities should have been merged into one common national identity.
That goal has not yet achieved.

The presence of paramilitary forces such as the Rangers and Frontier Constabulary (which
are meant to work only in special circumstances and for limited period of time but have
been deployed for a longer period of time) to maintain law and order situation in
Balochistan and Sindh is indicative of the fact that democracy is dysfunctional somehow to
come up with a political solution.

In the post-devolution phase, problems for federalism are still serious and multifaceted. The
solution lies in dispensing democracy to people at all tiers of federation (national,
provincial, and local), besides empowering them. The commissionerate system is
incongruent to the present era. Further, to materialize intra-provincial cohesiveness, the
possibility of formation of provincial Senate should be considered seriously.

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