|Agents of change
Daily: The News
Mohammad Ali Jinnah sought the division of British India on the basis that British India was
united not because of its political oneness but because of its administrative unity which was
enforced by a unitary and centralised administrative structure of the state. Otherwise,
Jinnah argued, at the political plane there existed more than one nation, including Hindus
In 1947, Pakistan inherited the colonial legacy, a constitutionally unified and centralised
institutional framework capable of running the country from the centre. At that time it was
thought that soon political cohesion would overtake administrative unity for the realisation
of the dream of one nation, one country. Not only could that not happen, in 1971 the
country broke up into two. Forty years later, political disunity is rampant. Criteria other than
religion, such as ethnicity and language, are endangering the country’s integrity as never
before. In effect, Pakistan is now a geographic entity of four provinces marked by political
disunity. The Pakistan of today is more an administrative union than a political one.
In the effort to forge political unity in the country more reliance is placed on the Constitution
than on political measures such as dialogue, negotiations and mutual accommodation.
Ethnic and linguistic heterogeneity is a reality but, rather than contributing to the unity of
Pakistani society it is destroying that unity. That should be a point of concern for Pakistanis,
in particular the country’s social and political scientists. At the time of the enactment of the
Constitution in 1973, and the surge of optimism it created, many Pakistanis must have
expected the document to lead to the political unity which had long eluded the country.
However, nationalist and separatist movements in different parts of the country proved the
objective was illusory. Owing to the centre’s frequent intrusions in provincial matters either
by strengthening bureaucratic grip or launching military operations, those movements fed
on the reaction of the local population against the centre. To deal with that crisis, the centre
again opted for replacing the formula of developing political unity with the recipe of building
administrative cohesion. The vicious cycle of mistrust continued.
Through the 18th Constitutional Amendment in 2010, the long-awaited autonomy was
devolved to the provinces. Other than that, hardly any effort has been made to promote the
political unity of the country. In provinces such as Sindh and Balochistan the centre is using
paramilitary forces to enforce its writ. Generally speaking, in the eastern regions of the
country the Rangers are performing their duties together with the civilian administration,
while in the western parts the Frontier Constabulary is playing that role. A rationale has
been found for the protracted stay of the paramilitary forces in the civilian areas. Perhaps
parliament does not have time to mull over the reason why certain areas of the country are
so volatile as to be governable only with assistance from paramilitary forces.
There are other questions that invite the attention of parliament, for instance as to why the
spate of targeted killings is rampant in Karachi, as well as in Balochistan, though in a
different form. The question is, why is the presence of the Frontier Constabulary imperative
for Balochistan? With the rise in the death toll of the Baloch, that province is rapidly
becoming ungovernable by the federation. Over-reliance of the centre on the paramilitary
forces to manage the affairs of the country is evident of the failure of the state.
Pakistan is in a state of serious crisis. Balochistan is one of those parts of the country
where the intensity of mistrust between citizens and the state has grown much deeper than
mere provincialism. The recent budget has revealed that Pakistan is investing more money
in keeping its administrative unity secured and disorder under control than on the country’s
social sectors, including such basic ones like education and health. Pakistan is employing
fewer political means to address the grievances of its people: Pakistan is using numerous
“state-sponsored” coercive measures to smother the voice of discontent.
Nevertheless, there is also some hope that, despite its seriousness, Pakistan’s crisis is not
beyond resolution. The slogan raised by Nawaz Sharif that there is no sacred cow is a
matter of relief for those who are hoping that national priorities will ultimately be set right at
last. Political problems should be addressed through political means, and not through
adoption of coercive measures. The long spells of military rule in the country have created
stagnancy in every sector of Pakistani society. We could hope for the status quo to end
only if there are no longer any “holy cows” disrupting our priorities.
There is a positive side to the tragedies Pakistan has seen recently, to name only a few
incidents. Whether it is the shooting in Kharotabad, Quetta, where five unarmed Chechens
lost their lives to the overreaction of the Frontier Constabulary on May 17 or the incident at
the Benazir Park in Karachi where unarmed arrested youth Sarfraz Shah was shot by the
Rangers on June 8, these incidents strengthen Pakistani society’s resolve that things
cannot stay the same any longer.
Meanwhile, good precedents are being set. For instance, Atta Muhammad, the driver who
had brought the Chechens to Kharotabad in his taxi, was not cowed by any possible threat
to his life and spoke the truth before the tribunal concerned that the Chechens were
unarmed. In accordance with his duties, police surgeon Dr Baqir Shah issued a forensic
report which indicated that the Chechens executed in Kharotabad had exploded no bomb,
which makes it clear that the victims had not provoked the police and the Frontier
Constabulary into firing at them. Dr Baqir was roughed up for speaking the truth but he is
Were it not for Jamal Tarakai, the cameraman who recorded the video of the Kharotabad
incident, and the man who recorded the video of the shooting of Sarfraz Shah, the shocking
truth would not have reached the public in the undeniable form that it did. All these people
are agents of change in Pakistan. Pakistani society had been in desperate need of such
everyday heroes, and now they are emerging, and in quick succession.
Back to columns in 2011