By Mir Jamilur Rahman
After a lapse of 17 years, the centre and the provinces have signed a consensual agreement, the NFC Award, on how to divide resources without hurting one another. The consensus was reached not by using strong-arm tactics, but by the force of reason. General Musharraf, and before him General Ziaul Haq, had no inkling how to tackle this thorny issue. They only knew how to coerce the provinces into submission, a dictatorial prerogative, which the provinces hated. Thus, for the last 17 years, the resources were divided on an ad hoc basis, which bred resentment between the provinces on the one hand and between the centre and the provinces on the other. It was a breach of the constitution.
Of course, a military dictator doesn't have to worry about constitutional infringement – all he has to do is invoke Article 6, which proposes a treason trial for the culprits. Not surprisingly, the masses forgave them all, even those responsible for breaking up the country.
The mistrust of provinces against one another and the centre and the latter's 'big brother' attitude towards the provinces was the product of the military rules. The provinces equated the military rule with Punjabi rule because of the preponderance of Punjabis in the armed forces. The province was blamed for any undemocratic move in the country disregarding the fact that because of its large population, Punjab was the only province that could provide massive manpower to the military. East Pakistan had more people than the West Pakistan but still Bengalis were not trusted.
The people of East Pakistan wanted a little more than provincial autonomy because of its geographic location, more than 1,000km by land through India and about 1,500km by sea, nearly all along the Indian coast. The 1965 war had revealed to East Pakistan that in the next Indo-Pakistan war, it will be a sitting duck despite the claim of our leaders that East Pakistan would be defended by West Pakistan. It was a silly claim for it entailed conquering India to reach East Pakistan. In the 1965 war for nearly a month, Bengalis lived in terror of the Indian attack. Pakistan, at that point in time, had neither the resources nor the means to send military troops and equipment to its eastern wing. India acted wisely by not attacking East Pakistan in 1965, thus winning the confidence of Bengalis. From then on, East Pakistan wanted to be a separate state. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman told his supporters in a restricted meeting that Pakistan and India would continue to have sporadic wars over Kashmir, which East Pakistan could not afford. He said that East Pakistan must get out of this tangle for its safety and progress. The government in Islamabad, headed by military dictator General Yahya Khan, did not pay heed to their pleas which eventually led to the independence of East Pakistan in 1971.
The political leadership, encouraged by the PPP, has played an important role in creating harmony in the country and among the people. Having achieved a miraculous success in reaching the consensus of NFC award, the PPP government should now try to implement other provisions of the constitution that provide greater autonomy to the provinces. This matter should not be left unattended anymore. The agreement on the NFC award is also an eye-opener to the perpetually dissenting attitude of those politicians who find nothing worthwhile in government decisions and actions.