Dr Fouzia Saeed
They say that in China you find Chinese, in India you find Indians, in America you find Americans, but in Pakistan you find Punjabis, Sindhis, Baloch, Pakhtuns, and so on. It is one of those quips you find around the world that poke fun at the idiosyncrasies of individual countries. In the case of Pakistan, it’s no joke. Why have we failed to become a nation 64 years after independence?
Things have come to a point many people, especially in Balochistan, are unwilling to fly the Pakistani flag, not even on Independence Day on Aug 14. Then there are those in that restless province who refuse to call themselves Pakistani. A similar situation exists in some parts of the two other “smaller provinces,” Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. There are “freedom movements” with the objective of the secession of the province in question. There are ethnic and other tensions which manifest themselves in the form of violence and militancy. Regional causes become rallying points for people who in many cases are merely voicing resentment against the Centre, and these resentments are used by local political groups for use against rival organisations.
It was centralised decision-making and centralised control over resources that resulted in this resentment against the federation, which often borders on hate now. The federation has increasingly alienated itself from the federating units. It is necessary to view the current process of devolution from this perspective.
The passage of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was a major step towards addressing many long-standing grievances of the provinces. Provincial autonomy has been a demand for decades, but no one wanted to touch the subject. It is not difficult to see why. The forces that kept the centralised systems intact had grown so big and so strong that no one could oppose them.
The process of the implementation of the amendment showed just how rotten our centralised system had become. Over the past year, we have witnessed leading politicians, bureaucrats and several other players acting shamelessly to undermine the Constitution. They dragged their feet, they picked fights and they launched campaigns of disinformation to stop what a process that had formally become a part of the Constitution. Some of them who continued to enjoy centralised power with the “right” kind of backing were able to save themselves in the last round of devolution.
Overall, we see that massive good was achieved by devolving 17 ministries and shifting several themes to the federal list where now the provinces will jointly take decisions with the federation. Hats off to the parliamentarians of the Constitutional Reform Committee and the Implementation Commission. Senator Mian Raza Rabbani served as an experienced and credible captain who guided his small and vulnerable ship through rough tides and storms and brought it to its destination safely, and on time.
There will still be issues that will require wrapping up. Now is the time for the provinces to take centre stage. It is time for them to prove that they can handle the responsibilities that they had been demanding all this time. The provinces need to strategise, engage their expertise among their people, build their teams, energise them and move on.
Our eyes are now set on the performances of the provinces. We hope that issues of poverty and security have local solutions. We expect to see a process whereby the provincial governments prepare themselves to take on the additional responsibilities. However, it is important at this time for the central government to become a facilitative agent.
It seems that Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa will show results soon. We hope that its people can set examples for the other provinces. Punjab has expertise and a leadership which is loyal to the province. However, the provincial government’s withdrawal from the devolution process at the very end raised concerns. We hope that they will not only take the process forward with full vigour but will also initiate action to decentralise institutions that have saved themselves from devolution in the last round of cabinet approvals.
We need a good one-year process where provinces mobilise their own experts to make strategies for them. The provincial thinking might come up with more creative solutions to the problems that have persisted for years. It is now the turn of the provinces to show innovation, sincerity and commitment to resolve the issues of their people.
The mindset of the Centre also persists in the provinces. The landlords are not the only ones with a feudal mindset of control and suppression. This is a common phenomenon among politicians, police officials, bureaucrats, religious leaders and male heads of households. Similarly, the centralised mindset is not only the problem of people at the federal level but is also found in many influential leaders in the provinces. It is this centralisation mindset that prevented the provinces from being satisfied. They have stopped all attempts to decentralise their powers. What we expect is not just a shift of centralised thinking from the power base in Islamabad to the power bases of the provinces, we also expect a transformation from the mindset of centralised governance to an appreciation of devolution and empowerment. We have to realise that devolved powers can give us more strength in the long run, and therefore it is the mindset as well as the governance structures that needs to change. We will not get a better opportunity to do this than right now when a major step has already been taken.