Carving out new federating units for stronger federation

What is Federalism

John Kincaid, Professor at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania and director of the College’s Meyner Center for the Study of State and Local Government gave a useful definition of federalism:

Federalism is essentially a system of voluntary self-rule and shared rule. This is implied in the derivation of the word ‘federal’, which comes from the Latin foedus, meaning covenant. A covenant signifies a binding partnership among co-equals in which the parties to the covenant retain their individual identity and integrity while creating a new entity, such as a family or a body politic, that has its own identity and integrity as well. A covenant also signifies a morally binding commitment in which the partners behave toward each other in accord with the spirit of the law rather than merely the letter of the law.

– John Kincaid, Handbook of Federal Countries: 2002, Introduction, Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2002.

Ron Watts, former Principal of Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario and Fellow of the Institute of Intergovernmental Relations, gave a functional definition of federalism:

Federalism provides a technique of constitutional organization that permits action by a shared government for certain common purposes, together with autonomous action by constituent units of government for purposes that relate to maintaining their distinctiveness, with each level directly responsible to its own electorate. Indeed, taking account of such examples as Canada, the United States and Mexico in North America, Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina in South America, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Belgium and Spain in Europe, Russia in Europe and Asia, Australia, India, Pakistan and Malaysia in Asia, and Nigeria, Ethiopia, and South Africa in Africa, some 40 percent of the world’s population today live in countries that can be considered or claim to be federal, and many of these federations are clearly multicultural or even multinational in their composition.

– Ron Watts, Federalism Today, the background paper written for the International Conference on Federalism 2002, Saint Gallen, Switzerland, August 2002.

Source: Forums of Federations

The World’s Federations

There are about 28 federal countries in the world today, which together represent 40 per cent of the world’s population.

Almost all democracies with very large area or very large and ethnically diverse populations are federal. They include some of the largest and most complex democracies.

Their system of government, while it can be complex, has made many federations amongst the most prosperous countries in the world with high standards of government services.

Historically, most federations were the result of previously separate entities – the American 13 colonies, the Swiss cantons – coming together to form a federal government.

The entities would keep some powers to themselves but others were pooled with the central government of the new country.

More recently, previously unitary countries – such as Spain, Belgium and South Africa – have adopted federal structures as a way to maintain common central government for some purposes while empowering regional governments for other purposes.

In many very diverse societies, a federal system of government permits recognition both of this diversity and of common interests and identity at the same time. Federalism is a continuously evolving concept to cater the emerging governance needs in diverse democratic countries.

World map showing federal states in green. (Source: Wikipedia)

Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belau, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada, Comoros, Ethiopia, Germany, India, Iraq*, Malaysia, Mexico, Micronesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, St. Kitts and Nevis, South Africa, Spain, Sudan*, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, United States of America, Venezuela

Source: Centre for Civic Education Pakistan


“The theory of Pakistan guarantees that federated units of the national government would have all the autonomy that you will find in the constitutions of the United States of America, Canada and Australia. But certain vital powers will remain vested in the Central Government such as the monetary system, national defence and other federal responsibilities.”

Muhammad Ali Jinnah

(An interview with the Associated Press of America 8th November 1945)

Muslim league passed historical resolution in 1940 at Lahore in its annual session and maintained that ‘the federating units of Pakistan would be autonomous and sovereign’. That is why, throughout the history of independent Pakistan this aspect of the resolution has nearly always been quoted by the advocates of autonomy of federating units. However, the adoption of the Government of India Act of 1935 as the provisional constitution at the time of independence undermined the original federal vision for the country. The Government of India Act of 1935 was amended to strengthen the control over federating units in
1947. These amendments made the central government ‘one of the most powerful governments in the world’

The 1962 constitution provided a single list of federal subjects. The list was consisting of forty-
nine items including defence, external affairs, inter-provincial trade and commerce, national economic planning, currency, foreign exchange etc.

The introduction of the parity formula, one-unit Scheme, amalgamation of provinces and states into the province of West Pakistan, further frustrated the federal scheme. And after that Military action in East Pakistan resulted in dismemberment of country.

The Constitution of 1956 created a formal federal polity but was abrogated by Ayub Khan in 1958. The 1962 Constitution created by a military regime further centralized the governance structure.

Pakistan Peoples Party and federation

It is a birthright too often snatched at the point of the gun from the citizens by the very men who are to guard and defend us. This can stop to enable the people and the country to march with confidence and courage, with pride and dignity, with progress and prosperity into the twenty first century.

Pakistan is a great Federation. Its multilingual and multicultural society is its strength. Its sons and daughters are its true assets, the bright face of its future, the promise of all our tomorrows.

The Pakistan Peoples Party is the only Federal, democratic and equal opportunity Party that can guarantee to our great people a great future. The PPP worker is selfless and committed to the values of Faith, freedom, fundamental human rights, family values and a wholesome society based on the rule of law and human dignity.

PPP Manifestos

Shaheed Zulifiqar Ali Bhutto and Shaheed Benazir Bhutto understood the dynamics of pakistani Politics and diversity, therefore they struggled for making Pakistan a multi-nation state.

The 1973 constitution was signed by all leaders of parliamentary parties and passed unanimously on 12th April, 1973.

The unanimously passed constitution enshrined a federal structure with three tiers of governance – local, provincial and federal. Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had promised to end the Concurrent List after 10 years of the implementation of the 1973 Constitution.

“Shaheed Benazir Bhutto continues to be the symbol of federation of Pakistan even in her martyrdom as she was in her life”

(Prime Minister of Pakistan Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani on the occasion of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto 57th birth anniversary and the opening ceremony of Benazir Monument.)

Now, after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, Mr Zardari represents the unity of the Pakistani federation. When Benazir Bhutto was assassinated and there was a sort of insurgence shown by the people of Sindh, and when whole Sindh was chanted ‘Pakistan Na Khappay’(We don’t want Pakistan) in extreme anger, while PPP co chairman Asif Ali Zardari raised slogan of “Pakistan Khappy”in Neudero Sindh, thus PPP and it’s leadership saved the federation.

Mian Raza Rabbani writes , the 1973 Constitution given by Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was democratic, federal and parliamentary. It had a vision of Federalism in terms of fiscal devolution, ownership of resources, participation in policy formation and collective decision making.

This was a fundamental change from earlier Constitutions. Unfortunately with deliberate intent various provisions of the Constitution, in particular, relating to provincial autonomy, were circumvented with mala fide intent. These were subsequently defaced by amendments through military dictators. The Eighth Amendment, the Legal Framework Order and the Seventeenth Amendment virtually made Pakistan a unitary State.

As a consequence the provinces were deprived of their economic, political and cultural rights. This alienation fanned nationalist movements, people were drawn away from the political mainstream. Horizontal and vertical polarisation of society peaked, groups called people to armed struggle for restoration of their rights—supporters of the Federation were under a shadow. In these circumstances Parliament had to steer the transition to democracy and the revival of federalism.

In this atmosphere of suffocation Parliament rose above the political divide, buried the hatchet by unanimously enacting the Eighteenth Amendment. It has built on the edifice of the 1973 Constitution, the institutions of the CCI, NEC, NFC and Parliament have been strengthened.

It has corrected the imbalance of powers between the President and Parliament, curtailed Presidential and Prime Ministerial discretion, deleted the Concurrent List, provided a transparent methodology for the appointment of Judges and the Election Commission. It is the first Parliament that declared the Legal Framework Order, 2003, and its amendments to have been made without any lawful authority and to no legal effect, it repealed the Seventeenth Amendment.

The constitution was substantially amended by military rulers, General Zia-ul-Huq and General Pervez Musharraf and made it a unitary & centralized system.

General Zia used the slogan of Islam for his efforts towards acclimatization and amalgamation. And Musharaf’s Centralizing policies in the name of devolution resulted into sense of alienation, deprivation and unrest in smaller provinces and Balochistan experienced another insurgency, and alienation is at an all-time high. During both undemocratic era , constitutional amendments by Military dictators undermined the parliamentary and Federal nature of the constitution, and due to 8th and 17th Amendments constitutional federal parliamentary system operated more likely a presidential unitary system.

Pakistan is made of different nationalities and it is inherently a plural society, and countries with plural societies always opt for federation, provincial autonomy and decentralization. As it is a perfect case of plural society so it need to decentralize powers in order to keep different nationalities united, along with the federating units should be given maximum autonomy plus their regional languages should be given status of national languages, mother tongues be declared medium of instructions in schools besides making efforts for promotion of cultures in accordance with the principles of diversity.

Though the Pakistani federation fulfils minimum criteria of federalism but it operates more likely as a unitary system. Stephen Philip Cohen considers Pakistan as one of the world’s most ethnically and linguistically complex states. And management of ethnic diversity has remained problematic in Pakistan even after 64 years. Various ethno-linguistic groups have challenged writ of the state at various junctures of Pakistan’s history. In 1971, it became the first post colonial state that suffered a successful secessionist movement that resulted in the creation of Bangladesh. The Post-1971 Pakistan has witnessed Bloch insurgencies; Pashtun separatism; Sindhi regionalism; and huge sense of marginalization, discrimination and alienation in Southern Punjab.

A number of alternatives to federation have been proposed to manage diversity in Pakistan. But I prefer and recommend Charles H. Kennedy‘s idea, he has argued to “redesign territorial boundaries of the constituent units to make them accord more closely with the ethnic landscape of the state”. He also approved more devolution of authority for the proposed homogenous constituent units.

Pakistan is a multination state, and each of its provinces or regions is associated with a certain linguistic group; then Why? Make new provinces only on administrative grounds?

Only through new provinces Pakistan can protect and accommodate marginalized and disadvantaged groups, and new province policy is recommendatory & enthusiastic for advancing & cultivating unity in diversity in the affair of federalism. We can acheive workable federation and delivering democracy dividends only through recognition, accomodation and integretion of racial, religious and ethnic minorities. Pakistan needs a cultural transformation wherein all nationalities, minorities and ethnic groups are taken on board before deciding about any issue of national importance and indigenous exploitive social affiliation should not be welcomed on any grounds. We can acheive national unity and solid cohesion only through recognition, accommodation and integretion of racial, religious and ethnic minorities.

Within Punjab, three well-known groups/regions may be recognized on the linguistic and geographical basis – the Punjabi speaking, central Punjab; the Pothowhari speaking, northern Punjab; and the Siraiki speaking, southern Punjab. The ‘civil-military establishment, and non permanent members of establishment from the central and the northern Punjab, together make ‘the Punjabi ruling Class’, “Takht Lahore”. And the Siraikis of the southern Punjab – a relatively poorer and marginalized region – popularly term the central and northern Punjab “jointly” as the ‘Upper Punjab’. The term, perhaps, denotes the deprivation and marginality of southern Punjab vis-à-vis upper Punjab.

Punjab dominates the federation and it is the most populous and relatively developed and prosperous region of the country with 60 per cent of the population. As veteran South Asia expert & author of Pakistan: a modern history Ian Talbot very rightly writes “Its predominance in ‘armed forces and to a lesser extent in the civil bureaucracy’ has been perceived by smaller units as ‘Punjabisation’ of Pakistan”. Moreover long military rules and security state narrative has always been identified as a government synonymous with Punjabi domination. Therefore, Kennedy says, “at the core of ethno-regional sentiments’ in Pakistan is the perception that ‘Punjabi community dominates the politics and society of the state”. Owen Bennett Jones also argued that Punjab dominates and as a result has ‘never seen the need to press for greater autonomy’.

The Punjab dominated establishment always suppress the smaller nationalities with support from civil bureaucracy, religious and urban based political parties and right wing media. Now ‘Takht e Lahore’ mentality is once again trying to suppress identity, rights and dreams of people residing in Southern Punjab, Takht e Lahore run by Sharif brothers not only diverting the debate by bringing things like new provinces on an administrative basis, but also denying centuries-old nation identity of Saraiki Waseb.

Saraiki Area Study Center Multan, inaugurated by Prime Minister of Pakistan Yousaf Raza Gillani

Wistfully, Takht e Lahore does not acknowledge and accomodate existance of distinct language, cultural and religious groups within Punjab. It does not accept Siraiki speaking people distinct linguistic and cultural group, and denies it’s literature, nationalism and legitimate demand of Saraikistan. Likewise there is Pothohari region which should also be duly acknowledged. If we look in terms of voters or seats in the provincial assembly then Punjab is outnumbered by Siraiki speaking representatives. Even Takht e Lahore is ignoring it’s senior most member Javed hashmi’s proposal, he had said that Punjab should be divided into four provinces to make it more manageable.

We welcome the statement of Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, he promised to make Seraiki province a part of PPP’s next election manifesto, and a committee had been formed to include the creation of new provinces in the Pakistan.

According to official statistics (published by the CIA Factbook on Pakistan 2010) the following is the ethnic composition of Pakistan: Punjabi 44.68%, Pashtun (Pathan) 15.42%, Sindhi 14.1%, Sariaki 8.38%, Muhajirs 7.57%, Balochi 3.57%, other 6.28%. There are however certain important definitional issues with the current census (e.g., the way Saraiki is treated as a part or dialect of Punjabi).

The main Saraiki speaking areas in the Punjab province are Multan, Bahawalpur, Dera Ghazi Khan, Dera Ismail Khan and some parts of Sargodha division. Saraiki is also spoken widely in Sindh and Balochistan provinces of Pakistan. It has many sweet dialects and is considered as the language of love.

A significant number of Saraikis also reside in India, with most concentrated in the state of Punjab, Maharashtra and Gujarat. The Saraikis maintain that they have a separate language and culture, but their language is often viewed as a dialect of Sindhi or Punjabi.

Source: Saraiki Waseb Development Organization

There is a need to change the centralist mindset and attitude towards smaller and sub-national groups, their language and cultures. A major development in the creation of a genuine federal system in Pakistan has been the unanimous passage of the 18th Amendment to the 1973 Constitution in 2010. It nullified most of the undemocratic changes incorporated by military regimes, returning parliamentary powers to their original nature with more powers given to the provinces.

Since Pakistan was achieved on the demands envisaged in 1940 Lahore Resolution, efforts should be made that all powers except Defense, Currency, and Foreign Affairs should be devolved to federating units, and democratic institutions should be strengthened and supremacy of the parliament should be upheld and there should be no interference from security establishment.

The major federal challenge for Pakistan, a geographically and demographically diverse nation, is to empower its provinces and tribal areas, nurture and institutionalize the mindset and culture of federalism, while at the same time maintaining a united federal republic.



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