More Provinces debate…

Dangerous games

Dawn Editorial
Friday, 16 Apr, 2010

Tempers in Hazara appear to be cooling after several days of violence. A general strike was called off recently, businesses are reopening and leading politicians have visited the area, ostensibly to bring matters under control.

That said, the controversy surrounding the renaming of the NWFP is unlikely to go away any time soon. The ANP was originally adamant on Pakhtunkhwa but later agreed to the Khyber prefix in a compromise with the PML-N. Not surprisingly, it is strongly opposed to any division of the NWFP, whose new name was approved by the Senate yesterday. For its part, the PML-N is seemingly content with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa but also partial to the creation of a Hazara province. The PML-Q, meanwhile, supports the creation of new provinces wherever they might be ‘necessary’, in particular Hazara and southern Punjab. There is talk too of a 19th Amendment bill calling for the creation of new federating units.

Some of our politicians are playing an extremely dangerous game, primarily for personal gain and not regional autonomy, which could destabilise the country even further. Talk about making Hazara a province could lead to renewed demands for a Seraiki province in southern Punjab. To an extent that has happened already, though so far only a few politicians have brought up the subject with any vigour. The grassroots Seraiki movement, in fact, is nowhere near as vocal today as it used to be but that could change if nationalist sentiments are stoked any further. And where does this province-creation exercise end? Can Bahawalpur claim its own independent status within the Seraiki belt? Will southern Pakhtunkhwa be carved out of Balochistan? Would the Tharis, with their unique culture and dialect, be accommodated in the unlikely event that they demand a province of their own? Can Karachi, which bears little resemblance (ethnically and otherwise) to the rest of Sindh, ultimately claim similar status? And what about the Makran belt in southern Balochistan?

Opening the Pandora’s Box of new provinces is an ill-advised move at a time when there are far more pressing issues facing the nation. Unlike the situation in India, every Pakistani province borders another country. There is much to be said for greater regional autonomy but the country should not be reduced to a jigsaw puzzle where a piece can be dislodged by the smallest of mishaps. Of course parliament has every right to create as many provinces as it wants. But politicking must be put aside so that our collective thought can be focused on national interest, not the ethnicity card and the votes that come with it.

A case for more provinces

By Yasser  Latif  Hamdani

Karachi: The ongoing violence in Hazara has made most Pakistanis sit up and take notice of the issue of naming a province.

The violence underscores the need for revisiting some fundamentals of the third republic in Pakistan. When the Republic of Texas joined the US in the 19th century it had the right to divide itself into 5 smaller states allowing the state to have 10 senators instead of 2 in the US upper house but this option was never seriously considered till recently.

Dwindling Republican support in Congress, attributable primarily to its hard right turn in recent years, has forced possibly the most conservative state of the American Union to consider a voluntary division so as to bolster the Republican and far-right wing vote in the Senate. Modern Pakistan, with an estimated population of 175 million, consists of only four unnecessarily large and unwieldy provinces that continue to adversely affect Pakistan’s federal structure.

The state’s refusal to re-consider these provinces along rational lines is one of its greatest failures. In theory, this is simple: divide the country into as many as 20 provinces of equal geographical area instead of population. This would allow affirmative action for the people of Balochistan in the Senate, and balance out Punjab’s existing majority in the lower house of the parliament.

It would give recognition and protection to multiple identities at play within the federation. Both in terms of an even spread of development and symbolically as the electoral college for the office of the country’s president. This would allow for greater imagination as well as participation of all of Pakistan’s citizens.

The principle of federation can be bolstered by giving the Senate equal legislative powers at the National Assembly, and in some matters greater power than the National Assembly. It is a costly proposal but one which would have far-reaching consequences for our federation. An equitable distribution of sovereignty shall automatically bring about an equitable distribution not just of wealth but of population as well.

It would take pressure off of our major cities and make them manageable. Given a choice, most people would like to stick closer to home. This would translate into a natural federation with the federating units having substantial autonomy and power instead of the current state which is heavily centralized. It is not difficult to imagine the opposition to such re-distribution.

It will come from the entrenched feudal and political elite of the existing provinces who have long sought a position of primacy for their parochialism in this state. To them such a scheme would mean a loss of privilege and prestige. Sanctity of provincial boundaries would be argued as the gospel truth.

The 20 provinces scheme would strike one clean blow at the decaying remnants of feudalism in this country and empower people at a basic level. This is the reason it would probably never be considered.

Source : Express Tribune



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