PROVINCIAL AUTONOMY OR CREATION OF MORE PROVINCES | Essay for CSS and PMS
In Pakistan, the debate over creating more provinces after I 8th Amendment has compelled the policymakers and government to create more provinces to solve the issues of administration, economy, reservation of smaller provinces, ethnic-based region, etc. Pakistan is no exception in this regard. The country has a federal structure of government in which there are a central government and several provincial governments depending upon the number of provinces. Pakistan is home of four major provinces, one Sub-autonomous state of Azad Jammu and Kashmir and an administrative unit of Gilgit Baltistan which is not a full province yet.
If one looks around the world, one would find the US with 50 administrative units, India with 28 plus seven Union territories, Turkey with 81, and China with 34. These countries have been doing well economically and politically with more units. Probably this was one of the main reasons that the proponents of creating more federating units in Pakistan predicted that by doing so Pakistan would substantially improve economically and politically. But creating more provinces seems an uphill task in Pakistan unlike India as it started this process right from the beginning. Even if new provinces are carved out in Pakistan, it has to be seen whether those would be on an administrative basis or on ethnolinguistic lines.
Amid the said scenario, there are demands for the creation of new provinces in Pakistan. These demands are based more on ethnic outlooks rather than political and administrative grounds. The demand for new provinces in Pakistan become apparent in the form of several movements destines to attain provincial autonomy.
Creation of new provinces brings several positive as well as negative impacts on the state’s health. In Pakistan, the creation is, however, more politicized matter thus blurring the distinct pros and cons of creating new provinces. This further brings questions over the integration of Pakistan with the creation of new provinces as the political parties here lack a unanimous verdict.
Before knowing about the implications of creating new provinces on Pakistan’s integration, it’s wise to learn about the major movements demanding new provinces in the country. First comes the demand for creation of a new province in the southern part of Punjab. This part of Punjab is dominated by Seraiki speaking people who recognize themselves as a distinct ethnic group. But the demand for this Seraiki Province is not merely on the ethnic grounds. Backwardness and low development levels in southern Punjab lead to the demand of this province. Further, people of southern Punjab find it difficult to reach the provincial capital Lahore for an administrative task. The proponents of the Seraiki and Bahawalpur provinces expect that their provinces will get a quota in federal services. Presently, Punjab has above 50% quota in the federal services and most of the jobs go to the upper and central Punjab as candidates from southern Punjab are unable to compete for these jobs. The disparity in the quality of education in these regions of Punjab is a major cause for this. Besides, there would be a cadre of provincial services for the new provinces.
Second important demand comes from the Muhajir community of Karachi. The community asks for the up-gradation of Karachi into a separate province. Karachi is the provincial capital of the Sindh Province. Making it a new province as demanded would be a purely ethnic step.
The third is the demand of creating Pashtun Province in Balochistan. Being the largest area of Pakistan, Balochistan is the house of Ba lochs mostly. Some northern part of this province is dominated by the Pashtuns who want a separate province there.
Fourth demand of creating a new province sought a vociferous voice recently after the name of NWFP was changed into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It is the Hazara community of the KP province that demands the creation of a new Hazara Province in KP. This demand is also on an ethnic basis as the Hazara community distinguishes itself from the Pashtuns of the KP.
Under the light of the said demands, the implications of creating new provinces on Pakistan’s integration can be evaluated in the shape of the pros and cons of taking such a step. Creating new provinces in Pakistan can integrate the country by infusing a sense of confidence in the minds of Seraiki, Pashtun, Muhajir and Hazarans communities of the country. This can prevent them from taking any drastic steps. Secondly, to demand autonomous administrative provinces is not an unconstitutional thing. They can forward their reservations over the unjust distribution of provincial budgets within various areas of a province. Thus giving them the autonomous provinces can bring them into mainstream national politics.
Another important implication of creating new provinces on the national integration will come in the shape of self-rule. When the people of these areas will be allowed to exercise provincial autonomy thus ruling themselves, they can better decide their lives keeping in view their resources and needs. This thing will keep them busy in healthy local politics and prevent sedition.
Thirdly, creating new provinces can ensure better administration. It is most difficult to administer a large province. Thus dividing it into two or more smaller provinces can help in administering it well. This also brings fortune to the people of that area without transmission of resources and revenue to the other autonomous parts of the province.
Fourthly, the creation of new provinces strengthens national integration by bringing welfare to the state as a whole. When a province or the country is welfare, it will surely add to the strength of the state.
Contrary to the positive implications of creating new provinces on Pakistan, there are certain abnom1alities that are attributed to taking such a step. In general, the creation of new provinces is a constitutional step which in no way can disintegrate a country. A nation’s integration begins to deteriorate when the issue about the creation of new provinces is politicized. When the political parties begin to measure the creation of new provinces according to their peculiar interests, several controversies emerge. Take the example of the behaviour of Pakistan’s political parties on the issue of new provinces. Pakistan People’s Party supports the voice for Seraiki province to curb the influence of Pakistan Muslim League (N) in Punjab. To counter this move, the latter political party supports the Muhajir community in making Karachi a province to contain the influence of Pakistan People’s Party in Sindh. Thus, this sort of politics keeps on rendering the issues controversial.
Pakistan’s integration will be adversely impacted by the creation of new provinces in case the provinces are created on ethnic lines. A new province is meant to be created on an administrative basis. It is when done in order to favour an ethnic group, the national integration faces a blow.
New provinces if created in Pakistan can weaken the country’s integration if provincialism overwhelms the political scene. If the people of a province pledge to vote only the political party of that province, it will annihilate national cohesion. In the past, the people of Bengal voted for Awami Muslim League and the People’s Party won in West Pakistan. This later proved to be of fatal consequence when the politico-lingual gaps between the two became so wide that East Pakistan seceded from West Pakistan. This sort of provincialism has caused considerable damage to national unity in the past.
Following are the strong justification of creating more provinces:
- Poor governance and lack of economic development.
- Distance factor to the provincial capitals as often argued by Hazara province supporters and Seraikis.
- Ineffectiveness of the local government system justifies voices for more federating units.
- It is also argued by many analysts that more provinces would reduce ethnic conflict, prevent Punjab from dominating the smaller federating units, make administration efficient, and give all units a stake in the system.
- Grievances of provincial-level minorities regarding their economic and/or political marginalization by provincial majorities would be addressed.
- Small provinces provide a more favourable environment to explore the economic potential of the areas under their jurisdiction.
- People feel isolated in their present provinces on ethnic or geographical lines.
- Supporters of more provinces get encouraged from the neighbouring countries, especially India, with a greater number of provinces.
- People demanding separate provinces feel themselves a major minority and hence consider themselves distinct from the majority, i.e. Seraiki belt amongst Punjabis and D. I. Khan, Hazara in KP and Urdu-speaking Muhajirs in Sindh.
- Pakistan has an additional excuse of demographic division that becomes a structural justification for increasing the number of its provinces.
- It is a well-established fact that the smaller the provinces, the stronger will be the federation. The smaller units would not be in a position to demand separation from Pakistan.
Following are suggestions to overcome the problem:
- Until and unless it is not demanded by a vast majority of the people, the decision to make more provinces must not be imposed for vested political interests.
- More provinces should be formed on the basis of population, and not on a linguistic or ethnic basis.
- Demands for more provinces largely represent populist slogans targeting Pakistani desires for instant short cuts to good governance. They confuse the functions of provinces and districts. There is, therefore, a need to improve governance instead of adventuring with the idea of more provinces.
- There is also a need to differentiate between provincial autonomy and creating more provinces as the 18th Amendment is in place and the outcome of the powers given to the provinces need to be observed.
- Pakistan could do with a few new provinces, but the most compelling cases are of Gilgit-Baltistan and perhaps FAT A. But AJK Prime Minister Chaudhry Abdul Majeed warned the federal government against any attempt to convert Gilgit-Baltistan into a province of Pakistan. He said, “Gilgit-Baltistan is part and parcel of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Any attempt to merge it into Pakistan will deal a fatal blow to our stand in the light of UN resolutions envisaging right to self-determination for the Kashmiris.” (Dawn, July 9, 2015)
- Pukhtoonistan issue, the Sindho-desh slogan, and the greater Balochistan are few harsh realities of our history, which could not be ignored. Keeping in view the checkered history of the country, thinking of creating new provinces thus seems to play with fire.
- Ethnic, religious, regional, and lingual divides have on many instances shaken this land of the pure. Pakistan is currently passing through the most volatile phase of its life. If the issue of creating newer provinces is given more air, it may blow out of proportion.
- There is a need to strengthen local government and improve governance at the gross-root level. In fact, the holding of regular local bodies’ elections throughout the country appears to be a better course of action. The local bodies should be granted necessary powers and financial resources to address the problems at the grass-root level. Any major over-hauling of the Constitution in the present circumstances is not advisable as it may unleash centrifugal and other undesirable forces.
- Provinces should address the issues of their backward areas from were calls for new provinces are coming.
In a nutshell, it is the need of the hour to create more provinces as developing countries and developed countries have created more provinces to facilitate their people and to run the system of administration more effectively, but in the case of Pakistan, this issue is taken as politicisation of the parties as no one is willing to create more provinces by labelling the emerging issues of ethnicity, etc