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Need for re-examining federalism in Pakistan

During 2005 and even the beginning of 2006, the attention of Pakistanis has been captured by a number of issues like the disputed construction of various dams, discussions over the National Finance Commission Award, the dispute over the inter-provincial movement of wheat, the issue of royalties to provinces, the violence in Balochistan, Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the Federally Administered Northern Areas. While a number of talk shows, columns and discussion forums have focused on each one of these problems, perhaps not enough has been said about the common thread that runs between all these issues. This common thread is: Is the federal system of government alive and well in Pakistan, as laid down in the 1973 constitution? One is not quite qualified to answer this question with a yes or no. Instead, one can only ask counter questions based on certain political case studies.

Political case study one:

Citizens would bear witness that the last few years have been dominated by the National Finance Commission Award talks. There have been back and forth discussions of ideas amongst the federating units and the Centre over the NFC. Each year, the citizens are told that the talks failed and thus the federal budget of that year would be prepared using the now defunct award. This has been the practice for a number of years now. Talks over the formula used for distribution of resources between the federating units and the center were again taken up with a lot of hue and cry in 2005 but that also withered away. However, what was different in this financial year is that during the Presidential speech on Jan 17th 2006, the President put an end to this discussion by announcing an increase in the provincial share which will be increased by one percent each year during the next five years. The President claims that he had been authorized to settle the dispute between the federating units over resource allocation and was therefore entitled to announce this during the Presidential speech. However, some political analysts have claimed that this is unconstitutional. According to them, the President under Clause 6 and 7 of Article 160 of the constitution can only amend the award after it is announced and not announce it himself during a televised speech. Leaving aside the debate whether or not this is a constitutional step by the President, the fact is that the NFC Award was a serious bone of contention which has temporarily (or permanently?) been resolved and at least for the next financial year, it will serve as the basis for the development of budgets. This is definitely welcome news but the question remains: The dispute of the NFC Award and the way it was addressed does it fare well for the question of effective federalism in Pakistan?

Political case study two:

The year 2005 and the beginning of 2006 have also been dominated by the question of scarce water resources and the question of building dams. One would not like to discuss whether Dam A or B should be built but instead would like to focus on the fundamental question of the state of federalism in Pakistan which this Dam debate articulated. From a citizens' point of view the dams' debate was confusing to say the least. One read pro -dam statements and against dam statements, about the resolutions of the provincial assemblies etc but one failed to learn how an effective federation tackles the issue of water shortage?

In any federation of the world, disagreements over the distribution and allocation of resources arise. However, if these disputes are allowed to linger on for extended periods of time they are internalised into the people's psyche. This has occurred in Pakistan and that is why a visitor to Balochistan hears statements like "we are the umpteenth province of a Third World Country; our fate can never change"; Punjab being referred to as the "big older brother" in NWFP and Sindh; and about how other provinces are jealous of their progress in Punjab. It is not surprising that such thoughts have been internalized in people psyche as the federating units other than Punjab are still referred to as ``chotai soobai i.e. smaller provinces", provincial autonomy is not granted as laid down in the 1973 constitution, development in provinces is carried out in a way that reinforces alienation ( Gwadar being a case in point) , the concurrent list still exists and the Council of Common Interest has not met. So, at the risk of repeating oneself, the question is: How does the federal system in Pakistan fare?

Political case study three:

The violence in Baluchistan plagues the mind of every Pakistani citizen. Regardless of the fact that there is a military action or targeted action on ``miscreants" the fact is that there is significant unrest in some parts of Balochistan. One of the causes for the violence is that the local population feels that it has been left out of the development loop. Locals cite the development of Gwadar as a recent example of how development without involving the local has been carried out. The Gwadar issue, accordingly the locals, is only the latest in a long list of examples of how Balochistan has been exploited. Limited access of gas in Dera Bugti, the Balochistan district that supplies gas to the rest of the country, is another issue that causes genuine heartburn. Couple this with the fact that Dera Bugti has a low rank in Human Development Index which is prepared by the UNDP. However, while on the subject of Gwadar, Sui etc one must, say that negotiating parties need to be rational while putting forth demands and taking positions. The statement of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti that "only an authentic Baloch should head the Gwadar authority" is a joke. Who will decide who an "authentic" Baloch is? Also, if there is no competent Baloch to be found, then will the position be left vacant? Such regressively absurd statements are harmful for a genuine demand, which is that locals should be involved in their provincial development and that full provincial autonomy must be given to all the federating units, including Balochistan.Military means is no means. Instead political negotiation is key for demanding an effective federal system. Thus the question is: How effective is the relationship between the Center and the federating units, if guns are the preferred language of choice by both sides?

Political case study four

One must also highlight the question of the federally administered areas particularly the Federally Administered Northern Areas. While the newspapers have been filled with Kalabagh, Balochistan and the NFC etc, FANA has been largely ignored. There exists in the area an environment of tension as violence can erupt at any minute. Sectarianism is at its height and there is mutual suspicion between the different ethnic groups living in the area. Every fortnight there is a curfew imposed in the area. The reasons for the violence are many and multi-layered with some analysts terming it as a sectarian conflict , some as an artificially engineered one , some as a question of lack of political rights and some analysts believe that the violence in Gligit is actually a consequence of Pakistan's lack of effective federal system of government. The fact of the matter is that the Northern Areas have been governed by an Islamabad based remote control which is an unsuitable arrangement to say the least. Presently, the Northern Areas has an Islamabad based Chief Executive that is the Minister for Kashmir and Northern Areas and the constitutional rights of the people of the area are usurped. The Northern Areas Legislative Council at best can be described as a congregation of well meaning individuals who cannot be termed as representatives of the people.

The denial of the constitutional rights to this area is particularly perturbing in light of the 1999 Supreme Court judgment. The Supreme Court of Pakistan clearly directed that the people of FANA must be given self rule through their representatives and that an independent judiciary would protect the fundamental rights of the people. After the passage of six years, this decision has still not been implemented raising serious questions in the minds of the people of the area. One of the questions is: While FANA burns in the fire of violence, why doesn't the Federal Parliament take the plight of the area seriously and appoints a parliamentary fact finding mission to the area?

These are serious questions that are overwhelmingly present in the minds of the citizens. Individualland feels that these questions are only symptoms of a fundamental cancer: the cancer of an ineffective federal system in Pakistan based on the principle of subsidiary. In such a scenario, the entire question of federalism in Pakistan needs to be examined so that an effective federal system can be implemented.



individualland.com (Last Updated Wednesday, 26 October 2016)

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