Were Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Abdul Hafeez Pirzada lesser Sindhis than Asif Ali Zardari and Qaim Ali Shah? Certainly not! Forty-two years ago, political giants like Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Abdul Hafeez Pirzada, Abdul Wali Khan, Maulana Mufti Mahmood and their likes discussed and debated for months, in fact for over a year, a new constitution for a dismembered Pakistan, the eastern wing of the country having been lost and created into an independent Bangladesh. Out of those long and heated debates and out of their hard labour emerged the constitution of 1973-a democratic and federal arrangement that maintained inter-provincial harmony with necessary autonomy to the provinces, yet retaining a strong and stable federation. Nearly forty years later, with barely a week long debate, what was painstakingly crafted by those giants in 1973 was undone by the 18th Constitutional Amendment in 2011. And we are reaping the harvest already with the PPP led Sindh trying to politicise a matter that is as much a Federal responsibility as it is Provincial.
I am not a lawyer and claim no insight into constitutional and legal issues. But I am literate, have served in the government for decades, have seen much of our political and politico-legal battles, many from the ringside, and have also been a witness, unfortunately, to many national pitfalls. Based on these, I had written four years ago, in this very newspaper, that the 18th Constitutional Amendment was a recipe for national disaster. Four years later, I can see that apprehension unfortunately coming true. I said it then and I say it again that provincial autonomy does not mean independent provinces. Yet, the issue of powers to the Rangers in Sindh has been described by a senior PPP leader as an intrusion into what he said was an “azad sooba”(independent Province). The PPP leader, a former Federal Minister, perhaps cannot distinguish between independence and autonomy. And that being the general calibre and acumen of the average Pakistani politician, need I say more on how they passed the hugely important 18th Amendment within a week of it being presented to the Parliament. Every one of them was only seeing the immediate. Some unwittingly and others deliberately chose not to look beyond the immediate.
Writing in this newspaper under the caption “The amended federation” Mr Waqar Rana, an Additional Attorney General of Pakistan, wrote that “the issue of the extension of the Ranger’s powers in Karachi has raised a serious constitutional question regarding the administrative relationship between the Provinces and the federation. It has arisen because of the abolished concurrent legislative list in the 18th Amendment that has changed the constitution substantially and in the coming days there is going to be a large litigation between the federation and the provinces”, he warned. I could not agree with him more. So much for those who authored and authenticated that all important amendment. I cannot doubt there patriotism but I have little to say about their prudence and vision. What was visible to ordinary folks like me was clearly not in the sight of these eminent law makers. Or was it that what they intended was not visible to us?
I take the liberty of quoting from the same article again. The learned Additional Attorney General reminds us that “under the Indian Independence Act, power was transferred to the newly created state of Pakistan and not to any particular province”. This, in my view, is a key point and needs to be understood and appreciated as such. Power was not transferred to Sindh or Punjab (the truncated) or NWFP now KP, or Balochistan. There was no referendum in Sindh or Punjab or even in Balochistan on the issue of joining Pakistan. They all came packaged as Pakistan. This fundamental point must be reiterated. Devolution of power to the Provinces is a must and by the same measure it must devolve further down to the districts, towns and cities. That is for administrative convenience, for peoples’ convenience and not for raising the bogey of intervention in the name of autonomy. Unfortunately, the PPP leadership in Sindh is trying to do just that. And in the din being thus created, the much larger issue of loot and plunder of that province by a coterie of self styled defenders of the Province, is being silenced. Sindhis, whether rural or urban, remain as deprived and impoverished as they were decades ago.
When Mr Bhutto was unfairly sent to the gallows, his wife and children did not cry Sindh. Why? Because, even if silently, Pakistan cried. Punjab, Balochistan and NWFP cried alongwith Sindh. Can we say the same today. Do we see that today? No! Why? Because the late Bhutto may have had many failings but corruption, loot and plunder was not his cup of tea, not his brand of politics. Sadly, his successors of today, many of them, can claim corruption as their main forte, their principal objective in politics. And in that pursuit every thing is kosher. And that includes trampling on national sovereignty. What we are seeing in Sindh today is the fruit of the 18th Amendment that has turned this country from a federation to a confederation. Thus, despite the successes of Zarb-e-Azb and other positive developments, 2015 ends on a sad and sour note. Long live Pakistan!
[The writer is a former Federal Secretary]