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Opinion

August 31, 2016

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Social cohesion

The inhabitants of the newly formed state of Pakistan were filled with the ambition to make their own mark in the world, and to create a state that provided the equality, justice, rule of law, and opportunities they felt they lacked under a suppressive colonial regime.

Pakistan is a great achievement for all those who lived the dream and for those who could not make it to see the country they fought for. The challenges – as one can imagine – for the newly formed state were humongous.

One of the many challenges was to bring equality within and between the five provinces of the country. The early death of the founder of the country, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and later in 1951 the murder of Liaquat Ali Khan made these challenges even more exhausting.

The following years saw political instability in the country with six Prime Ministers changed in six years. The army took control following a coup in 1958 and General Ayub Khan assumed control of the country.

The lack of government insight into growing inequalities between the provinces and the absence of democratic political representation of individual provincial interests in the federal governance system created a huge gulf between the people of East Pakistan and the army-ruled government at the time.

The gulf was created through unresolved inequalities between the provinces which led to the separation of East Pakistan in 1971.

Pakistan lost its most populated province to inter-provincial inequalities and absence of democracy and democratic representation but no lessons seem to have been learnt from this unforgettable atrocity. The democratically elected government was ousted once again in 1977 by another army intervention.

Pakistan saw only four and a half years of democratic government in 30 years between the first army coup of 1958 and the death of General Zia in 1988.

General Zia took control following the army coup in 1977 by ousting the popularly elected Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Militancy in Afghanistan in the name of Islam and promotion of an ethnicity-inspired political party in Karachi (MQM)in order to counter Bhutto’s influence are the legacies left behind by Zia.

The unstable democratic rule of the 1990s with interventions every two to three years derailed the system four times in nine years, leading up to an army intervention in 1999. After another nine years of army rule under Gen Musharraf Pakistan’s democratically elected governments since 2008 have seen periods of instability but have survived.

Pakistan is facing multifaceted challenges of inequality in the country. There is a general growing equality gap between the rich and the poor, between the powerful and the powerless (social class differences), gender inequality and religious harmony which all need the urgent attention of the national, provincial and local governments.

There is a serious equality gap in resource provision between provinces and regions within provinces, which has developed over the years. The southern region of Punjab, rural and urban Sindh, Balochistan and parts of Khyber Pakhtukhwa have raised the issue of unequal resource distribution time and again. The recent speedy infrastructure development projects and institutional resource mobilisation in parts of Punjab have furthered this view. The differences between provinces in literacy rates, human skill development, provision of public services and public infrastructure are increasing as well.

Development in any part of Pakistan furthers the interests of the country. But it should not undermine social cohesion among regions and provinces. For the purpose of strategic social cohesion equal distribution of resources needs to be ensured. Apart from equal distribution of resources, an approach to bring about visible equal outcome in skills and infrastructure development, public service provisions and other areas is very important to mitigate this inequality perception among less resourced regions and provinces. This will address the anxieties of less resourced regions.

Transparent and accountable institutional frameworks need to be established to ensure equal distribution of resources to all regions and provinces. The capacity of the Council of Common Interests can be enhanced in this regard and further transparency can be encouraged in project selection and resource mobilisation.

Devolution through the 18th Amendment is a step in the right direction. Institutional capacity-building mechanisms need to be put in place until provincial institutions are able to deal with newly dissolved powers.

The writer is a London-based freelance contributor.

Email: [email protected]

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