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October 5, 2016
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The flaw in the federation

Opinion

October 5, 2016

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Pakistan has a fragile federation because of an inherent technical flaw in it. The largest federating unit, Punjab, is greater than all other federating units combined in terms of population – which is the primary denominator for parliamentary and resource allocation.

That is the reason politicians of smaller provinces have always blamed Punjab for various injustices. In that regard, the last PPP government took a lot of steps to strengthen the federation but the incumbent PML-N government has reversed the gains.

Since the inception of the country, there have been issues of centralism where the federal government has usurped the rights of the provinces. The abolishment of One Unit in 1970 was a landmark achievement followed by the 1973 constitution which increased provincial autonomy. However, the following military takeovers and unstable democratic governments failed to make any gains towards provincial autonomy.

Arguably the biggest achievement of the previous PPP government was the momentous 18th Amendment which was passed in April 2010. This amendment removed a fair portion of amendments made in the constitution by the dictatorial regimes of Zia and Musharraf. The concurrent list was abolished and more than a dozen subjects were devolved to the provinces.

The 18th Amendment also acknowledged the first right of the home province on discovered natural resources. This amendment injected the much-needed democratic and federal spirit in the constitution of Pakistan.

The insurgency in Balochistan was at its peak during the PPP’s rule. There was a dire need to take extraordinary steps to placate Balochistan and address the grievances of the people. In that backdrop, the PPP government presented the Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan Package in November 2009. The package comprised 61 action points and was meant to reintegrate Balochistan into the mainstream.

Although the PPP government was not successful in fully implementing the proposed Balochistan package, it was a good effort made by the then federal government of Pakistan.

The previous government also addressed another major concern of the smaller provinces by announcing the 7th National Finance Commission (NFC) Award. This NFC award changed the resource-distribution criteria and for the first time used factors other than population to distribute resources among provinces. This step considerably increased the share of smaller provinces in the federal divisible pool; Balochistan’s share jumped from 5.11 percent to 9.9 percent.

Due to the allegations of rampant corruption and bad governance prevailing during the previous PPP government, the aforementioned positive steps have largely been forgotten.

In contrast to the PPP government, the ruling PML-N government has completely ignored the idea of strengthening the federation. The 8th NFC Award was due on July 1, 2015 but government has been stalling it for more than a year now. The provincial governments want a new NFC award and an increase in their resource shares but the federal government seems to want to continue with the last NFC award; this goes against the spirit of the constitution.

It is no secret that Punjab is the support base of the current government, which came to power by sweeping the election in Punjab. One could say that the government has shifted the focus towards Punjab at the cost of the strengthening of the federation. These are not just rants of smaller provinces but allegations substantiated with facts.

Punjab-centric resource distribution in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the biggest example of this. The PML-N has been blamed by politicians of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for shifting the development projects of the CPEC to Punjab. The spin wizards of the government often deny these allegations.

However, it was recently disclosed in a Senate standing committee meeting by the federal government that 176 out of 330 ongoing CPEC projects are in Punjab. This means that 53 percent of CPEC projects are based in Punjab and just two percent in Balochistan which is the starting point of the CPEC.

In a report issued by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) last month revealed that 75 percent of the beneficiaries of the Prime Minister Youth Loan Scheme were from Punjab. It is possible that more applications had been received from Punjab compared to other provinces but there should have been a quota or relaxation of rules for under-developed provinces and regions, which the government conveniently ignored.

It can be said that the PML-N is only interested in benefitting its support base of Punjab so that it can win elections from there next time and rule in the centre again. It has showed no interest in strengthening the federation of Pakistan by addressing the concerns of the smaller provinces. The contribution of the incumbent government for the smaller provinces is only limited to rhetoric and tall claims that will never materialise.

Furthermore, Balochistan needs another mega package to address its problems and resolve issues which were left unresolved at the time of the last Balochistan package. This has become more important than ever now after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to play the Balochistan card against Pakistan.

Whether the PML-N leadership likes it or not, they are running a federal government and they can’t ignore the smaller provinces. They need to continue the process started by empowering the provinces and limiting the role of the federal government. It is time they gave up their Punjab-centric attitude and became serious about strengthening the federation.

The writer is a freelance columnist.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @iAdnanAamir

 

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