Monday October 02, 2023

Unsolved ‘national question’

November 21, 2016

Senate Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani, who was an architect of 18th Amendment, which resolved the long-standing question of provincial autonomy, has recently warned against any conspiracy to roll back the landmark decision. What he has missed in the question is the failure of the provinces in transferring powers to the local governments, the only nursery available in the country to produce political workers. This has been the dilemma of our politics and national parties, whose approach is too narrow to make institutions strong.

It is also important to assess the performances of the provinces in the ministries, transferred to them after the 18th Amendment like education, health and labour. It paints a very sorry state of affairs when it comes to governance.

The future of national politics has to come out from the concept of 'Win Punjab, Win Pakistan’, for which a serious debate is needed on more provinces, particularly at a time when population census may be held early the next year.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), in 2013, gave a very positive message to the country by allowing nationalists to form a government in Balochistan and the opposition party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the PPP in Sindh. He could take a bold initiative in strengthening democracy through more provinces and transferring powers to the local governments.

Such steps are needed for 'national harmony’. China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) can become a game-changer if we are really sincere in changing the game. Defending democracy against dictatorship is one thing and we all stood for the rule of law and supremacy of the constitution, but within democracy it is the political parties which create hurdles to making people empowered, and negate the very concept of democracy i.e. the government of the people for the people.

Lack of democracy in the parties and their approach towards making people powerful to decide about their own future led to decline in making democratic institutions strong and as a result even the unanimously passed Constitution of 1973 could not become strong enough to foil attempts to subvert it in 1977, in 1999 and again in 2007.

The parties did not even had the courage to challenge the controversial amendments passed by the illegal parliaments of General Ziaul Haq's Majlis-e-Shura. The maximum it did was abolishing of 58-2(B) and that too after four governments were dismissed.

Today, the 1973 Constitution is not in its original form but in distorted shape, as the weak and undemocratic national parties comprising cronies of military dictators could not correct the 'historic wrong’.

All this led to the failure of national politics as all political nurseries like student and trade unions had been destroyed and the parliament is unable to restore the right of association and right to information.

It is our national tragedy that we lost the majority province before resolving the issue of provincial autonomy. Perhaps, we have not learnt any lessons from the past failures and still defend and protect feudalism, Sardari system and some national leaders even defend and implement in their own areas the concept of Jirga, as a means to resolve their issues.

It took almost 65 years to accept the demand of Pashtuns to rename North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) into Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, though it did not bring any good change in the lives of Pashtuns. It took almost 60 years to settle the issue of provincial autonomy and no one knows how much time it will take to resolve the issue of more provinces, followed by empowering people.

Pakistan, since its inception in 1947, hardly has a party with a national character, particularly after Pakistan Muslim League (PML) was divided into fractions and as a result a democratic system could not be evolved. Break-up of Pakistan was caused due to the absence of national parties, particularly after the One Unit.

If we just go through the very structure of the three mainstream parties – PML-N, PPP and PTI, they can't be called true representatives of all the four provinces. 

This tendency in our political culture led to the rise of nationalist parties, but with the passage of time they too became 'narrow nationalist, ethnic in nature and undemocratic, as a result they could not make inroads into the electorate. Most of these parties only play the role of 'pressure groups’, like many religious parties.

Most of the nationalists parties, particularly in Balochistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh were the outcome of a ban on the left wing National Awami Party (NAP). Had the NAP not been banned, it had the potential of becoming a national party.

The 'Muhajir nationalism' or its political dynamics were also the result of the absence of national politics and the failure of national parties in urban Sindh. Unlike other groups, they also backed their party i.e. Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).

History is the best judge and not long ago we witnessed the outcome of One Unit, which ultimately resulted in the break-up of Pakistan.

The left-oriented NAP, despite its national character of a national party, and strong presence in then NWFP (now KP) and Balochistan could not form a government at the centre due to its poor presence in East Pakistan and Punjab.

General Zia had shrunk the national parties and promoted ethnic and sectarian politics on the one hand and on the other created division in our national character through non-party-based elections. PPP was the worst-hit, not only because of hanging of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto but also through a well-hatched conspiracy to marginalise it. Benazir's assassination and post-BB politics of PPP confined the party to Sindh.

PPP's political vacuum was filled by Imran Khan and his party, PTI, but in the last three years, he could not consolidate his position in Sindh and Balochistan in particular and the next election would determine his strength in Punjab. His popular base still remains the KP, and this creates an interesting scenario.

If the PTI swept polls in Punjab, it would be an end to Sharif's politics as the PML stands no chance in any other province, but if the PML-N retained its position despite losing some seats, it would still be able to form a government at the centre.

But, in either case the national crises would persist and unless parties like PML-N, PTI and PPP expand their political structure to all the four provinces, the national politics would continue to face difficulties in removing the sense of deprivation despite 18th Amendment and provincial autonomy.

The federating units must be empowered by creating more provinces, which would also change the narrow nationalist approach of our nationalist parties. Can our parliamentarians and so-called national parties are ready to take some bold steps to save democracy to solve this unsolved national question.

  The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang. Twitter: @MazharAbbasGeo