Politics of creation of more provinces

  • People do not need more provinces on administrative or ethno-linguistic basis

For quite some time echoes for creation of more provinces have been resonating in the country with fluctuating intensity in the demand for them. We have heard demands for creation of a new province of South Punjab, restoration of the state of Bahawalpur, carving out of Hazara province from the present KPK and making Karachi a separate governing unit. The arguments in favour of the creation of more provinces usually have been poor governance, lack of development and distance factor from the provincial capitals. An incisive look into the issue however reveals that the political parties have never shown required seriousness in the issue and have used this slogan sporadically to gain political mileage out of the prevailing political environment.

In the present scenario the demand for creation of South Punjab province is quintessential of the politicians and parties trying to exploit permeating political ambience for their narrow political ends. It is interesting to note that those who defected from the PML-N ranks and formed Janoobi Punjab Sooba Muhaz never raised the issue while they were part of the government for nearly five years. These turncoats actually invented a justification for their betrayal at the fag-end of the PML-N government to try their fortunes at another platform which in their estimation was likely to rule the roost after next elections. Their joining PTI has removed all the haze about the game that has been played behind the scenes.

Imran Khan, who has been welcoming the saleable horses and electables into his party in the hope of getting more seats in the ensuing elections or even winning a majority with the help of his mentors, at the time of merger of the Muhaz with PTI pledged that he would make South Punjab a separate province within a hundred days of coming into power. That surely is a political hoax to say the least in view of the fact that it involves a host of considerations and pre-requisites in creating a separate province, including economic viability and the existence of necessary paraphernalia and administrative structures. In the absence of these ingredients any claim to create a province amounts to blatant attempt to hoodwink the people for narrow political ends.

Probably the revolutionary who has cast off his cloak to become a traditional power grabber does not know that a new province cannot be created through any administrative order or political ambitions. It can only be done according to Article 239 (4) of the Constitution which says “A Bill to amend the Constitution which would have the effect of altering the limits of a Province shall not be presented to the President for assent unless it has been passed by the Provincial Assembly of that Province by the votes of not less than two-thirds of its total membership.” The first requirement therefore is winning two-third majority in Punjab for him do fulfill his pledge, which seems a remote possibility when one looks at the ground realities. The PML-N notwithstanding the difficulties that it is going through at the moment remains the most popular party and a major political force with in Punjab and it would be difficult to clean sweep the province for any other political party unless the elections are rigged in its favour, which to me seems impossible. The PTI might have a few more seats if the defectors joining it from South Punjab win their seats but it would not be in a position to topple the PML-N.

The practice of giving development funds to the MNAs and MPAs needs to be scrapped as it has hardly paid any dividends

Creating provinces on linguistic basis as is the case for demand of Seraiki province (South Punjab) is fraught with danger. In an environment when Pakistan is confronted with internal and external dangers that pose an existentialist threat to the country, which requires strengthening of the state edifice and governing apparatus, any talk of dividing it further on linguistic basis is absolutely unjustifiable. Demands for more provinces largely represent populist slogans targeting Pakistani desires for instant short cuts to good governance. They confuse the functions of provinces and districts. There is, therefore, a need to improve governance instead of adventuring with the idea of more provinces.

The real issue is about improving governance and regrettably the political parties, instead of resolving real problems through improvement in governance, have been focusing on serving their narrow and transient political interests. The constitution of Pakistan does provide the solution to the problems regarding governance and development of the deprived areas. What is required is to translate those constitutional provisions into reality.

After the eighteenth amendment the provinces have been given the required autonomy and the right to own and use their resources for the benefit of the people. Improving governance depends on devising mechanisms to implement those constitutional provisions in letter and spirit. The solution to the problems indicated by the proponents of more provinces lies in strengthening the local bodies in conformity with the article 140 A of the constitution. Our constitution stipulates three-tier system of governance ie local government, provincial government and the federal government. Local Bodies are meant to deliver to the people at the grass-root level and according to article 140 A are supposed to be enjoy almost plenipotentiary powers in regards to running their respective territorial domains. The article reads“Each province shall, by law establish a local government system and devolve political, administrative and financial responsibility and authority to the elected representatives of the local governments”

Under this article the local administration is supposed to be under the elected people at the district level who are responsible for overseeing the administration, carrying out development projects imbued with the powers to generate financial resources of their own. A close look at the prevailing system of local bodies reveals that they are not functioning in accordance with the constitution in all the four provinces and are still under the thumb of the bureaucracy which to a great extent scuttles their ability to deliver. The practice of giving development funds to the MNAs and MPAs needs to be scrapped as it has hardly paid any dividends. In fact development funds are like pocket money given to the lawmakers for winning elections. Unfortunately our law makers and bureaucracy have been the major hurdle in empowering the local bodies according to the constitution.

As is evident from the foregoing, the people do not need more provinces on administrative or ethno-linguistic basis. They want and need their problems to be resolved at the local level which can be done only through strengthening the local government as per the constitution and implementation of the eighteenth amendment in letter and spirit. It is therefore incumbent upon the political parties to shun their traditional politics of fooling the people and show honesty of purpose in resolving their problems through improved governance in consonance with the constitution.