The finest experiment in nationhood in its time came apart 24 years later in 1971, West Pakistan barely surviving as a truncated Pakistan. A myriad number of reasons turned this great adventure into a disaster, the major one being was that the people of East Pakistan felt ignored and disparaged. During 1965 this isolation (‘the defence of the East is in the West’), along with economic and political disparities and discrimination, perceived as well as real, became the bedrock for separatism. Economic reasons may have contributed heavily to bringing Pakistan down to its knees this time around, the overall political picture of inter-Provincial disharmony has assumed crisis proportions.
Military regimes normally tend to promote centralism but then this is a different type of military rule, one that is pragmatic enough to recognize the value of decentralization, a principle of military structuring that contributes to better administration. A successful growth of a Federal State envisages meaningful participation from all the people in political, economic and administrative affairs of the nation. In countries which have disparate social, linguistic and local affinities, a Federal structure is the only viable political system. The danger here is that if the people’s rights are denied, the political process is compromised resulting in parochial and regional schisms. The erosion of the power of the Provinces has led to deprivation and alienation of the smaller constituent units. Both for material and psychological reasons, we have serious disharmony, centered mostly in Centre, in Sindh and Balochistan. Unscrupulous local politicians having no hope of national recognition, have further exacerbated the prevailing tensions for their own petty individual interests. From time to time good leaders have emerged, only to become prisoners of the system, resulting in the deterioration of the quality of life of the average Pakistani.
Materially, serious imbalances exist in the relative levels of development in the different Provinces. Urban growth is much more pronounced than urban development, leaving agriculture, the backbone of the economy, relatively neglected. When one unit was broken up in 1968 by Gen Yahya Khan, it was too little too late, the four Provinces were still too large either population-wise or area-wise to administer, decisions even on the smallest proposals or problems of the rural areas were referred through the Provincial capitals to Islamabad. Seldom forthcoming quickly if ever, the time-lag in decision-making was disastrous. Over-centralisation deepened the already existing feeling of deprivation in the smaller Provinces and outlying districts and the ineffectiveness and inefficiency of administration down the line became more and more manifest.
At present Punjab, with 60% of the population, is accused of domination by the smaller Provinces. The previous regime rarely reached out to anybody without a Model Town and Kashmiri pedigree, then one of Lahore, the perception in the other Provinces was of largely Punjabi domination. Punjab became the target of mass animosity, though for the most part the Punjabi masses suffer the same deprivation and discrimination as anyone else in the Federation. For the Federation to survive, this feeling of disenchantment must be replaced with the warmth and affection that first bound Pakistan together as a unique experiment in nationhood for the first 20 years of the existence despite many aberrations.
Maj Gen (Retd) Masood Burki’s book ‘Blueprint for Viable and Stable Pakistan’ makes very cogent arguments based on a comprehensive study of case-histories such as Switzerland, Belgium, India and Nigeria, populated like Pakistan by diverse people having different languages and cultures. Switzerland has German, French, Italian and Romanch as languages and culture. Like the Punjab (60%) in Pakistan, Switzerland is dominated by the Germans (70%) but the country is divided into 26 cantons. Similarly Belgium has two distinct centres, French speaking Waloons (44%) and Dutch speaking Flemish (55%) but it has 9 provinces inclusive of both the languages and cultures in each province. At the time of independence in 1947, India had 7 provinces and a few Union-administered territories despite 24 distinct languages. For better administration and to ease ethnic diversity, 15 more provinces have been created and the Union territories increased to 9. Even now India needs to increase the number of Provinces as the dozen or so secessionist problems (Nagas, Mizos, Assamese, Bodos, Manipuris, etc) are far from being solved, Kashmir being a different matter altogether. Nigeria, which went through a civil war (Biafra) earlier (in 1966) than Pakistan (in 1971), went from 3 regions to 7 States to 19 States before a semblance of unity and cohesion could be achieved.
Punjab has become unwieldy with too much administrative power concentrated in Lahore, development being largely in the urban areas at the cost of the rural areas. With population more than the other 3 provinces combined, Punjab has created a psychological mindblock among them, the other smaller provinces little realising that the outlying districts of Punjab are perhaps worse affected.
In Balochistan there is polarization between Baloch and Pakhtoons with the people of the Mekran Coast a separate entity altogether. In Sindh, the divide is more between ethnic Sindhis and Mohajirs, though in Karachi many more nationalities exist. In NWFP there is a divide between the (1) Peshawar valley extending upto Attock and (2) Hazara Division, the DI Khan area being completely apart. Development is more diverse in Punjab than in Sindh, where it is in Karachi and Hyderabad mostly, in Balochistan only in Quetta and in NWFP only in Peshawar. Gen Burki has recommended 17 provinces but has included Azad Kashmir but one feels this should be kept as a separate entity. Moreover he has asked for all the Ports to be Federal-administered territories. He has got a reasonable balance between population and area size, recommending that the Federal Government exercise control over, viz (1) Defence (2) Foreign Affairs (3) Currency and Fiscal Policies (4) Trade and Commerce, only policy (5) Federal Taxation (6) Railways (7) Federal Highways and Motorways (8) Water and Power (9) Education, only basic policy and (10) TV, Radio and Telecommunications. The Provinces would have viz (1) Agriculture (2) Irrigation (3) Power Generation and Distribution (4) Trade and Commerce (5) Provincial Taxation (6) Local Government and Provincial Highways. He missed out Home Affairs (or Interior) and Aviation but that should be concurrent subject. Instead of bureaucracies and appointed judges there is a dire need to have elected figures in administration and justice, keeping in mind that some of the smaller units may require stop-gap arrangements till their own cadres come up to scratch.
In partial modification of Gen Burki’s proposals and on the premise that there will be no right of secession, the National Assembly (NA) taking over any Provincial Government if the NA feels sovereignty is endangered, there is need to increase the number of Provinces. Punjab should have five Provinces centred around Rawalpindi, Lahore, Sargodha, and Rahimyar Khan. Sindh should have 2 Provinces centred around Karachi (less the Port and adjacent areas) and Hyderabad (Keti Bundar must be with Hyderabad). Similarly NWFP should have 2 provinces centred around Peshawar and Abbottabad. Balochistan should be split into 2 provinces centred around Quetta and Kalat, for a total of 11 with the Northern Areas (Gilgit/Skardu Dir/Chitral/Swat) constituting a separate Province, making it 12 in all. The Federal territories should include Islamabad, Karachi Port/Adjacent areas and Gwadar.
There may be all sorts of arguments about spending more on Governors, Chief Ministers, Ministers, Assemblies etc but this is a necessary price not only for better administration but also for development. Even our smallest Provinces will be larger than 50 to 75 countries of the world. Each Province should have its own Assembly, the size varying according to population. The leaders of local government must act dually as Administrators and Assemblymen. To give equal opportunity to each Province in the Federation they must have Members of National Assembly (MNA) as per a set delimitation as well as 5 Senators each in the Senate, all duly directly elected and 2 technocrats each (one male, one female) indirectly elected. The Federal Territories will have 5 Senators, 2 each for Islamabad and Karachi Port/Adjacent area and one for Gwadar (plus 2 technocrats). There should be no quota except for one or two genuinely backward areas and that too only a nominal one. Merit should be the only qualification for recognition and appointment. The buzzword for separation of East Pakistan was disparity, in creating more provinces and doing away with quotas we not only ensure parity but enter the new millennium as genuine and equal partners of a Federation made much more effective and viable. To quote Gen Burki ‘we need unity through the will of the people, where people feel secure and do not nurture fears of domination of one race by the other’ unquote.
Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan). He was Chairman APSAA for the year 2000, now acting in adhoc capacity pending elections for the year 2001.