Once perceived to be settled, 18th Constitutional Amendment – a thorough exercise to devolve the powers to provinces – is back in news. Journalists, Intellectuals and political scientists are back to dig the grave of the move, which had the blessings of all representative political parties. There is not an iota of doubt that this debate was deliberately stirred by the remarks attributed to COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa, in an ‘informal’ discussion with the slew of journalists.
Without adjudicating the matter on moral basis – something irrelevant to Pakistan’s political landscape – we get straight to the point. The Address by Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah at Lahore Session of Muslim League, March, 1940 is a testimony of the fact that he advocated a weak center, and autonomous provinces or sovereign units. It was the need of the hour and politically expedient because All India Muslim League was concentrated in Hindu Majority provinces before 1937 elections, which resulted in humiliating defeat of AIML and the veracity of Jinnah claiming to be sole spokesperson of Muslims community of subcontinent was severely questioned, it had to shift its energies towards Muslim majority provinces, dominated by Unionists and Congress. To establish a stake by wooing the local political icons, AIML had to concede to provincial autonomy. It should also be not forgotten that, by then, there was no categorical plan of the partition being chalked out, so Muslims were merely demanding autonomous provinces to rule out Congress’ hegemony in the center.
Soon after the formation of Pakistan, Quaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah left the world for the eternal abode in September 1948. By then, the constitutional arrangement was being chalked out. Lack of clarity on some issues, including center-state relation, language problem, the role of religion in the state, parity between east and west wing hindered the prospects of early enactment of the constitution. Besides deteriorating civilian authority, no representative legislatures and connivance non elected segments – both civil and military bureaucracy, led to the deprivation of East Pakistan. There was serious resentment over the exploitation smaller units had to face because of the strong center. This culminated in the dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971 and the creation of Bangladesh.
Smaller provinces- Sindh, KPK and Balochistan- had always resented the formation of policies at the central level as they don’t have enough representation there in the national assembly, owing to the population bulge in Punjab, which dominates the lower house. Though Senate, the upper house, has equal representation of all the provinces, 23 each, 4 seats for Islamabad and 8 seats for FATA. Upper house plays an important role in keeping federation united, but the financial bill – budget- and election of Prime Minister is beyond its mandate. In wake of all this prevailing situation, political parties initiated a welcome step of revising each article to abolish the concurrent list and to devolve those subjects mentioned in the list to the provinces.
The politicians were clear in their purpose : Those from smaller provinces supported to be absolved of Punjab’s domination and those from Punjab spearheaded the process to diminish the prospects of military coup – As besides center, four other power centers were being created and its bit difficult even for powers-that-be to engineer politics in fiver houses instead of erstwhile one . There might be some flaws, particular in law-and-order, educations, etc. Questions could be raised on the capacity of provinces to deliver as per aspirations of public and as mandated by the constitution, but, it would be the sheer injustice to overlook the overall state of harmony it has created in the federating units.
The man-made laws are amenable to change. Adaption to the changing environment is the key to stay relevant. Therefore, a committee should be tasked with evaluating the grey areas left behind and to assess the feasibility of the changes to be brought. Political parties need to have a research conducted on the subject. If manifestos could be graced by the findings of the study and solutions are proposed, this might take us on a path that will strengthen democracy.