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November 23, 2012
Let there be 16 Provinces in Pakistan
By Saeed Qureshi
One of the biggest hurdles in the way of good governance and fair distribution of funds in Pakistan is the awfully less number of provinces. One of the most overriding priorities for any government in Pakistan is to create minimum 16 provinces in order to broaden the scope of development and nation building.
While the existing four provinces should each be portioned into three or four smaller units or provinces, the Fata region, the Northern states of Chitral, Swat, Hunza, and Dir, should be converted into provinces as well. The more there would be administrative units, the more the governance would become efficient and decidedly development oriented.
The existing four provinces are like four states within a state. These four elephantine administrative units create regional and provincial friction bordering on hatred. Ever since the creation of Pakistan, one of the overriding snags in the way of coveted national cohesion and unity are these mega provinces that vie and remain at loggerheads with each other. With a separate language of each province, the four separate nationalities look conspicuously distinct. Besides it creates communication barriers between the people with less or no knowledge of the national language Urdu.
Once the question of creation of more provinces is addressed, the stability of Pakistan can be guaranteed. Otherwise the clash of interests would keep the center and provinces in mutual bickering and feuding. The break-away feelings and insurgency that is going on in Balochistan can be nailed and quelled, once and for all, if the constitutional obligation of devolution of powers to the provinces is fulfilled.
At present provinces of Balochistan, Sindh, NWFP, harbor a host of grievances against Punjab that range from taking more share of funds to the undue use of water. There are simmering feelings of discontent and aversion against Punjab because of the army whose bulk comes from Punjab. Punjab is the target of complaints and grudge of other provinces for being a privileged province as was West Pakistan compared to the former East Pakistan.
East Pakistan’s cessation (for Bengalis independence) could have been averted if the Eastern wing of Pakistan was fairly and equitably treated. Similar kind of specter and danger of disintegration looms over Pakistan now, which can be warded off, if more provinces are carved out of the existing ones.
The fruits of devolution of powers are universally known for balanced and effective development of both rural and urban areas of a country on one side and the backward and advanced areas on the other. In big units as we have in Pakistan, the major chunks of funds go to those cities or towns from which the politicians or the members of the parliament come. Even otherwise in Pakistan, the rural development has mostly remained neglected because most of the development funds are spent in the urban areas.
Bangladesh that separated from the West Pakistan in 1971, despite being much smaller in area (148000 sq km to 796000 sq miles of Pakistan) has 6 provinces and 64 districts. Bangladesh has a system of distribution of resources and funds for development that is much transparent, grass root and effective than Pakistan because the money is spread over more administrative units and therefore is spent on a vast area. India has 28 provinces (states) and 610 districts. Besides, there are seven union territories. Under the States Reorganization Act of 1956, the states were reorganized on linguistic basis.
The United States of America is one country where such a remarkable model for division of powers is in vogue. The 50 states (provinces) are almost independent in running their local governments even having direct trade with outside world. This model can be followed in Pakistan as far as possible.
Pakistan has four big federating units and 127 districts. The social and civic development remains largely confined to the big cities. The people have to travel all the way to the provincial capitals to meet the assembly members at a big financial cost and wastage of time.
As such even after 60 years of its existence, it is devoid of highways between major cities and an efficient railway system. The people suffer from poor, inadequate or deficient civic utilities. The political chaos takes it spillover toll on the quality of life. The availability of sustained potable water and power, disposal of solid waste, health, education, orderly traffic and good transportation that are components of good city management and a smooth civic life have remained unrealized. The quality of life in Pakistan is abysmally low.
Unfortunately, due to rampant corruption and lack of effective accountability, the funds are misused and misappropriated. The development projects sometimes exist on the paper only. The quality of work on building roads and other projects in Pakistan is woefully inferior. The oversight and strict compliance of codes and regulations are more often than not, violated and breached with connivance of the bureaucracy and government officials.
The scams and scandals, the nepotism and favoritism in doling out contracts, permits and lucrative licenses are given mostly to the party members, friends, and kith or to those who grease the palms of the members of the officialdom, bureaucracy and the parliament members.
Each province would not wait for the four provincial capitals for sanction of funds for development.
With the creation of smaller provinces, the people would be able to take independent decisions, have sense of participation and commitment and socio- political freedom, tackle their problems be it law and order or building roads and dams. With more courts in the new provinces the perennial backlog of pending cases could be speedily decided.
The long standing demands of many regions with common language and ethnic bonds such as Siraiki belt and Hazara could be met by converting these areas into full fledged provinces. The population of Hazara region wants to separate from the Pushto speaking parts of NWFP (now Pakhtunkhwa Khyber) because their language is Hindko, a mixed dialect of Pushto and Punjabi. Ethnically they are hugely different from the Pashto speaking areas. Siraiki speaking people want to have a separate province because they look different from both Sindh and Punjab as for their language and culture is concerned.
Such considerations as common folklore, common language or dialect, common ethnic and cultural milieu and administrative efficiency should be kept in view in creating more provinces.
The provincial autonomy once given would relieve the center of the bureaucratic over-lordship. The function of the center would be to make policy decisions and with the coordination of the provinces implement these. The shifting of most of the ministries to the provincial domain would alleviate enormous administrative and financial load on the center.
More provinces will lessen the prevailing acrimony, mutual apprehensions and tensions between the four provinces. It would readily assuage the sense of deprivation and discrimination nursed by the smaller provinces against the big province which in this case is Punjab. Such a monumental change would catapult the much coveted paradigm of good governance in Pakistan. Such a landmark decision would undoubtedly put Pakistan on the road to economic prosperity and socio- political stability and forestall the breakaway tendencies.
The PPP government deserves huge applause and due credit for passage of the 18th amendment in 2010. It was a giant step that among other revolutionary changes has abolished the concurrent list of 47 subjects. These subjects were the sordid legacy of the British imperial rule and had kept the autonomy of the provinces host and vulnerable to the interference by the central government.
However, the division of Pakistan into more provinces has to yet to be undertaken. The 18th amendment has taken care of the transfers of powers to the provinces. But to make use of those powers fruitfully, the creation of more provinces is imperative. Such a momentous measure would also put an end to the mutual bickering between the four provinces.
Note: It is revised text of my previous article on the same theme.
The writer is a senior journalist and a former diplomat
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