The PPP-led coalition government has almost fulfilled promises, completely in theory and largely in practice, which were made to smaller provinces and nationalities, under the Charter of Democracy and its election manifesto
Among so many other problems, the power sharing problem between the center and provinces has played a vital role in the political scene of the country. Constitutionally, Pakistan is a federation but its federating units hardly enjoyed good working relationship with central government. The centralization of power encouraged internal dissension and disharmony. It weakened the state and aggravated the multidimensional crises the people faced in their daily life. All the provinces were devoid of effective power and the centre enjoyed the power in majority of the subjects. Most of these were required to be decentralized and restored to the provinces and from there to grassroots level.
The ‘Ideology of Pakistan’ which emphasized upon homogeneity of the peoples and regions in the country and its custodian, the Pakistani establishment and particularly the military, destroyed the harmony among peoples and regions. Instead, it promoted ethnic and regional sentiments which the establishment tried to suppress with force. The first military aggression against the Baloch people was carried out in 1948, just few months after the creation of Pakistan. Since then it is the fifth military action going on in Balochistan. In the meanwhile, Pakistan lost its eastern wing (East Pakistan) just after 24 years of its birth. The centre’s relations with Sindh and the then NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtoon Khwa) were not ideal either.
Besides, uneven development and concentration of development projects, and hence the wealth, in particular areas of the country made some areas very rich while the others were left far behind which created bias among the provinces and different regions within the provinces. Balochistan is rich with natural resources i.e. gas, oil, copper and gold but it is the poorest province despite very low population. Sindh is rich with its coastal wealth and industry but the rural Sindh is facing acute poverty. The people of Seraiki region in Punjab province have been raising their voice against the injustice done to them.
However, it seems the political leadership, especially the mainstream political parties, of the country did learn at least some lessons after long dictatorial regimes. Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) while signing the Charter of Democracy pledged that i) the Concurrent List in the Constitution (which remained a bone of contention between center and provinces) will be abolished, ii) a new NFC award will be announced, iii) FATA shall be included in the NWFP province in consultation with them, iv) Northern Areas shall be developed by giving it a special status and further empowering the Northern Areas Legislative Council to provide people of Northern Areas access to justice and human rights, and v) local bodies election will be held on party basis through provincial election commissions in respective provinces and constitutional protection will be given to the local bodies to make them autonomous and answerable to their respective assemblies as well as to the people through regular courts of law.
The PPP in its manifesto for the elections held in 2008, under the head of Provincial Autonomy, also pledged to establish a true Federal Democracy in theory and practice by enacting the following reforms in order to make Provincial Autonomy meaningful:
• The Concurrent Legislative List will be abolished.
• Provinces will be given their due share in their Natural Resources.
• Distribution criteria for NFC award will take into account contribution to revenues, geographic size, backwardness and level of development as well as population.
• The Natural Gas rates and Royalty formula will be as determined by the Constitution of 1973.
• All Companies engaged in exploration and extraction of Natural Resources will be required to train local people and allocate funds for social development.
• Provinces will be given part of the sale proceeds in the sale of federal assets in their province.
• Octroi will revert to local governments and be collected by them.
• Sales tax will be progressively returned to Provinces.
The PPP-led coalition government has almost fulfilled promises, completely in theory and largely in practice, which were made to smaller provinces and nationalities, under the Charter of Democracy and its election manifesto. The steps taken by the government and the parliament include the 18th Amendment in the constitution which abolishes the Concurrent legislative List and guarantees provincial autonomy, the seventh NFC Award, Aghaaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan, political reforms in Gilgit-Baltistan giving to the people their identity, political and legal reforms in FATA, and reconstruction of the Council of Common Interests and increasing gas development surcharge for Balochistan.
The intended outcome of the 18th Amendment is to create an enabling environment for the participatory federalism in Pakistan. The delegation of much demanded autonomy to the provinces in legislative, executive, fiscal and administrative spheres is meant to bring a climate of healthy competition and cooperation hence promoting harmony among the provinces. Policies, planning and programming related to service delivery in social sector have been decentralized to the provinces, and federal planning bodies can no more design and plan a development project without taking into account the provincial representation and perspective. The same is desired from the provinces in relation to districts.
The democratic dispensation has created an innovative framework of fiscal equalization through 7th National Finance Commission (NFC) Award. The distribution criteria for NFC award will take into account contribution to revenues, geographic size, backwardness and level of development as well as population in any province. The smaller provinces had been demanding the NFC award on the basis of backwardness and level of development among other indicators.
Amendment in century-old Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) is another important step of Pakistan Peoples Party, following provincial autonomy, and giving Gilgit-Baltistan status of a province, to recognize the legal and political rights of the people. The reforms in FCR carry immense importance for the people of FATA intending to bring tribal areas into the national mainstream. Amendments to the FCR have brought an end to the practice of collective responsibility and collective punishment for children, women and people over the age of 65. The people of FATA can now appeal against the decisions of the Political Agents. Under the old system, if an individual was accused of committing a crime, the entire tribe was penalized. Now, the Political Parties Order 2002 will allow political parties to operate in FATA.
The PPP government took a number of constitutional, political, economic and administrative initiatives, including announcing Aghaz Haqooq-e-Balochistan, to redress the grievances of the Baloch people. These measures include withdrawal of cases against 172 political leaders and workers out of a total of 183 cases, removal of 35 non-border FC posts, abandoning the idea of construction of cantonments in Baloch areas, conversion of “B” areas into “A” areas and making 10 posts of Coast Guards at Gwadar non-functional. The PPP-led government has also increased Baluchistan’s share from 5.1% to 9.1%in the 7th NFC Award. Other steps include allocation of 90% quota for Balochistan in all jobs at Gwadar Port and 56% contract awarded to local contractors
at Gwadar, payment of Rs 2 billions as well as 1st instalment of Rs 10 billions out of Rs 120 billion provincial dues by the federal government and transfer of 30% shareholding, out of the federal Government’s 50% shareholding in Saindak project to Baluchistan province.
|Mazhar Arif is a senior journalist, media critic, researcher, writer and people’s rights activist presently working as Executive Director, Society for Alternative Media and Research (SAMAR), an organization seeking space for voices of the voiceless in the media and engaged with promoting media literacy to enable readers, viewers and listeners to understand and analyze media contents.|