Power Devolution

Once again, centralist forces are back and demanding revision of 18th amendment. They consider it hindrance and major roadblock in carrying central government  affairs. Behind the scene, it is wholly a different story which time and again rise and demands for reconsidering the constitutional amendment. Recently, ministers from central government expressed reservation that due to 18th amendment central government is helpless to tackle the corona virus pandemic. As per their concerns, health, education, and other department work under provincial government after 18th amendment. So, Centre is impotent to take any action on its part. Responding to the revision rhetoric, opposition condemned the move and called it deadly to the essence of federation.

Theoretically, devolution of power is essential and constitutionally mandatory in federal state. It develops confidence and trust among diverse ethnic groups who are part and parcel of state. Deviating from it results in erosion of trust and create contempt among center and provinces. It is highly required, being a part of federal state, to accommodate diversity of language, color, caste, and creed. Also, state is obliged to protect minority; ethnic and religious groups.

Accordingly, Lahore resolution of 1940 articulates to establish state, consisting of an autonomous units, also having equal opportunities and protection to minorities inside it. On the other, freedom movement and All India Muslim League (AIML) championed on the basis of  creation of federal state and autonomous provinces. On contrary, Congress party supported unitary state in India. But this congress project of unitary state proved failure because subcontinent consisted of diverse communities, races, languages, religion, and so on. As a result, two independent state emerged based on their own values and ideologies.

Comparatively, Bhutan, Bangladesh and the Maldives are unitary state. Except, Bangladesh, other two are small island nations with very small population. Bangladesh on the other, territorially small country, but has a large population. Its 98 percent population is ethnically Bangali. However, 90 percent of it is Muslim as per their faith.  This is the reason, Bangladesh is a unitary state. As, it is not facing an issue of diverse ethic and religious groups in the country. So, it suits the demography of above states to work under unitary form of government.

Sri Lanka was a unitary state till 1987. There is no Senate which represent the diverse groups on equal basis. As a result, Tamil Tigers uprising foment in it, causing widespread death and political turmoil in country. Later, state suppressed the Tamils, and regain the occupied territory. But, still there is no equal representation to different groups in state of Srilanka. Moreover, Afghanistan is not an exception, it is under the horror of war since 40 years. So, it lacks a proper constitutional machinery which ensures autonomy and equality to different ethnic groups in it.

On account of this, 18th amendment restored the exact nature of the 1973 constitution. Previously, it was made dysfunctional as per federal form of governance, by subsequent military intervention in the country. Which centralized the power at federal level, and made provinces to suffer the inequality and misappropriation at the hands of central government. So, 18th amendment as well as establishment of 7th National Finance commission award was a true reflection of real federal state. Both these development conceded provinces maximum autonomy in legislation, execution, and in matter of finance as well as revenue collection and distribution.  The recent attack on the above two, reminiscent of centralist frustration toward provinces autonomy which they acquire after the 18th amendment.

Undoubtedly, period from 2007 to 2018 foresaw an evolution of democracy and federation as well. This time period experienced safe transition of one political government to the other, and provided an equal opportunity to opposition, media, judiciary, and other opinion makers to criticize wrong policies of then governments. Besides it, Imran Khan led PTI government at the very outset favored and call for greater autonomy to provinces. But, gradually the winds are turning in opposite direction. The case in point is recent attack on amendment by one of the influential federal minster.

It must be understood that strengthening of 18th amendment and facilitation of 10TH NFC award to provinces is in broader interest of state. Both will embolden it rather than make it enfeeble. Pakistan is not a unitary state. Neither it is like Bangladesh where 98 percent population belong to a single ethnic group. Again it is also not Maldives or Bhutan which are small and island countries.  Ours is a country- 5th largest as per population in the world, and 33rd largest in land area. Ethnically, Pakistan is very much diverse consisting of Punjabis(40.20 pc), Pashtuns ( 19.80 pc), Sindhis( 14.1 pc),Seraikis (10.53 pc), Muhajirs (7.57 pc), Balochs( 3.57 pc), and others (4.66 pc).  These diverse ethnic groups as well as distinct religious groups are well accommodated when they are conceded maximum autonomy as per 1973 constitution.

Federation works extremely efficient when it enjoys confidence and trust of diversity. Absence of trust erode the potential of state to work in smooth way. On the other, resentment and intolerant political culture becomes the order of day in such conditions. So, in the larger interest of unity in time of health crisis, it is sensible to let political differences aside. Besides, manufacturing political unity and tolerance within political ranks is highly required to get rid of global pandemic.

Briefly, there is a greater need to understand that centralization is inimical to federation. It can foment politics of  regionalism and ethnocentrism. In more accurate way, it can create disdain and mistrust among hoi polis for state. Therefore, devolution of power while living in federal state works as trust among center and provinces.   

Mujtaba Qureshi
Mujtaba Qureshi
Former student of Quaid-i-Azam University. Having interested in national and international politics, history and economy.