Despite the passage of the
18th constitutional amendment to the constitution of 1973, in which the powers enumerated in the concurrent list were transferred to the federating units, Pakistan remains a quasi-federal state, in which the balance of power is heavily tilted in favour of Islamabad. This imbalance of power between the centre and the provinces is the root cause of ethnic-based resentment in Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. The province of Punjab is an exception because most of the federal offices in Islamabad are held by Punjabis.
A truly federal state, especially a state like Pakistan in which ethnic identity is stronger than identification with the state, should devolve all powers to the provinces except defence, printing of currency, and foreign affairs.
The Pakistani state, since its inception in 1947, has tried to secure its territorial integrity by manufacturing a ‘Pakistani identity’ at the cost of the age-old ethnic identity of the Baloch, Sindhis and Pakhtuns, the result of which is the ever-growing separatist movements in all these provinces. These nationalities refuse to give up their distinct identities in favour of a Pakistani identity, which derives legitimacy from religion and which imposes a foreign language on these groups.
In order to turn the situation around in favour of the Pakistani federation, the powers that be, including the military, feudal politicians, clergy and senior bureaucracy need to come to terms with the realities of the Pakistani state and the nature of its inhabitants. The Pakistani state faces a choice between letting the gradual erosion of its authority over large swathes of its territory and population continue, or introduce true federalism. True federalism for the Pakistani state means the recognition of the languages of the Sindhis, Pakhtuns, Punjabis and Baloch as national (federal) languages. The central government shall need to give up all powers in favour of the federating units except defence, foreign affairs and printing of currency. A mechanism will have to be evolved for the administration of these subjects through which the equal inclusion of all the above-mentioned nationalities can be ensured.
As far as federal offices are concerned, including the offices of the president, prime minister, members of the central cabinet, federal secretaries, chiefs of defence forces, heads of autonomous and semi-autonomous federal bodies, the mechanism will need to be sorted out in order to provide for appointments of individuals from all four nationalities for an equal number of years.
Before the country was carved out at the time of the British liquidation of empire in India in 1947, many had predicted the fall of Pakistan because of ethnic and religious fissures. Unfortunately, they proved right: Bangladesh emerged as an independent state in 1971 in the aftermath of the bloody civil war in which hundreds of thousands of Bengalis were slaughtered. The Bengalis wanted cultural, political and economic rights based on their distinct national identity. The Islamabad government refused, which resulted in war and conflict, with the result of the break up of Pakistan.
Pakistani policy makers need to take the past as their guide and allow its federating units their due cultural, political and economic rights.
As a tailpiece, it might be stated that many wrongly say that the process of ‘Islamisation’ was started by General Ziaul Haq. That is a flagrant distortion of the facts. The process of Islamisation of Pakistan started before the country was actually founded. Indeed, it was Islam on the basis of which the All India Muslim League demanded a separate country for Muslims. Had that not been the case, why would the Muslim League demand a separate state from secular India? And the founders of Pakistan were very clear on why they wanted to partition India. That is why they believed that Pakistan came into being the day the first Muslim set foot on the Indian subcontinent. The process of ‘legal Islamisation’ started in 1949 when the Objectives Resolution was passed. The process continued during the Ayub era, intensified during the Bhutto era, was given an extremist look during the Zia era, and continues even today.
The Pakistani state needs to adopt an identity that emanates from the willingness of the peoples of the federating units to live together in a single state because such a set up maximises utility, rather than a religious identity that is tearing apart the very fabric of the state.
The writer is a freelance contributor from Waziristan and can be contacted on email@example.com