A political revolution

Published: April 24, 2011

The writer is professor of political science at LUMS [email protected]

The passage of the 18th Amendment has set into motion, a remarkable, though slow, political revolution in restructuring Pakistan’s polity. This is far more momentous than restoring the parliamentary character of the constitution, or even granting provincial autonomy. The word autonomy cannot capture the true letter and spirit of the new federalism that is unfolding before us. Rather, it is about remodelling Pakistan’s political system according to a new principle of distribution of power, with the provinces as new centres of authority, power and resources.

Thinking of provinces as new centres of power and laying something down into the constitution to make them powerful, runs counter to both, the colonial tradition of supervising political evolution, and the centralised state and nation-building strategy followed for the past six decades. It goes to the credit of political parties and their leadership that they have realised that the old ways of governing Pakistan have failed and they needed to give a greater part of the power and resources of the centre, which had grown arrogant, paternalistic and insensitive to the provinces.

This structural change in the political order has created new conditions in which some groups and sections are bound to lose, while others will make gains. Who loses and who gains is an issue that will greatly impact the ongoing process of shifting power to the provinces, as the old, deeply entrenched political and bureaucratic groups fight to the last to save their little turfs and fiefdoms. In our case, the federal bureaucracy is the loser, as it cannot hope to rule the provinces under the guise of national integration, solidarity and security anymore. It will take a great deal of internal reflection on the part of the federal bureaucracy, as well as time, to adjust to the power shift.

Since personal and group loss of this kind is not that easy to adjust to, the traditional ruling groups, as it appears at the moment, will pull all strings from wherever they can to slow down the transfer of power and create difficulties, to make sure it fails. The political parties that have brought about this revolution have a greater responsibility to see its success through. One of the conditions of success is that they stay together on implementing the 18th Amendment with the same historic understanding they demonstrated in the almost year-long deliberations it took to reach the second most important social contract in the country after the 1973 Constitution.

We have heard too often, for most of our history, two self-serving arguments in support of centralising power in Islamabad. First, the elite at the centre — political, bureaucratic and military — are the only patriotic lot and know what the peoples and provinces need. Second, that the provinces cannot be trusted with power and that they don’t have the capacity to wield it — as if those at the centre are angles who have descended from some other planet with all the human virtues and the noblest of intentions.

The inner spirit of the new federalism is to let the provinces take responsibility for doing good for the people, as those who are close to the people understand what they want and how public interest can best be served. This spirit must be carried through careful implementation of devolution of power to the provinces.

No federal bureaucratic structure that is incompatible with the 18th Amendment can be protected by patriotic or capacity arguments anymore. Those who build their case to serve the country on this ground can take their patriotism and capacity down to the provinces from where they have come to occupy positions in federal institutions.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 25th, 2011.

Reader Comments (10)

  • Apr 24, 2011 - 11:57PM

    Doesn’t our history tell us the opposite case that centralization of governance led to a better structure in subcontinent and was the golden era of our history and when the provinces started to emergy in 1700s,1800s, the mughal empire started to falter.

    Also looking at the type of intellect that currently exists at provincial level, I pray the resources and power never falls into the hands of these peopleRecommend

  • Latif
    Apr 25, 2011 - 6:32AM

    great analysisRecommend

  • Akhtarrao
    Apr 25, 2011 - 7:23AM

    This is good piece Dr.
    No doubt, provinces,particularly Baluchistan,have been immensely neglected by the both civil and military rulres and now the time has come to provide their due share under the Constitution 1973.
    Constitution 1973 itself is ideal and Guarantees the rights of the provinces but who cared in the Past.So, 18th amendement grants protection and AGHAZE-E-HAQOOQE-BALUCHISTAN,seems an acheivevement of the present government,despite that all effort,grievences of the Baluch poeple canot be addressed.
    In fact, there is a question of intentions,if the purpose is to get pass the amendement and to make history,then the spirit of constitutional amendement will remain mirage.Application rather speeches and promises is significant to the deprived provinces.Recommend

  • Pakistani
    Apr 25, 2011 - 11:30AM

    An excellent and exclusive political inside.It must be read by the framers of 18th amendmentRecommend

  • Shabbir
    Apr 25, 2011 - 1:49PM

    Great insight….weak center and strong provinces are inevitable for the survival of Pakistan.Congratulations to all the POLITICAL Forces who played their role in the passage of 18th amendment. Recommend

  • Concerned
    Apr 25, 2011 - 2:33PM

    Kindly keep a check on the typos ET!Recommend

  • Gul
    Apr 25, 2011 - 8:11PM

    Why the central governments always felt insecure and had been denying provincial autonomy to Baluchi people.
    Does democracy needs centralized state.when the rulers would learn?Recommend

  • Shahzeb
    Apr 25, 2011 - 9:29PM

    Why only more provinces in Punjab is surely a ill intentioned political move by PPP-MQM,MLQ to weaken MLN.We must have four provinces in Bluchistan(45%land mass).Sind,TWO,kARACHI DIVIDED IN TWO PROVINCES,UNJAB,fOUR,pkwa,three and FATA an independent province.Recommend

  • A R Khan, Wisconsin
    Apr 25, 2011 - 10:18PM

    Very good analysis, Sir. What I would like to know more is how the devolution will break the bureaucratic structure in power. We need to carefully take this devolution forward. The provinces need to take the responsibilities, that means they should also be allowed to make their own fiscal policies.Recommend

  • zahid ali
    Apr 26, 2011 - 5:20PM

    Provinces should be given maximum power, but with responsibility and restraint. Coz we do not want an exchange of autocrats with more autocrats. So power to the provinces with more monitoring and evaluation strucures in place to seize the moment. this devulution should be meaningful in letter and spirit and notmerely a coy in the hands of elites to grab the power once again. we need to keep our eyes open and powers should be given top the districts if we really want out polity to de;iver in the best interests of the masses.Recommend

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