The debate for more provinces

Published: April 10, 2012

The writer is a final-year law student at the London School of Economics and tweets @AsadRahim

Demanding the creation of new provinces is in vogue nowadays but actually creating them, not so much. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, semi-besieged as he is, still finds the time to throw his ruling PPP’s weight behind a new Seraiki province. The PML-Q says that they joined this coalition on the condition that a Seraiki province will be created. The PML-F, less functional than feudal, made the most endearing case for their southern Punjab stronghold gaining provincial status: they criticised facilities enjoyed by politicians in Lahore, saying assembly members had to forego their own backward areas for the provincial capital to live ‘a decent life’.

The supporters of new provinces aren’t limited to cynics out to dent the PML-N’s vote bank. The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan promised the Hazaras a province of their own. The MQM also tabled a bill in January pushing for new provinces in both the Hazara region and the Seraiki belt. Even Maulana Fazlur Rehman wants to restore the Bahawalpur province, a relic from 1955.

A consensus among Pakistan’s political parties is evolving that more provinces mean more rights for disaffected peoples, more funds for their representatives, and less sway for parties with majorities in the current provinces, like those enjoyed by the ANP in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the PML-N in Punjab. If nothing else, it’s hoped that constituents might vote for imaginary provinces that will empower them in ways unspecified.

The PML-N sits sullenly in the middle of all this. It says it only supports new provinces that are devised along administrative lines, not ethnic ones. The PML-N is right, even if out of self-interest.

Devolution has been made a mess of, alternating from divisions to local governments back to divisions again. More provinces based on administrative ease would strengthen the federation rather than weaken it. During the 1980s, the Federal Shariat Court’s Justice Tanzilur Rahman floated the idea that the existing four provinces be dissolved and the 20 administrative divisions become new provinces in a federal system with greater devolution. It didn’t happen, poisonous as it was to provincial bosses.

Pakistan is too diverse to impose a single nationalist identity on the country. But in a nation already corroded by identity politics, whether there should be new provinces marking more ‘ethnolinguistic differences’ is the wrong discussion to be having in 2012. ‘Seraikistan’, rather than protecting the Seraiki people’s ethnolinguistic interests, would imply being content with just three lower divisions proposed from Punjab –– hardly befitting an ethnic group spread across all four provinces. Nor would it encompass Tank and Dera Ismail Khan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s Seraiki-speaking districts, lest it depress the PPP-allied ANP.

And provincial status goes only so far towards addressing ethnic grievances. Ask the Baloch, Seraiki people, and the Hazara community. They are murdered in Balochistan and marginalised in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. But if ethnolinguistic interests are what our politicians strive for, then the PPP should continue playing the Sindh card, the PML-N should keep hiding from the Punjabi Taliban, and the ANP did well to change the NWFP’s name to something more representative of its Pashtun majority. The ANP’s only visible achievement over four years was antagonising the province’s Hazaras as other problems of gross corruption, mass illiteracy, and the debasement of women still remain.

Legislators baying for more ethnic-based provinces are the same landowners who made a career out of keeping the Seraiki belt impoverished, underdeveloped and its people dependent. Ideas like those of Tanzilur Rahman are worth considering; more administrative units will lead to more autonomy and preservation of cultural lineages. Instead, the government dangles a carrot in front of people’s ethnic sensibilities during election season. It’s depressing that when the hopeful step of creating new provinces is finally being discussed, it reeks of encouraging the petty divisions that Pakistanis lose blood over every day.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 11th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (22)

  • Moiz
    Apr 11, 2012 - 12:00AM

    At last, some sense.

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  • Tahir
    Apr 11, 2012 - 12:01AM

    A well thought out argument. But will our leaders ever act this selflessly?

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  • Sharay Siddiqui
    Apr 11, 2012 - 12:27AM

    For some reason the news media has been ignoring the Muhajir sooba movement.
    Rallies have been held by them,demonstrations have been held but the media seems to not be giving them coverage.
    If saraiki and hazara provinces are to be made , than a muhajir province is also a necessity for the millions of urdu,memoni and gujrati speaking people of karachi and hyderabad.
    The ppp has been the most active in demanding new provinces, hopefully the ppp will carry this campaign of theirs to make a new muhajir sooba out of karachi and hyderabad.

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  • Masoom Khan Miani
    Apr 11, 2012 - 12:34AM

    A very ill informed article. The author fails to realise that provinces in Pakistan existed for centuries in more or less the same shape be that in form of autonomous areas or governed by any foreign rule. At the time of creation of Pakistan these provincess agreed to enter into federation out of their own will with the aspiration that their unique identities will not only be maintained but respected too. I fail to understand that how easily the author mentions Dera Ismail Khan and Tank as ” Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Seraiki speaking Districts”. At least a bit research should have been done before asserting a fact. Writting for such widely circulated Newspaper requires factual accuracy. One might differ with the opinions but facts should not be mutilated.
    At least Tank is not and never had been Seraiki speaking district. Though there are seraiki speaking people living in few villages around the main town which can be counted on finger heads but that does not mean that the whole district is Seraiki speaking. Even these few seraiki speaking people speak Pashto fluently in day to day affairs which is lingua franca in the area. As far as D I Khan is concerned Seraiki is spoken by a sizable population still declaring it a seraiki speaking district is totally devoid of facts.
    Nobody can differ with the notions of autonomy which should be given to the marginalised segments of the society in Pakistan but disturbing the centuries old identities can prove fatal. If autonomy is the central theme of the ongoing debate, then it can be given by the provincess to their less developed areas on the pattern of NFC.

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  • Pakistan Khan
    Apr 11, 2012 - 12:41AM

    Dear Writer,
    I would strictly advise you to first visit Saraiki belt before giving any statement about Saraiki province. It is very easy to say that it is feudal lords who are behind movement for Saraiki province. Go to Saraiki province and talk to common people. You would be surprised to know that how badly common people want a Saraiki province. In fact feudal lords have been opposing Saraiki province (Their support for it is a very recent phenomenon!) And for God’s sake, try to realize that ethnicity is not a bad thing. If people want a separate province on ethnic basis, then what is wrong with it. Pakistan should try to learn from its mistakes otherwise East Pakistan fiasco can happen again!!!

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  • Another Victim
    Apr 11, 2012 - 12:51AM

    I’d like to ask the author, are current ones not based on language and ethnicity? Anyhow, Making one or two is gonna cause troubles. Whole country infact needs to be re-provinced into 8 – 10 units (and of course, on administrative basis).

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  • Apr 11, 2012 - 3:22AM

    presently, the four provinces are ethnicity based as their names suggest. However, creating new provinces will not be acceptable to the majority ethnic group which is likely to loose its hold on power structure, as such the idea of creating more provinces is a non starter from the beginning. Ethnic minorities feel deprived of their rights, mostly economic in nature and the present highly organized and corrupt elite in the present scenario won’t allow a challenge to their authority lying down. This will result in bloodshed leading to a civil war. The only solution is to grant maximum administrative powers to city governments and freeing these governments from the clutches of Feudal and the establishment. For Pakistan to survive and progress all major cities have to evolve as education and industrial centers, which is possible only if the idea of city governments is implemented ensuring maximum participation of city residents.Recommend

  • Amjad
    Apr 11, 2012 - 4:24AM

    Will Sindi people allow a Indian Muhajir based province in Karachi? What happens when lots of people from Afghanistan move to Karachi and want to make a second province for their people in Karachi too? Punjab is the best governed province but instead of trying to replicate its success, we want to break it to appease political groups. Only the South of Punjab or Seraiki Belt is feudal and I am sure that governance will deteriorate there if removed from central and northern Punjab which is progressive and more developed. Will we all start fighting about new provinces instead of working to improve the ones we have?

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  • Taha
    Apr 11, 2012 - 5:40AM

    Superb analysis from author. Your suggestion is the best, but it also the most controversial. i daresay, and the Comments show, that those in favour of ethno-linguism, the blight on Pakistan for so very long, will be none too happy at your denying ethnic provinces, while pushing for so many new administrative ones. But keep up the excellent work.

    @ Another Victim: author never said make just 2 provinces, is asking for overhaul and all sorts of smaller units coming in.

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  • Cindy
    Apr 11, 2012 - 6:05AM

    Another superbly written and informed article, lovely to see such insight in the Pakistani youth.

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  • Hazarewal
    Apr 11, 2012 - 7:11AM

    Asad Raheem Khan has actually put it better than any self-styled analyst on the issue. Excellent write-up. ET has put something up that doesn’t just pander to what the parties are saying. Our biggest problem is the FEUDAL STATE, and the prime minister that is using the seraiki issue for electoral positives. We need more provinces but not these ethnic fiefdoms. the marginalised must be given a say, but in an equitable system that this article calls for.

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  • Nelly
    Apr 11, 2012 - 7:16AM

    Less drones, more non-ethnic provinces. MORE FROM THIS AUTHOR.Recommend

  • Waleed
    Apr 11, 2012 - 7:20AM

    Best argument on the subject thus far. As someone who lives in the USA, more articles like these that bring clarity on complex issues is required publishing for ET. This is a great piece on a fairly dry subject.

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  • Russianroulette
    Apr 11, 2012 - 9:02AM

    Fact 1: Current size of the provinces is greater than many European and Asian countries.
    Fact 2. Leadership capacity to manage millions of people does not exist in Pakistan.
    Fact 3. The current lines were drawn by colonial cartographers based on what made sense to them then, along with the Indian border and the Durand line. (Must have had quite a few libations with them!)
    Fact 4. The quicker we create smaller administrative geographies with manageable populations, the more efficient the political accountability process will be.
    Fact 5. Since all we have done since the 80’s is talk about it, the fact is, no one can bell this cat.
    So… locate administrative centers based on the Army corps command centers… have as many centers as the army does, it will cut the cost for intelligence gathering!

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  • usmanx
    Apr 11, 2012 - 9:57AM

    The decision should be guided by what is best for Pakistan.

    Potential Benefits:
    Development of under served areas/peoples
    Address ‘tyranny of the majority’
    Improved Efficiency and governance
    More localized development

    Potential Threats:
    Continued Inter-Provincial Rivalry based on Ethnicity
    More Balkanization and bickering
    Majority greivance
    More incompetant governance and overhead
    Other demands for provinces

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  • Zahid
    Apr 11, 2012 - 8:15PM

    Good piece, and the comments helped my understanding further. But what of Balkanization with so many new administrations coming to be?

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  • Irshad Khan
    Apr 11, 2012 - 9:04PM

    A well thought and well written article, as the writer is a well educated young Pakistani. Who says provinces in the present form existed since centuries? This is distortion of history. Sindh was either part of Multan or part of Bombay province. In the same way provinces were further divided into States and tribe and Jagirdari Nizams; thus creating small units for good administrative control. The other reason is increase in population and you have to solve problems of 20times more people than 60/70 years back. Every problem is to be dealt with reasoning and logic and not on emotional basis.

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  • Seema
    Apr 11, 2012 - 11:59PM

    @Irshad Khan: Better read the history of Sindh, Multan was part of Sindh. During British occupation sindh was made part of British /Bombay presidency, Sindh existed since thousand yrs. Mind your history Plz.

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  • jahandad
    Apr 12, 2012 - 5:56AM

    we can easily smell the taste of bitter out come and hate increase if more provinces are created,. in my opinion all the provinces be dissolved and a central administrative authority ,,,,,be formed ,small administrative units of more than 300 so that no ethnic or cultural or language problem arise should be formed,,,,,we are all Muslims and Pakistanis[including minorities] and that identity is enough for our international exposure,,,,,,

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  • Cynical
    Apr 13, 2012 - 4:52PM

    Voice of reason.But who is listening?

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  • Raja Islam
    Apr 13, 2012 - 8:24PM

    @Seema:
    I agree with you fully. In the olden days India was divided between Sindh and Hind. The Indus valley basin was primarily Sindh and all the Seraiki belt was part of Sindh. Secondly at the time of partition, the five Indian provinces that comprised of Pakistan, joined Pakistan on the basis of maintaining their identities and it was more of a confederation rather than a dissolution of the provincial identity into one country.

    Creation of new provinces is simply a demand to satisfy the personal desires of a number of powerful individuals. The Chief Minister of the province controls the key to the finances of the province. Being in that position can be extremely rewarding to a corrupt individual. All the creation of new provinces will do is to increase the mis-governance, corruption and inefficiency in government. In addition, it will increase the chances of a civil war as no province would like a chunk of its territory to be broken off and handed over to another group. Think about it, would the Sindhis want to hand over their major cities and ports to Indian immigrants/ Would the Balauch want to hand over a part of their province to the Pashtun? Where will it all end?

    The solution to poor administration and bad governance is not to create bigger government, but is to make sure that the right people are put in the right positions.

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  • Darakhshanda Margalla
    Apr 18, 2012 - 12:47AM

    What a brilliant analysis. And those caught up in the nitty gritty of factual accuracy are missing the bigger picture altogether which this writer has done a great job of putting down on paper. Pakistan needs more Asad Rahims.

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