Undermining the Federation: Threat to take over Karachi

Published: September 25, 2019
The writer is a former Secretary to Government, Home and Tribal Affairs Department and a retired IG. He heads ‘Good Governance Forum’ and can be reached at aahah7@yahoo.com

The writer is a former Secretary to Government, Home and Tribal Affairs Department and a retired IG. He heads ‘Good Governance Forum’ and can be reached at aahah7@yahoo.com

The declaration of Dr Farogh Naseem to invoke Article 149(4) in Karachi to cope with the city’s deteriorating condition has sent alarm bells ringing far and wide in Sindh. He disclosed that the federal government could take over the administrative affairs of Karachi by enforcing a constitutional clause permitting it to do so. After seeking approval from the cabinet, the article would be exercised and in case of any resistance shown by the provincial government, they would approach the Supreme Court under Article 184(1) of the Constitution to seek a directive. If the province still resisted, they would file a contempt petition in the Supreme Court.

Both the ruling and opposition parties from Sindh, while reacting strongly to the move, believed this would lead to an ultimate separation of Karachi from Sindh, terming it dangerous and a conspiracy to divide Pakistan. The minister had no option but to backtrack due to the fierce opposition he had to face. He further explained his point that Karachi had nothing except for heaps of garbage, flies and a shortage of water, which the federal government wanted to fix. Essentially all such functions fall within the domain of the local government in the residue list of the Constitution of Pakistan. The most the federal government under Article 149 can do is issue directions, but in no circumstance can it assume charge of these functions.

The minister being well versed in the constitutional and political history of the country must be well aware of the sensitivities of the people of Sindh and also of the consequences of the ignoring such feelings in East Pakistan. He is not dealing with a case between two individuals or companies where legal hair-splitting matters have no consequence on general life. Touching sensitive issues and garnering support for separation of Karachi can potentially trigger the past acrimony amongst various groups thus plunging the whole city into a catastrophe.

The ruling elite purposely close their eyes to the deep attachment of the Sindhis to the history of Karachi when making such announcements. When the British took control of Karachi, it had a population of just 9,000 comprising mainly of Sindhis and Balochis. All Sindhis who matter have had permanent settlements in Karachi before the Partition of India. Sindhis, such as Sir Shah Nawaz played a monumental role in gaining the status of a separate province for Sindh during the British Raj. In 1935, Sindh became a separate province. Before this it was a part of Bombay Presidency. After the Government of India Act of 1935 came into force, Karachi shared an equal status with other bustling cities such as Bombay, Calcutta and Madras because of the continuous and untiring struggle of the Sindhis. Sir Shah Nawaz stated that, “On coming to Delhi the thought crossed my mind on how I could get the Council to pay more attention to the development of Karachi. I believed that with the development of Karachi the hinterland of Sindh would not escape the benefits. I therefore chose to concentrate on Karachi. Whenever I went to other places and particularly to Bombay, I tried to learn how to improve Karachi. Bombay was a much bigger city, but I looked upon it as a rival of Karachi.” With such proclamation, the value of Karachi’s land skyrocketed. Today, Karachi enjoys the status of a cosmopolitan city due to the prodigy of such persons.

Having such deep roots in the history of Karachi, the outburst was inevitable. People like Farogh Naseem have to be mindful that Pakistan is a federal polity in a structure which demarcates the boundaries of the federal government, the provinces and other organs of the state. Any article in respect of the federal character has not to be taken in isolation so to defeat the essence of federalism. Article 149(4) has to be read with other articles of the Constitution governing administrative, legislative, fiscal and local government affairs. The intent and purpose of the fathers of the Constitution is clear from the Preamble to the Constitution pronouncing that the territories included in Pakistan shall form a federation, wherein the units will be autonomous with such boundaries and limitations as may be prescribed. Article 1 of the Constitution declared that Pakistan should be Federal Republic of Pakistan. Thus, it is abundantly clear that each unit is autonomous within its own domain with no encumbrance on its power.

The 18th Amendment, regarded as one of the most comprehensive constitutional reform packages, has further transferred constitutional, legislative, policy formulation, administrative, and financial powers to the provinces concerning 17 ministries and departments. The most remarkable feature, ensuring provincial autonomy is the doing away of the vast Concurrent List of legislative subjects. With this, the provinces now enjoy exclusive legislative authority over the local government. The enhanced role of the Council of Common Interests (CCI) in relation to subjects of shared legislative interest between the centre and provinces provides a mechanism to sort out thorny issues.

Farogh Naseem, whilst ignoring the fractured history of Pakistan with his statement, has ignited the flames of the otherwise dormant Sindhi nationalism. He should work towards resolving the existing issues of governance including demands for shares in the natural resources and first claims over their use under the Constitution which have been denied so far. Such feeling of deprivation had led to militancy in smaller provinces and ethnic divide in the past. The separation of East Pakistan was also the result of such centralist tendencies. If history is any guide, the federal government and ministers must be careful of the sensitivities leading to ethnic divide at the cost of federal democracy.

The success of federal democracy is in supplementing and complementing each other within the orbit of the Constitution and listening to the voices of all federating units.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 25th, 2019.

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