A diversion to nowhere

Published: August 21, 2011
The writer was foreign secretary from 1989-90 and is a former chairman of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad

The writer was foreign secretary from 1989-90 and is a former chairman of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad

While a cacophony of incomprehensible voices dominates the so-called daily debates on dividing existing provinces in Pakistan in TV talk shows, a more serious discussion has fortunately begun in the print media. In a multi-lingual and multi-ethnic state like Pakistan, such reorganisation and the distribution of powers between the centre and the federating units are valid issues. In our case, the debate has erupted in the wake of long-awaited steps towards greater provincial autonomy but without being an organic extension of that devolution. More likely, its roots are in a Machiavellian group in the regime that raises issues to divert attention from poor governance, deepening economic malaise and unprecedented levels of corruption.

Prominent amongst the bits that can be understood in the TV talk shows are references to the large number of provinces in Afghanistan and Turkey and the considerable increase in the number of federating states in the Indian Union. The references to Afghanistan and Turkey are irrelevant as, in their cases, the word is a poor translation of what is called an administrative district in India and Pakistan. References to India betray a conspicuous lack of understanding of the processes that led to the multiplication of states.

The first major reorganisation of states in India took place in 1956. The Congress had been seized of the issue since the closing years of World War I. Gandhi was an ardent supporter of linguistic re-demarcation and the development of India’s 22 or more languages. He demanded it publicly in October 1947. Nehru disagreed at first as his plan for modernisation, rooted in his own brand of socialism, envisaged central planning for larger inherited administrative units. It was the language-driven unrest in the south, especially in the huge province of Madras, that made him accept the creation of new states. Subsequently, India carved out more provinces and autonomous territories to meet other expediencies particularly on its periphery. Invariably, there was resort to the time-honoured British practice of establishing high powered commissions of eminent people to study and report on the matter. It has not been a linear process. The Sarkaria Commission of 1983, for instance, investigated, amongst other things, if decentralisation had unnecessarily weakened a strong centre that India needed. The centre asserted its dominance by invoking Article 356, the real nemesis of state governments, frequently till some moderation was introduced by the checks and balances prescribed in the landmark Bommai Judgment of the Indian Supreme Court.

Unlike India, where empirical factors such as the rise of powerful regional parties and old traditions shaped decisions, Pakistan has seen arbitrary reorganisation such as the infamous One Unit that made any subsequent consideration of new provinces a highly explosive issue. Balochistan and Sindh are the foremost examples where the proximity/kinship argument discussed in Ejaz Haider’s enlightening two-part analysis in this newspaper would, in today’s inflamed situation, lead to reactions likely to rip the federation apart. Awami National Party’s gratuitous proposal to create a pseudo-Pashtunistan in Balochistan is both ill-timed and ill-considered. The situation of Punjab does not have the same incendiary emotions but it has not been scientifically studied. The plausible idea of a Seraiki province has been hyped up only to create a rival dynasty that could curtail the Sharif brothers’ realm. This is the surest way of vitiating this idea, a clear case of mala fide intentions.

Pakistan does not have the unifying and centralising agency of big internal ‘multinationals’ that knit the burgeoning private sector in India to the Union government and through it to its ‘neo-liberal’ international partners. Though the imperfect Indian economic model has sharpened disparities amongst the federating states, it does dilute centre-state polarisation.

Pakistan’s best option is for the government to abandon its diversionary tactics and focus on the restoration of law and order and the revival of the economy. It should be much more deliberate on the reorganisation of existing provinces and appoint a commission of public representatives and experts under a judge of impeccable credentials to formulate viable recommendations to satisfy local aspirations and make governance vastly more efficient, honest and creative. This is no time to create new Frankensteins that the government has hardly any capacity to flirt with.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 22nd,  2011.

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Reader Comments (15)

  • Tariq Mustafa Rizvi
    Aug 22, 2011 - 1:18AM

    @ Secretary Tanvir Khan

    Brave, incisive article, written with style and panache. We Pakistanis – the silent majority – hope and pray good sense will prevail and these charlatans will not be able to dismember the State of Pakistan to further their own underhand, odious goalsl.

    Great piece, thanks again



  • M. Y.Qaisrani
    Aug 22, 2011 - 1:22AM

    The learned writer, groomed & experienced in ‘Strong Center” milieu, has perhaps forgot that law & order is the primary responsibility of the provinces in Pakistan. But he has put it upon the Federal government. So far as the issue of creation of new provinces is concerned, that is not that ‘malafide’ as the writer wants us to believe. The will of the local people must be honoured and if some part of an existing province (for example Seraiki areas of the Punjab or Hindko-speaking Hazara areas in KPK) desire to have their own province, why the ruling elites should have objection to it.


  • Noor Nabi
    Aug 22, 2011 - 1:26AM

    Pakistan is beset with many serious issues; most of the issues are critical to it’s existence. The rulers should not create more problems. This is no time to create divisions; it is time to come together. The author is spot on with the thoughts expressed in this article.


  • Arindom
    Aug 22, 2011 - 2:23AM

    Religion is not a strong enough glue for nation-state with great diversity. It is time Pakistan realised that and shunned it’s recently-acquired culture of all-pervading religiousity, that too of the Arab variety which is alien. It causes more problems as it has painfully realised.

    Pakistan should instead bond strongly through it’s unique position of shared eithnic diversity blended with a beautiful and peaceful sufi tradition while retaining the colourful and rich sub-continental culture of music, poetry, dance and history.


  • My Name is Khan
    Aug 22, 2011 - 5:00AM

    While I am somewhat in favor of new provinces, I have to say this is a very well written and convincing article. Well done Sir.


  • samandar
    Aug 22, 2011 - 6:09AM

    Why should a judge be appointed to consider this issue. They neither have the competence nor i am afraid the integrity.


  • BruteForce
    Aug 22, 2011 - 8:45AM

    In India division of a state is just that, a division based on issues related to Governance. But, in Pakistan its much much more. People start fearing a division of the nation. Why is that?

    Some of the simplest things is India becomes very complex in Pakistan. We are not so same after all.


  • observer
    Aug 22, 2011 - 12:43PM

    Pakistan’s best option is for the government to abandon its diversionary tactics and focus on the restoration of law and order and the revival of the economy. It should be much more deliberate on the reorganisation of existing provinces and appoint a commission of public representatives and experts under a judge of impeccable credentials to formulate viable recommendations to satisfy local aspirations and make governance vastly more efficient, honest and creative.

    A greater body of empty rhetoric would be difficult to find. But let us look at the issues one by one,

    A. abandon its diversionary tactics– The question is , if creation of more provinces is the demand of the peple and if the proposal is also supported by the major political parties, even PMLN is in favour, then why should it be termed ‘diversionary tactics’. In the past too the same allegations were made in the case of 18th amendment.

    B. focus on the restoration of law and order– How does one focus on ‘law and order’ when the AG of Balochistan pleads in the SC, ‘Who can rein in the FC?’ And the General in Charge of Balochistan dismisses the abductions and killings as ‘traitors’ meeting resistance by ‘patriotic forces’. In short if the ‘enforcers’ of law and order are behind the chaos and disorder,how does one ”restore law and order”.

    C. It should be much more deliberate on the reorganisation of existing provinces– Duh, what was that about ‘reorganising the existing provinces’? What does it entail?

    D.appoint a commission of public representatives and experts under a judge of impeccable credentials– I should think that rules out all the PCO/LFO Judges. But given that it is a political issue, why have a judge lord over the elected representatives. How is the judge qualified to talk about ‘local aspirations’.

    E.to formulate viable recommendations– Viable according to who, the public representatives, the judge, the local aspirations, the provincial governments, the federal government, the GHQ or the writer of the article.

    F. satisfy local aspirations– This takes the bakery. Satisfy local aspirations by completely denying local opinion? Improve local governance by imposing ‘law and order’ from above? This must be an innovative take on satisfaction of local aspirations.

    And last but not the least, being un-India has been taken to great lengths, the current article seems to take it further. The thrust of the article seems to be-Don’t have more provinces because India has them.Very original indeed.


  • samina wajahat
    Aug 22, 2011 - 5:32PM

    @ Nabi Noor

    Dear Mr. Noor, I second your opinion entirely and that of the author. An erudite and immensely sensible article. It’s not as if we don’t have myriad complex issues to resolve – hardly the time to play with fire and relegate hugely important and existential issues to a low priority status. No way…. Fiddling around with what we have in place right now can trigger centripetal forces that could rip this country apart.



  • Khalid Rahim
    Aug 22, 2011 - 9:03PM

    @ Tanvir Khan. Sir just the word ‘ Machiavelli ‘ in your article gives food for thought and to
    follow the tirade of this issue from the cluster of the media one would assume that Pakistan
    will not exist if the provinces were not created before this government term expires.There is requirement of the provinces for imparting better governance and reducing travelling expense
    of the ordinary people.But far more important is the reduction of political parties in Pakistan.
    Otherwise the common person will continue to face the same problems they face today.


  • John
    Aug 23, 2011 - 9:28AM

    Once upon a time in this world there was a strong central federation that ignored the aspirations of diverse linguistic and ethnic populace of its federated states. The strong central authority federation called itself USSR. Despite its strong central government and abundant wealth, the federation was short lived in the history of this world.

    We learn history to correct the mistakes. Not to repeat it.

    Central Vs provincial government rights and privileges are not unique to Pakistan. Pakistan once failed to listen to the Bangladesh people. Should one need to elaborate further?

    Strong central government is one step closer to dictatorial government. Never worked in federated states, since Roman times.


  • Cynical
    Aug 23, 2011 - 4:59PM

    Division encourages more devision, been proved in the past and future will be no different.


  • Tanvir Ahmad Khanm
    Aug 24, 2011 - 1:42AM

    I am grateful for a most useful discussion from which I have benefited. A more careful reading would have made some criticism unnecessary. [email protected] I support the idea of a Seraiki province and right at the beginning note that it is a normal activity of federations to create more linguistic, ethnic and administrative provinces. My key observation was that by making the great blunder of One Unit we vitiated the issue and made it emotive and explosive. So in the present situation we should be very careful An analogy is the Kalabagh dam. It is no longer possible to discuss its pros and cons. Secondly @ judge as chairman of commission. It is a bitter truth but the nation is not willing to trust any politician or bureaucrat. It would be a large enough Commission and the rest would not be judges but politicians, technocrats, civil society reps etc. This has been our tradition. @ John: I am a former ambassador to Russia and i understand your point. We are beginning to devolve power to the existing provinces. It can be a dynamic process. Then there are practical difficulties. Creation of a new province requires a two-third majority in parliament and again two-third majority in the assembly of the province that is to be partitioned. It is impossible at this stage.also the Senate has an equal representation of all provinces. You divide the Punjab and each new province will have the same representation l turning Sindhis and Balochis in a minority vis a vis new “Punjabi” provinces. Sindh and Baluchistan cannot be split thr current inflamed [email protected] Force:Wrong.India began by creating linguistic and not administrative provinces. The Government is merely diverting attention from the urgent problems of the people.


  • Tanvir Ahmad Khanm
    Aug 24, 2011 - 1:53AM

    @Observer. your comment has the structure and style of a government agency tasked with issuing rebuttals. The readers will judge the arguments for themselves after reading the article and the comments. But the reference to being “un-India” is ridiculous. I recommend that we follow the Indian and the British example of appointing Commissions to investigate all aspects of the proposal and make recommendations that in a democracy go to parliament in the form of a bill from the Cabinet.I feel sorry for you that you had to use this argument. Was it drafted by one of your subordinates? Sad, very sad.


  • Tanvir Ahmad Khanm
    Aug 24, 2011 - 2:00AM

    @ Tariq Mustafa Rizvi and Samina Wajahat. I am deeply grateful for your kind observations. There is no alternative to being courageous. We don’t fully understand why but Pakistan’s very foundations are being shaken while the international community sings the Chorus of a “failed state”. I was Pakistan’s second ambassador to sovereign Bangladesh but I feel that the present crises are even more dangerous.God help us.


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