PAKISTAN RESOLUTION 1940 AND PROVINCIAL AUTONOMY
Mar 24 - 30, 2008
"No constitutional plan would be workable or acceptable to the Muslims unless geographical contiguous units are demarcated into regions which should be so constituted with such territorial readjustments as may be necessary. That the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in majority as in the North-Western and Eastern zones of India should be grouped to constitute independent states in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign." (A declaration of historic Pakistan resolution presented on 23rd March, 1940 in Iqbal Park Lahore)
Each year, Pakistanis enthusiastically celebrate the 23rd of March to commemorate the most outstanding achievement of the Muslims of the subcontinent who passed the historic Pakistan Resolution on this day at Lahore in 1940. The resolution crystal-clearly presented an independent and sovereign federal state for the Muslims of the subcontinent in which the constituent units or provinces would enjoy greater autonomy. What to speak of a "greater autonomy", the provinces even did not enjoy discretion in matters, which are purely the provincial subjects. The centre like a "mega magnet" grabbed all the powers of the federating units making the provinces weak and dependent upon the central government for running their affairs. The long period of military dictatorship and quasi-dictatorship further empowered the centre at the expanse of the provinces.
There has been a tussle between center and the provinces on the issue of provincial autonomy since the creation of Pakistan. Over-centralism, unitary type of governance and arbitrary nature of decision-making has actually alienated the smaller provinces and strengthened their demand for provincial autonomy. All the powers, which the constitution has given to provinces, are currently vested with the centre. This power grabbing by the centre has weakened the provinces and strengthened the central authorities. In fact, the existing criterion for distribution of national resources is based on political indicators; stronger the province politically, the bigger would be its share in the resources.
Balochistan presents a classic case of a small and impoverished province, which has ever remained at the mercy of centre for meeting its financial needs and obligations. It is because of the dominance of central authorities in the National Finance Commission that the province feels stronghold of the centre over its natural resources. This dominance finds its full manifestation in economic planning, policy and decision-making processes in Islamabad. The province has witnessed at least four insurgencies since the creation of Pakistan. Military operations launched to quell these insurgencies intensified the sense of alienation in the province. The insurgents have been demanding their economic and political rights, which can only be achieved if the centre gives provincial autonomy to the federating units, as enshrined in the Constitution of 1973.
If centuries-old feudal system is generally blamed for the prevailing backwardness in the province, then it has been the successive governments that perpetuated this system through their certain initiatives, policies and decisions. Since independence, the people of the province have been anguishing under the official and feudal systems of exploitation and discrimination.
Balochistan has been in throes of financial crisis since 1970 when it got the status of fourth province of Pakistan. The province has been managing to run its affairs on loans and subventions and hopes and promises. After revival of provincial status, it was faced with certain problems of key importance such as lack of physical and institutional infrastructure for governance. It is because of the less financial autonomy granted to the province that the Baloch nationalist parties resent over the Islamabad's firm control over the way the province's economy is managed. Merely loans, subventions and promises can not get the province out of its perennial financial problems.
The social sector indicators in Balochistan are among the most challenging in South Asia. A World Bank education economist recently observed, "Some districts in Balochistan have the lowest enrolment and literacy rates in the world, with one district recording only two per cent enrolment at the primary level." The last year's National Economic Survey (NES) revealed that the province had proved to be the slowest with only a two percent increase in its literacy rate during the past seven years. The survey placed it in the lowest rank of literacy rate among both males and females and the lowest ranking in the Gender Parity Index (GPI). It also lags behind all the three provinces in the Net Enrolment Rate (NER). Its total literacy rate is 34 percent against the national literacy rate of 52 percent.
The health indicators like infant and mother mortality are poorer than any other province.
According to an estimate, only in 5 out of 30 districts, sanitation is accessible to more than 51% of the population; in nine districts adequate sanitation is available to 26ñ50% of the population, and in 13 districts, household sanitation coverage is only 4ñ25%. Access to sewage disposal infrastructure is largely absent. In most districts, less than 3% of the population has access to wastewater disposal facilities. Nearly one half of the population of Balochistan relies on unprotected wells, ponds, canals, or streams for their drinking water needs.
The Islamabad's decades-old policy of neglect and discrimination has actually trapped the province in underdevelopment. For instance, an offer from a UAE Sheikh for construction of Mekran coastal highway in 1979 was politicized and rejected by the official circles in Islamabad on the ground that a foreign company could not be allowed to work in a region of immense geo-strategic importance. Another offer from a Russian company during 1980s for construction of Mirani dam in Mekran also met the same fate. Pak-Iran textile mills at Quetta and Uthal, established in 1979 with the assistance of Iran were abruptly closed down when they had reached the production stage making thousands of people jobless. Similarly, Saindak copper project in Chagai district was also abruptly closed down in 1996 when trial production had been started.
The undue centralism denies the spirit of Pakistan resolution, which in fact endorses that strengthening the federating units can only strengthen the federation. The major grievance of the smaller provinces against the centre has been about transferring the subjects on the concurrent list to the provinces. The members of National Assembly from Balochistan had signed the 1973 Constitution on the condition that the concurrent list of subjects would be reviewed after 10 years in 1983. But what to speak of 10-year period, even after lapse of 34 years, the concurrent list has not been reviewed and transferred to the provinces.
As the new coalition government is poised to manage the country's affairs following last month's general election, it is the right time to take a final decision on provincial autonomy issue, as further delay in this matter would cause more desperation and alienation in the smaller provinces like Balochistan. Moreover, if autonomy to the provinces is not granted, the devolution plan will not complete and ultimately end in smoke.