Issue of power sharing between center and different units of federation has always been a topic of great importance in Pakistan. In a country, which was founded on the basis of a common ideology of Islam but itself is consisted of a diversified demography, adapting a centralized common system becomes a very tricky question.
The diversity in our society is not only in terms of culture, linguistics, races, life style and living standards but if we look at religion, diversity is their to a large extent despite us being an Islamic State and vast majority is Muslim. Not only religious diversity is there in the form of different religious minorities but within the majority Muslim population presence of different sects with range of conflicting issues have created many problems in terms of legislation and implementation of law.
Distribution of resources and authority to run their affairs has also seen its share of conflicts in our country. The biggest example is the fall of Dhaka when more than half of our population felt that their rights are not been given by the authorities controlling the center. Even after the fall of Dhaka smaller provinces have felt the similar feelings. This issue of provincial autonomy has always played an important part in the electoral politics of the country. Even if we see the current parliament, we can clearly see the strong provincial and ethnic color of our political base.
The history of our country shows that these demographic diversity and provincial autonomy issues are not tackled well by our mainly centralized system. Whether we see feudal-corporatist democratic periods or military dictatorships, the tensions between different communities and regions have increased over the time. This situation indicates us of adapting a different approach of running our affairs related to governance, legislation and economy which will not only cater the problems mentioned above but ensure a sustainable progressive path for our future. This type of system will require the loosening of grip by centralized power structure over our national affairs, in other words we need a decentralized governance, legislative and economic structure.
Decentralization of governance means a state gives majority of authority and control to the lower levels of administration for e.g. provinces and local bodies. In this the decision making process will be in a bottom-up model i.e. decisions are taken at the local and gradually passed on to the center and in most cases passing on to the center is not required. This type of governance model will ensure that governance decisions and structuring of institutions is done according to the needs of local requirements for e.g. policing system of Karachi may not work well in FATA and Dera-Bugti.
If we see in past several steps have been taken like setting up local bodies, establishing alternate policing structure in the form of FC or giving some departments to the provinces. But the main problems was and still is the upper hand of central government and flow of resources from center to the federation constituents. The big size of the government also plays a negative role in implementing decentralization of governance as we see several ministries and departments work where there is no requirement of government at all.
The other thing which we need to do is to decentralize the process of legislation. Even thought we are a dominant Muslim state but still our customs and cultures vary from area to area in our country. Also the presence of different religions, sects and social communities demands for a legislative system flexible and capable enough to cater the needs of regional and social diversity. This can be achieved by keeping the centralized common laws as minimum and delegate the legislative powers to regions and social communities. By giving legislative powers to social communities means law making related to a particular social community should be done by the representatives of those communities. Careful provisioning can be done to ensure basic human rights and conflicts of interest.
Now the issue will come of handling the situation where different people from different social and religious backgrounds are involved in a dispute. This can be done through social contracts between communities like “Meesaq e Madina”, empowering civil courts to resolve disputes based on social customs and some careful central legislation just to resolve disputes between different social communities can be made.
After governance and legislation, we see how we can run our economic affairs more efficiently and transparently. It is again an issue of great discussion in Pakistan whether the state should control the economy and run the institutions like steel mills, PIA itself or not. But if we look our history more than having the issue of it should or should not, the issue is the capability of the state of doing it. We have seen huge corruption scandals involving key government and establishment personalities being highlighted in media and taken up by courts. Most of the time the main reason behind other than greed is having too much discretionary powers. If we see many of these powers are a result of unnecessary state involvement and undesired regulations. All these not only lead to corruption but also result in economic loss as a result of inefficiencies created.
Therefore regulation, in areas other than where it is required to cater corruption and social benefits, should be removed and free market economy is needed to be promoted. The discretionary powers of licensing and quotas needed to be eliminated so that fair play can take place and more economic opportunities are created. Privatization is also a key element of decentralization of economy but it needs to be fair and transparent otherwise it will be counter productive and will result in more economic instability.
The two key steps we need to do to achieve decentralization and reap its benefits are strengthening the judiciary and to reduce the size of state. Strengthening judiciary is necessary in order to ensure smooth running of affairs between different federal constituents and social communities. In absence of a strong, independent and impartial judiciary we cannot expect any smooth running and harmony among different constituents of our country. Luckily through recent lawyers movement we have at least come to the point where a big portion of our society has realized the importance of having a strong and effective judicial system. The other thing which we need and as discussed above is reducing the size of our government. This is necessary to create more economic opportunities and more freedom.
If we look at the 18th amendment, the situation is not that promising. On one hand if they have dissolved the concurrent list, the parliament on the other hand has strengthened an unelected party head who will be in actual the ruling authority whether in center or in provinces. The biggest thing which happened in 18th amendment is weakening the judiciary and making them dependent on parliamentarians by forming judicial commissions and parliamentary review committee. This will not only pave way for corruption and lack of accountability but it will also endanger the rights of people not represented by the elected parliamentarians or not represented by the government as judiciary is supposed to be an institution safe guarding the basic human rights of all people including those who didn’t vote for the government or don’t give votes at all.
If we look at our history main challenge we face towards achieving decentralization is political will not the lack of capacity and resources. Our national politics is mainly dominated by our military establishment and feudal-corporatist political class who are mainly interested in having the tight grip over the country affairs, economic resources and political decision making. This totalitarian approach has given us nothing except for miseries and sense of deprivation and hopelessness for our people.
Even though slogans like provincial autonomy, provincial harmony, devolution of power have played key roles in country politics but not much in true sense has come out. Its high time for us to re-think our strategy as a nation and decide how we should proceed towards our future course in time. Decentralization is not only necessary for efficient and smooth running of our affairs but it will give more freedom, confidence and sense of ownership to our people.
– Faisal ur Rahman