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Remaking Pakistan

In today’s context, what is important for Pakistan is the need to be stable politically and strong economically so as to be self-reliant and immune to external constraints and exploitation. This requires a holistic systemic change in our governance patterns.

Indeed, history never looks like history when you are living through it. Within less than quarter of a century of our independent statehood, we lost half the country. Some blamed it on our physically being a house divided not against itself but by sitting astride more than one thousand miles of a hostile India’s territory. The reality however was that as a newly independent nation, we just could not cope with the challenges of freedom inherent in our geo-political and structural fault lines. Language became our first bête noire. We are still possessed by the same ghosts in the name of culture, ethnicity and history.

Instead of removing our systemic weaknesses and reinforcing the unifying elements of our nationhood, our power-hungry politicians have always succumbed to narrowly-based self-serving temptations. They rejected the popular will freely expressed in the December 1970 elections, and instead of exploring political remedies to the resultant crisis went along a military solution. It was the height of political opportunism and a humiliating military debacle leaving Pakistan physically amputated; the worst that could happen to any country in the world. The real Pakistan disappeared with its tragic dismemberment.

The very reasons that precipitated the 1971 tragedy remained unaddressed in the new constitution which was adopted in 1973 under pressures emanating in the aftermath of the breakup tragedy rather than on merits of the document itself

The political government formed in 1973, soon had problems with two provinces, the NWFP (now KP) and Baluchistan, dissolving their governments and imposing governor’s rule in these provinces. This was followed by an armed uprising in some parts of Baluchistan. The then prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto then realised the need for systemic changes in the country. He went into early elections in the hope of two-third majority in the parliament to be able to amend the constitution. His plans were preempted by a military take-over.

Since then, the 1973 constitution has been amended eighteen times but no government has ever attempted to correct the systemic anachronisms in our federal structure or to redress provincial grievances. The so called ‘devolution’ under the eighteenth amendment provides no solution to the core issue of inter-provincial disparities. The problem is that the overbearing feudal and tribal power structure in Pakistan has been too deeply entrenched to let any systemic change take place. It doesn’t suit them. They have always resisted reform in the country which they fear will erode their vested power and influence base.

In the process, the country has failed to develop a sustainable democratic system based on constitutional supremacy and institutional integrity. The main casualties have been the state institutions and the process of national integration. The country has also been engaged in a precarious struggle to define a national identity and evolve a political system needed for its ethnically and linguistically diverse population. We, like most developing countries, are perhaps not yet fit for the parliamentary system. Britain struggled for centuries to reach its current parliamentary status. For us, it would be too long and too arduous a journey to be indefinitely chasing illusory goals.

Temperamentally, we are a ‘presidential’ nation. It is time we abandoned the system that we have never been able to practice, and explored an adult franchise-based ‘presidential system’ suitably designed for and tailored to Pakistan’s needs. We must also adopt the system of ‘proportional representation’ that ensures representation of political parties in national legislature proportionate to the percentage of popular vote they receive. It will provide greater access to non-feudal, non-elitist educated middle class people in elected assemblies. Also needed is rationalization of our federal system by revisiting our current ‘provincial architecture’ looking for a pragmatic solution to the problems of regional disparities.

We find our provincial system not only fueling misrule and corruption but also aggravating sense of inequality and deprivation among different parts of the country. There is already a strong veritable resentment in Balochistan and in other smaller provinces against what is seen as ‘continued Punjabi dominance’ and inequitable distribution of power and resources. In the former East Pakistan too, a similar deep-rooted sense of deprivation and a feeling of political and economic alienation became a politico-constitutional crisis culminating into demand for larger autonomy and leading eventually to the dismemberment of the country.

While large unequal provinces are always prone to breed and fuel secessionist mindsets, smaller provinces serve as a safety valve against such tendencies. Pakistan remains a unique example of a federation with almost no parallel anywhere in the world. No country, roughly equal to Pakistan’s geographical and population size has so few and so large provinces with such a large number of legislators, ministers, advisors, chief ministers, governors etc

“It is time we abandoned the system that we have never been able to practice, and explored an adult franchise-based ‘presidential system’ suitably designed for and tailored to Pakistan’s needs.”
The need for drastic change in our present anachronistic set up is urgent to get rid of the same old usurpers of the country’s politics, outmoded social and political structures and elitist-led status quo in our country.

At this time in our history, we need greater societal cohesion, not fragmentation. We cannot afford new controversies reviving the old ethnic and linguistic chasms. But if inter-provincial disparities are to be removed, we can’t simply wish them away. We need surgical remedies to root out the causes of instability. Papering of cracks will just not do.

We must remove the inherent flaws in our body politic by recasting our federal architecture and replacing the present four provinces with thirty or more administratively-determined provinces with some balance in their geographical expanse and population size, free of ethnic and parochial labels but still constitutionally keeping their ‘ethnic and historical identities’ intact.

To avoid any large-scale fresh re-demarcation of land boundaries and re-channeling of irrigations canals and tributaries, the best solution will be to convert the existing divisional commissionaries into new provinces headed by governors but with no provincial assemblies, cabinets, or secretariats at the provincial level making huge savings directly available for the wellbeing of the people. A Sindhi will remain a Sindhi even as part of Hyderabad, Karachi, Larkana, Mirpur Khas or Sukkur Province and so would be other nationalities.

The new ‘provinces’ should be headed by ‘governors’ appointed as at present by the Central Government. There should be no provincial assemblies, cabinets, or secretariats at the provincial level eliminating at least one tier of known redundancy that has thrived on dirty politics of greed and power with huge savings to be available for the wellbeing of the people. The basic unit of governance should be the present districts, each headed by an elected person with prescribed eligibility criteria, leaving for the recast provinces only an oversight role providing support to the district governments and maintaining liaison with the central government in terms of administrative, judicial, and financial matters.

The federal government should retain only ten to twelve ministries responsible to formulate and implement national policies in important areas notably defence, economy, education, foreign affairs, national security, law & justice, water & power, trade and communication. The sanctity of ‘separation of powers’ should be the basis of the federal system with three organs of the State functioning independently with usual checks and balances.

We must remember that Pakistan of 1947 could not survive even for twenty five years. Despite the 1973 Constitution, the remaining Pakistan continues to face threat of further disintegration mainly due to unaddressed concerns of different regions.  To avert the vicious cycle of known tragedies, we need a serious and purposeful “national effort” involving a holistic review of our governmental system and a parallel discourse among major political stakeholders and key civil society segments including the media and lawyer’s community to explore and evolve a national ‘remedial and recovery’ plan before it is too late. Elections alone will not make any difference. The system itself must change.

Sometimes, when the gravest of problems stare us in the face, we choose to ignore it just because we find that we can’t do anything about it. And in most cases, we just ignore it and carry on with life, at times ridiculing those who speak of the need to set things right. As a country and as a nation, at this critical phase in our history, we cannot just leave ourselves to the vagaries of time or at the mercy of our corrupt and incompetent rulers. We can’t even innocently continue to believe that everything will be alright, magically or providentially.

In today’s context, what is important for Pakistan is the need to be stable politically and strong economically so as to be self-reliant and immune to external constraints and exploitation. This requires a holistic systemic change in our governance patterns. Our present rulers have been amply tested and inspire no hope. The nation desperately looks for an alternative, someone with integrity and credibility and a governance and economic recovery plan with an able team to remake the State of Pakistan like Korea’s Park Chung- hee, Malaysia’s Mahathir and Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew.

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