Report by Khalid Hashmani, McLean, Virginia, USA
On Friday, March 20, 2009, the World Sindhi Institute (WSI) organized an international seminar on the topic of “Federalism and Democracy – Pakistan’s Experience and Challenges” at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington DC… The very well-known expert on Pakistan affairs, Mr. Stephen Cohen (Senior Fellow at Brookings Institution) attended the seminar and made brief comments.
A report of this meeting based on the notes that I took at the meeting is shared with you below and I hope you would find it worthy of inclusion in Indus Asia Online Journal.
Federalism and Democracy – Pakistan’s Experience and Challenges
International Seminar Organized by: The World Sindhi Institute (WSI)
The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies
John Hopkins University, Washington, DC
Room#806, The Rome Building, 1619 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036-2213
Friday, March 20th, 2009
12 Noon to 3:15 PM
Embattled with poverty, lawlessness, environmental degradation, cross-boarder conflicts, and swelling population, Pakistan continues to operate under the pretext of state Islamization inspired by nuclear empowerment, state militarization, and US Aid guarantees. Corrupt and undemocratic mode of governance engineered by military and civil-bureaucracy with little to no regard for its founding principles of constitutional democracy, secularism, rule-of-law, provincial autonomy, and basic human rights, the state is once again at the brink of social and political debacle.
· Is Pakistan ready for constitutional democracy and embrace secularism?
· Can centralization be replaced by provincial Autonomy and sovereignty?
· Can judiciary be independent and the rule of law be restored?
· Can there be a development-path which is sustainable, and accessible to all people and all regions of Pakistan?
The seminar is designed to invoke a meaningful dialogue among students, academics, scholars, and activists alike who are particularly concerned about the future of Pakistan and its relationship with the international community.
Mr. SUHAIL ANSARI of WSI was the moderator of the session. He welcomed the participants and maid on the situation in Pakistan, He said many in the USA perceive Pakistan as one homogenous country just like the USA forgetting that Pakistan is a country where four distinct nations live each with its proud history and cultural heritage. The poly advisors must take into account this cultural diversity when assessing and recommending the solutions to Pakistan. Consideration of provincial rights has to be taken into into account in order to find sustainable, justifiable, and realistic solutions in Pakistan. He added that the present constitution and the ruling establishment has failed in meeting the expectations of people and there is an urgent need to bring about structural changes that restore the provincial rights that provinces that were committed as the part of the formation of Pakistan.
The presentation by Mr. JAMI CHANDIO is summarized as follows:
CURRENT STATE OF FEDERALISM AND DEMOCRACY IN PAKISTAN
So far, Pakistan has neither been a federal state in a true sense nor a democratic country. There is a large gap between how the establishment and elite see the country and how the real people, particularly in small provinces see and feel the country. We have “Electricity” not “Democracy”! Sure, on and off there are elections in Pakistan but true freedoms that are part and parcel of democracy continue to remain absent. The civil and military bureaucracy along with the elite class feel that it is they who know how Pakistan should be run and that they have every right to rule it their way. Parliaments cannot discuss matters of substantial importance such as military expenditures. In a state, where Parliament does not have jurisdiction on everything cannot be called a democratic”: state. It is interesting that the “Charter of Rights” is discussed in streets and debated in seminars, but never in the Parliaments of the country. In our country, “agencies” are given free hand to conspire and manipulate political parties. For democracy to take roots in Pakistan, political parties must be given some free space and have real freedoms to pursue their programs. Finally, “democracy has no meaning without constitution. Unless all amendments that were illegally made to the constitutions by various dictators are removed, democracy can never flourish in Pakistan.
HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE ON FEDERAL STRUCTURE
It is simply a propaganda that Pakistan was created to be religious country. In fact it was created because the Congress Party was reluctant to accept maximum provincial autonomy that some provinces in the United India wanted. The Muslim League was not originally established to be a separatist party but rather the party to secure maximum provincial autonomy for areas where Muslims were in majority. Jami gave examples of several events and quoted from speeches of the founder of Pakistan to make this point eloquently. The separation of Pakistan was rather done in hurry as British wanted to quit India and there was just not enough time left to complete tedious negotiations on provincial autonomy. The Muslim League’s opposition to the separation was obvious when it rejected a proposal by Allama Iqbal for a separate country consisting of Sindh, Punjab, and NWFP in 1930. Muslim League lost election in 1973 even in those provinces because it failed articulate the idea of autonomy and sovereignty of provinces. The idea of a separate state only got traction after the 1940 resolution which committed that provinces will be autonomous and sovereign. Pakistan was not created to be a religious country but rather a state where provinces enjoyed more autonomy than in India.
Commenting on Sindh’s decision to join Pakistan, Mr. Chadio said that Sindh had very bad experience with Bombay Presidency primarily due to over-centralization. Seeing Pakistan as an opportunity to maintain its autonomy it opted for Pakistan instead of India due to the commitment of autonomy embedded in the 1940 Resolution.
Unfortunately, the promise of autonomy proved to be simply a deception as the Pakistani provinces enjoy even lesser autonomy than in India. At the outset, the Pakistani leaders maneuvered towards strong central government when instead of adopting a new constitution right away, the founding leaders simply announced that the government will run in accordance with the 1935 Act.
The original political struggle by then East Bengalis (later called East Pakistanis and now Bangladeshis) was focused on autonomy and not on separation. The six-point manifesto of Awami League was very reasonable and in accordance with the 1940 resolution except for the demand of having two currencies.
In spite of three constitutions, the commitment of provincial autonomy alludes Pakistan. The 1956 constitution was mere a copy of 1935 Act and highly centralized. The 1962 constitution was simply a figment one dictator’s perspective, General Ayub Khan. The 1973 constitution was supposed to have ushered an era of provincial autonomy after the “concurrent Lists” were abolished within ten years. Those ten years have become many decades of pain, sorrows, and destabilization with no end in sight for the highly centralized system of today.
ECONOMIC CONTRASTS IN PAKISTAN
The Pakistan where military and other elite even enjoy better living standard than in the USA. The Pakistan of poor people face one of the worse economic conditions in Asia. After 63 years in existence, Balochistan, a province rich in resources has very few hospitals and schools, yet there are 18 cantonments in this province, a province having a population of only few millions . The people of Balochistan have the right to fight for their rights. No wonder when they are constantly ignored and the leaders that are traditionally non-separatists killed just because they demand autonomy and due rights to their resources.
POLITICAL PARTIES IN PAKISTAN
In answer to a question on the future of PPP, Mr. Chadio said that Pakistan Muslim League Party -Nawaz Group (PML-N) is a provincial party whose roots are confined to only one province – Punjab. On the other hand PPP is a true federal party with substantial presence in all four provinces of Pakistan. Although the present leadership of PPP is not delivering on the promises it made to people, if they genuinely start implementing their manifesto, particularly on the issue of provincial autonomy, NFC award, recognize rights of provinces on their resources, and fair water distribution from Indus river, they can retain their number 1 position in Pakistan. A questioner commented that the current nexus among PML-N, Jamat-i-Islami, and military for the restoration of Chief Justice will evolve into a powerful religious oriented group that would not only be perceived by India as threat but also in Bangladesh referring to the recent press reports about Pakistan’s intelligence agencies having some role in the recent armed uprising by a small group in Bangladesh. There are doubts that this alliance could last for long as the three small provinces would perceive it as troika of hegemony against them and would resist it. More over, the movement for provincial autonomy has gained enough traction and any power-base that is solely founded on institutions mainly centered in Punjab would not be accepted in other three provinces.
SOLUTION IS PROVINCIAL AUTONOMY FOR FOUNDING PROVINCES AND NOT CREATING MORE MORE PROVINCES/ADMINISTRATIVE DIVISIONS
Mr. Chadio said that in a recent seminar, he was surprised a Pakistani presenter pushing the idea of 16 provinces to be created in Pakistan. There is a misconception that merely dividing Pakistan into 16 or 22 administrative divisions will address the issue of de-centralization. The demand for the provincial autonomy is from the founding provinces and originates from the the founding principle of 1940 resolution. Any attempt to deny this historical fact will lead to a civil war in Pakistan.
COMMENT BY STEPHEN COHEN
In a brief comment, Stephen Cohen said he had gained a lot of new information in today’s center. He added that he is vey happy that the new US administration is heavily involved on the side of democracy in Pakistan.
A COMMENT BY BALOCH NATIONALIST
A Baloch nationalist, who was in attendance said that Mr. Jinnah (founder of Pakistan) cheated Balochistan and as an attorney broke Balochistan’s trust by not representing it faithfully in the negotiation that led to the amalgamation of Balochistan into Pakistan. He remarked that Punjabi Muslim military of Pakistan continues to brutalize Baluch people. He said it is wrong to say that there are 5 million Baluch. In fact there are 15 million Baloch in Pakistan and Iran. He said how can any one believe that there will be positive changes when Muslim Generals of Pakistan continue to say even now that even USA would one day be converted to Islam. He criticized panelists for including Balochistan as a “Provincial Autonomy seeking” nation. He concluded by saying that “We will never be part of Pakistan no matter what”.
Ms FAUZIA DEEBA’s INTERVIEW WITH ZAHID MAKHDOOM
Ms FAUZIA DEEBA takled about her interview with Mr. ZAHID MAKHDOOM (a Director of WSI) as he was stranded at the San Fracisco Airport on his way to attend the seminar. She said that Mr. Makhdoom was of the view that Pakistan was a failed state, where often election results are manipulated and only those appropved by the establishment are elected. Pakistan is a failed state in a sense that there no rule of law and there is no constitution. Various dictartors have been able to manipulate, amend and abuse constitution and people. The federal government has become subverient of the largest province, where trempling the rights of small provinces is institutionalized. The central government instead of becoming a partner in federation has been hijacked to serve the interest of only one province. The central government has largely become hegemonic that only works for the benefit of Punjab. hope that Pakistan would become a truly federal and democratic state in near future. The recent restoration of illegally fired Chief Justice of Pakistan is a good omen. Its success has much to do with the fact Justice Iftikhar Choudhry was a Punjabi and the movement had overwhewlming support in Punjab and later supported by the USA. A similar firing have happened to a Sindhi Cheif Justice by a Punjabi Prime Minister, but no one shed a tear on his fate. Mr. Makhdoom believed that there is no hope that Pakistan would become a truly federal and democratic state in near future. This situation can be reversed if the following developments occur:
(a) Pakistan military is out of politics for ever.
(b) Pakistan ceases to be part of global imperial domination.
(c) Pakistan recognises that it is through “peace” only that solutions can be found to Pakistan’s problems and shuns language of war against Baluch and Sindhis.
STEPS TO RESOLVE ISSUES IN PAKISTAN
1. Pakistan needs a powerful senate with equal number of seats from each of the four provinces. The Senate should be elected directly by the people and enjoy similar powers as the US Senate including right to initiate monetary bills. It should be similar to the USA Senate with the same number of seats for each province and no other territory or non-provincial entity has any Senators (e.g., American Samoa, Washington DC, Costa Rica, etc.).
2. It is too late andtoo little to simply restore 1973 constitution. It is imperative that a constituention assembly be formed to implement new constitution that is based on the letter and sprit of 1940 resolution.
3. The role of military should be minimized and military should be decentralized. The DEfence policy of the country should be formed by the Parliament and not by a hihh-level military council.
4. US must not support changes that weaken provincial governments by shifting jurisdiction of critical areas from provincial governments to local municipal level governments.
5. There should be minimally as much autonomy as provinces and states enjoy in Canada, India, and/or the USA.
6. We should recognize “right of self determination” of Baluchistan and accept the verdict if they want to have a separate state.
7. The US must recohnize that it is in their interest to have an even-handed policy in dealing with all provinces. Sinding with military and civilian leaders of one province would would be damaging to the return of peace in this region.
OTHER COMMENTS AND QUESTIONS
1. Disband current military structure, create a new military that represents democrtatization.
2. JIhadis are a strategic tool of Pakistani military.
3. Except in parts of Karachi, Sindh’s civil socity is quite strong and Jihadis will never make any head way there. MQM poses more serious threat to Sindhiyat (Sindhi sufi tolerance and respect for diversity) in the long term than Jihadis.
4. Do not under-estimate the influence of Jihadis within the Pakistani military. The military is not what used to be 25-30 years. The recrutment since Zia’s time has emphasized religious leanings.
Please note: Khalid Hashmani is a veteran human rights activist in Washington DC. He is the founding President of Sindhi Association of North America (SANA) and Chief coordinator of Sindhi Excellence Team (SET) that participates in advocacy activities on behalf of rural Sindhis. He can be reached at email@example.com
Courtesy: via Sindhi e-lists/ e-goups.