Pakistan – Debate on provincial autonomy

by:  ZULFIQAR HALEPOTO, Secretary, Sindh Democratic Forum, Hyderabad

Courtesy: Daily Dawn, Thursday, 13 Aug, 2009

TWO months ago an advertisement appeared in leading national dailies in which the ministry of provincial coordination, government of Sindh, solicited civil society to submit proposals and recommendations to the government regarding provincial autonomy. The content of the advertisement gives an impression that provincial autonomy is an important issue and the centre is seriously seeking suggestions from provinces to resolve the autonomy issue. The formation of the Council of Common Interests (CCI) and the National Finance Commission to work out for fair distribution of resources are the arguments given by the government about the seriousness of the regime to decentralise powers of the centre. However, during its 15 months in power the government has only demonstrated overcentralisation of power in the presidency.

In the context of Sindh, the issue of PPP-MQM love-and-hate relationship and the issue of the ownership of Thar coal are clear examples of the encroachment of the presidency upon the affairs of the provincial administration.

Distribution of powers between the federation and federating units, an essential part of federalism, still remains the most controversial issue. Although the 1973 Constitution and the 1940 Lahore Resolution give autonomy to the provinces, so far it has remained unimplemented because of political confusion created by military dictatorships and authoritarian democratic regimes.

The lack of provincial autonomy had caused dismemberment of the country in 1971 and eroded the people’s trust in the centre.

This could directly be attributed to the federal government having a greater say in legislative affairs, its frequent meddling into administrative affairs of the provinces, unilateral decisions regarding mega projects, and reduced provincial autonomy over natural resources.

In March 2009 a resolution passed by a meeting of the PPP parliamentary party in Islamabad and co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, said that the PPP, on behalf of the people of Pakistan, apologise to the people of the province of Balochistan for the atrocities and injustices committed against them and pledge to embark on a new highway of healing and mutual respect.

This statement was considered a serious effort by the government in the light of Benazir Bhutto’s commitment to the nation in the Charter of Democracy and Election Manifesto, but later on the continued operation against the citizens of the province proved a political statement only.

In other resolutions in the same meeting, the party pledged to “work to give maximum provincial autonomy to the provinces” within the framework of the 1973 Constitution, and demanded deployment of traditional local levies instead of the police in Balochistan.

The move was in line with a recent statement by Mr Zardari that the party would like to talk even to people “who have gone to mountains” (to fight) in search of a national reconciliation.

This was also the thinking of assassinated PPP leader Benazir Bhutto who had specially gone to Balochistan after her return home from self-exile to offer condolences over the killing of former provincial governor Akbar Khan Bugti in a military operation in August 2006.

Same commitments were made by the president to the people of Sindh on fair distribution of water, NFC and governance issues of Sindh.

If rulers are sincere, they should give provinces freedom to take their own decisions, and the centre should address provinces’ apprehensions as regards the ‘national and democratic’ status of the country.

Source – http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/letters-to-the-editor/debate-on-provincial-autonomy-389

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