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Afraid of devolution? -by I.A Rehman

WONDERS never cease. In the second decade of the 21st century, the transfer of power to the units of a federation has been made controversial! Efforts are being made to help the centre retain the privileges that rightfully belong to the provinces.

No student of politics will deny that Pakistan broke up in 1971 largely as a result of the policies designed to make the centre strong at the expense of provincial rights and aspirations. Nor can anyone forget that the failure to restore to the provinces what has always been due to them poses the greatest threat to the state’s integrity today.

We are also familiar with the arguments employed while calling for making the hands of one ruler or another strong. It was said the country faced so many threats that a centrally organised security edifice alone could preserve its integrity. The centre alone had the mental and physical wherewithal to achieve economic progress. In an Islamic state there could be only one centre of power and Pakistan had a special reason to crush centrifugal forces and fissiparous tendencies which were being fanned by the enemies of the state — democrats, secularists, advocates of the nationalities’ rights, separatists, et al.

For six decades, the politics of Pakistan revolved around the federal question. Any stratagem that could prevent the state from becoming a federation was in order — the fiction of parity, the abolition of provinces in the western part of the original state, the imposition of martial law and the state’s declaration of war against the majority nationality and the smallest nationality both. No wonder almost all democratic movements in the country have had their origins in the federating units’ struggle for self-government.The central demand was that the centre should keep only three or four subjects such as foreign affairs, external security, currency and communications. All other subjects — internal security, local government, planning, education and social welfare — were to be restored to the provinces.

It is in this context that one should examine the national consensus on re-designing the polity by meeting some of the main demands of the federating units. The endorsement of the 18th Amendment by all shades of opinion in parliament is nothing short of a miracle. It not only marks a giant stride towards realising the promise of the 1973 constitution, in several respects it surpasses the 1973 consensus.

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