Monday, June 11, 2012

New Provinces

By Yasser Latif Hamdani

The emergence of new provinces holds out the most exciting promise of uniform development in our history. It also presents a constitutional solution to the lopsided federation that has existed so far. The number one issue in Pakistan that threatens the fabric of this nation state that exists today in the region is that of the inability of the central state structure to harmonise contending notions of identity working at cross-purposes. Therefore, the creation of new provinces is a welcome step in the right direction — the de-centralisation and rebuilding the state on the idea of unity in diversity. 

The first outcome of this development is the re-configuration of the Senate. Inevitably, this means a reduction of seats allocated to each province in the Senate. This obviously means that Punjab as it stands today will triple its representation in the Senate but given that there is no guarantee that the three provinces replacing the main big province will act in unison, the situation should be acceptable to the smaller provinces. This may however serve as an example for other provinces, which may be tempted to maximise control and representation by choosing voluntary division.

The creation of new provincial capitals necessitates an eventual assumption of all functions including judicial functions by a particular province. However, in the interim period, the Lahore High Court can act as the high court for all three new provinces. This is not without precedent. In the pre-1947 period, the Lahore High Court was vested with jurisdiction over not just Punjab but the province of Delhi as well through the Letters Patent by which it was formed in 1919. The eventual formation of new high courts at Multan and Baghdad-ul-jadid (which was originally a high court of the Bahawalpur State) will no doubt make access to the courts for redress of common grievances much easier. It would also relieve Lahore of the additional burden it undertakes on this count.

Devolution comes with numerous advantages. Multan and Bahawalpur would be elevated to major cities as provincial capitals enjoying the same status as Karachi, Lahore, Quetta or Peshawar. It would help the middle classes in these areas to come up and seek the advantages of newfound sovereignty. As provinces in the post-18th amendment scenario — which with the exception of five common subjects (wherein the items in the Federal list fit in neatly), i.e. foreign affairs, defence, currency, communications and national ideology — embodies the principles of conferral, proportionality and subsidiarity that make federalism in Pakistan on paper at least a model for all of South Asia. A new dynamic shift in power structures is likely, which will strike down the ‘GT Road dominance’ over national policy-making. The GT Road geographical mindset promotes unthinking militarist ultra-nationalism; with it would go Pakistan’s more severe ideological problems. Once the middle classes from these new cities come up, there will be a serious ideological shift in the country. 

The exercise should not stop here but also address the genuine grievances of various groups in the country. Making new provinces within the federation is a constitutional solution to many of our contentious issues. Already many marginalised groups, like the Christians, are demanding a province of their own. This might be too much for people to digest but to preserve the element of choice, it might not be a bad idea to also form a province as a large free zone area exempt from Pakistan’s Islamic laws and based on a strict separation of church and state. Minorities then could be enabled to live freely and develop their cultures as per the diktat of Article 2-A of the constitution. Even a theocratic Islamic state like Iran has a free zone with relaxed Islamic laws in Kish.

Pakistan is a multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society held captive in a straitjacket by a totalitarian centre that exploits the misguided idea of national ideology. By dividing and reconstituting, Pakistan can give expression to its diversity fully. As a state, Pakistan can go forward only by the consensus and participation of all stakeholders. Gone are the days of central rule and one unit. A new Pakistan is a Pakistan where people are active participants in determining their own destiny at every level. Having been lost forever between militarist statism and pseudo-democratic centrism, it is about time that Pakistan is re-imagined, re-cast, re-drawn and reorganised as a state along these lines. It is however not enough to merely state this and not give a solution. First, it would require us as Pakistanis to accept that it is a multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and even a multi-national state. And that a Pakistani citizen has multiple identities, encompassing multiple situations and multiple classes, that there is no hard and fast distinction between the majority and the minority but rather an accommodation between various identities and classes that contribute to making the state one whole.

The writer is a practising lawyer. He blogs at http://globallegalorum.blogspot and his twitter handle is therealylh

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