The federation of Pakistan faces an unprecedented estrangement and discontent from its people in different provinces. A low level insurgency has continued in Balochistan since last many years but there is a visible intensity in it in recent times.
These unfortunate incidents demand an immediate and clear response and formation of a studied policy to address all old and new grievances. It is time to act beyond conspiracy theories and knee-jerk reactions. There are also other nationalist movements in Sindh, erstwhile FATA and Southern Punjab. Urdu- speaking urban population of Sindh in Karachi and Hyderabad has an old demand for a separate province.
Northern and central Punjab are the only areas where no such demands and movement are under way — and for a reason. This is the power hub and martial belt and it has always been peaceful. These different movements started due to economic and political injustice and now pose a serious threat to the federation. Another emerging and more dangerous threat is posed by the political instability and polarization caused by disputed elections and controversial regimes and regime changes.
‘Long marches’ and violence in politics are new phenomena that add to the existing problems. The nation stands divided into cults, factions, groups, parties and nationalities while the establishment and politicians are busy finding ways to manipulate and cling on to power. The economy is ruined and Pakistan stands internationally embarrassed as a result of its economic woes and growing political polarization.
Political response to these movements and problems, which were described as political issues by a large number of leaders and intellectuals who suggested a political solution thereto, came in the form of the 18th Constitutional Amendment (2010) that resulted into the transfer of greater administrative powers and economic resources to provinces.
It seems however that the underlying discontent did not subside or end after the 18th Amendment. The position seems to have only worsened as resources allegedly get squandered before reaching the needy. State’s response to the militancy and terrorism were several military operations and military courts.
Military operations and military courts had an apparent and substantial impact and success and threat level from being imminent and clear became occasional and low but did not end as the national action plan was not implemented. These operations heavily drained state’s human and economic resources. The people of areas affected by military operations immensely suffered and have fresh grievances against the state.
Pakistan is an historical federation and not a voluntary one. Prior to the British Raj, areas forming Pakistan were either controlled from Kabul or Delhi. Rulers were installed from there. The British brought these areas under their control through military might. Pakistan came into being out of the struggle of Indian Muslims for a separate homeland.
Events leading to the partition of British India and terrible blunders and machinations, leaving unfinished business of partition, the departing British Crown and its colonial Government sowed the seeds of hatred and belligerence in the subcontinent. Pakistan was formed of the provinces or parts thereof that were divided on unfair bases by the Boundary Commissions and constituted a federation under the Indian Independence Act.
The Government of India Act, 1935 envisaged a federation. It was adopted as the provisional constitution of Pakistan with some cosmetic changes. That Act had envisaged a strong federation to serve interests of the British Indian Empire. The establishment in Pakistan found it convenient to continue with the same pattern and policies due to the peculiar events and circumstances in the aftermath of the partition.
War in Kashmir (1947-48), influx of population from migration and poor economic conditions demanded a strong central government. East Bengal that became East Pakistan and West Pakistan comprised of West Punjab, Sind(h) and erstwhile NWFP and other areas and adjoining states acceding to Pakistan formed the new federation.
In this whole process and troubling constitution making from 1947 to 1956 aspirations of the people were never ascertained and taken into consideration and establishment had its permanent say in the affairs of the state.
All subsequent constitutions followed that pattern. The present constitution is also the result of painful events leading to the secession of East Pakistan (1971). It should have been realized that faith, concerned with spiritual and personal life, was insufficient to manage mundane affairs and act as a binding force in the face of diverse economic and political interests of the people. No lessons were learnt.
American founding fathers studied history and political institutions very carefully. The experience of confederation badly failed. Those wise men, well versed in history, learned and experienced in the business of the state, with undiluted national spirit got together and framed a constitution and a federation that has lived for over two hundred years.
It has survived wars, economic crises and Depressions. The institutions they forged and built and strengthened on sure foundations and common interests, with their hard work and impersonal approaches and largely moved by a national spirit kindled in their hearts from the sufferings by the brutalities of the British Crown during the war of independence, made them a world power.
A careful look at the preamble of the US constitution would show that the federation was formed to ensure domestic tranquility, provide for common defence and promote general welfare and secure blessings of liberty.
The Constitution of Pakistan is a consensus document and a social contract amongst the people of federating provinces. It equally promised greater goals. Had the Constitution been adhered to in its letter and spirit and state resources were distributed and opportunities to employment and livelihood were provided to the people in accordance with the principles of policies given in the Constitution, the federation would have stood like a solid rock in the face of all internal and external challenges.
Pakistan is a natural federation as the economic life and defence of all provinces is mutually dependent. The welfare of the people and promotion of general good and access to the resources can only be ensured through common defence and economic policies provided by the federation.
The state and institutions created under the Constitution must realize that the main cause of this estrangement and discontentment, which is now finding its expression through highly violent means, is the unequal distribution of state resources and constant denial of social, political and economic justice to the people.
The establishment, in order to keep its control over the political process and state affairs, since independence, has promoted classes and persons who had or created political and economic monopolies in their own favour and this policy eventually stopped genuine leadership to have access to power. All state institutions — Parliament, Judiciary and the Executive(s) and establishment must work in unison and strengthen this estranged federation by promoting common causes and facilitating access to political and economic justice promised by the Constitution.
The nation stands divided on political front. All opposition parties which have been questioning the legitimacy of the elections are now running federal government without any clear programme. The process of no-confidence motion has led to further complications, polarization and bitterness.
The underlying constitutional norm is that whenever democratic government becomes disputed it is always proper to go back to the people to obtain their fresh mandate as they are the real sovereigns. Best treatment for all these ills is promotion of real democracy and adherence to the Constitution. The federation will become powerful and strong only when it is built on cooperation and not under force and coercion.
(The writer is Advocate Supreme Court and a former Additional Attorney-General for Pakistan)
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022