Yet again a debate and need for creating new administrative units or provinces have been felt in the country, as the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) legislative assembly passed a resolution for carving out Hazara province. Importantly, the resolution was passed with a majority as the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and the mainstream opposition parties, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), all supporting the resolution. Only the self-proclaimed Pakhtun nationalist Awami National Party (ANP) opposed the resolution.
The passage of the resolution by the provincial assembly concerned is the foremost constitutional requirement for carving out a new province. The other constitutional requirement is that the bill containing the legislation is introduced to the National Assembly (NA) and if it is passed by the House and the Senate, the Upper House, it would come into effect. At least, there is no hurdle to the creation of Hazara province if the parties that have supported the resolution in the KP Assembly support it in the National Assembly and the Senate of Pakistan. All these parties, if united on the creation of Hazara province, could easily muster a two-thirds majority in each of the two houses to get the bill passed. Whether all these political parties would do so or not is another debate.
There cannot be two opinions about the creation of new provinces and administrative units in Pakistan. However, the provinces and administrative units should not be created on the basis of ethnicity. Already, whatever provinces we have in Pakistan were created in colonial times or after independence on the basis of ethnicity. Although every province has a majority of one ethnic group, the minority groups always considered themselves at a disadvantage as they could not get the political, economic and cultural rights they deserved. Consequently, there have always been ethnic tensions and conflicts in our provinces which greatly marred their development and the overall uplift of the country. One has no issue with the creation of Hazara province carved out of extant KP province. But again such a province has been demanded and considered justified on an ethnic basis. This is a recipe for disaster.
If the powers that be consider the creation of Hazara province could now be a matter of course when former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) were merged with KP province through the 25th Constitutional Amendment in May 2018. So, the Pashtun nationalist forces and Pakhtun predominant majority of KP would not object to the creation of the province when already a bigger area than Hazara in the shape of former FATA was made part of the province. This thinking is quite illogical in the wider context of regional political and ethnic dynamics. Taking a decision about Pakhtun areas in Pakistan or Pakhtuns should be taken with extreme caution. Although the claims do not have any inherent legal or moral justification, Afghanistan has always had irredentist claims to the Pakhtun-inhabited areas of Pakistan. When the parliament decided to merge ex-FATA with KP, Afghanistan inconsequentially objected to it. Two key political parties, the JUI-F and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), also rejected the FATA merger with KP, although the ANP, the largest Pashtun nationalist party, fully supported it. Now if Hazara province is carved out of KP, it would invite criticism from different quarters.
Equally important, if Hazara is made a new province by carving it out of KP, then it would rob the province of its ethnic diversity, which is quite critical for the development of the province and Pakistan. While Hazara would be made a new province on the basis of ethnicity, KP would become a purely Pashtun province. This does not augur well for the federation of Pakistan, if one deeply looks into the matter.
Had provinces created on the basis of ethnicity been a recipe for addressing multiple conflicts and crises across the country, Pakistan would have been a well-governed and politically stable state. Unfortunately, no one can claim Pakistan to be a developed and politically stable country. Today, bad governance, as is evident from unprecedented inflation and societal conflicts in the length and breadth of the country, has affected the country. What we need is coming up with new governance structures based on a new administrative philosophy. Thus, keeping in view the administrative issues and prevalent bad governance, Pakistan needs to rationalize its administrative structure. There are various aspects of this administrative restructuring, which include but not limited to, revamping the whole administrative edifice which currently is based generally on the federal-provincial-district tracheotomy; introducing extensive and across-the-board civil-services reforms; revisiting existing policies and plugging policy gaps.
Insofar as revamping the whole administrative structure of the country is concerned, the policymakers have to come up with novel solutions. The administrative structure we have, whatever name you may give it or cosmetic changes may have been introduced to them, is colonial in form and essence. It does not mean that the colonial administrative structures were worthless. In fact, they had their own virtue and substance. However, with large-scale social, political, economic, technological and other changes, particularly the manifold increase in the population and the concomitant rise in new issues and problems, the colonial structures have been found wanting. Therefore, there has been a need to come up with new administrative structures which have the capacity to address the issues of contemporary postmodern times and people.
The most important aspect of administrative restructuring is forming more viable and administratively functional units. The formation of more administratively lean and vibrant provinces is the cry of the hour. When Pakistan came into existence, there were three provinces while Balochistan was given the status of a full-fledged province in 1970. Over the years, we have observed that the provinces have failed to provide viable, sustainable good governance structures and models. The reason is that the provincial governments have so many areas, issues and problems to negotiate but they find themselves incapacitated to respond to them effectively. This has particularly been the situation since the passage of the 18th Constitutional Amendment in April 2010, when the provinces were given more subjects to legislate upon and govern. The provinces have huge capacity issues to come up with sound legislation and policies regarding a large number of departments handed over to them.
The first phase of local government elections in KP and preparations for the holding of these elections in other provinces are positive political developments. But most of the districts and lower tiers of municipal structures in the last stint had generally failed to deliver to the people and address their key issues. The main causes of this lack of good governance and administrative vacuum on part of the district governments have been a lack of capacity and the will among the elected representatives. Another key reason has been provinces’ reluctance to devolve administrative, legal and financial authority to districts and tehsil governments. Consequently, there has been a situation best explained by the term “administrative hotchpotch” with so many officials and departments but little respite and relief to people in terms of the provision of basic amenities and solution of their basic problems. The issues of lack of capacity of the provinces to deal with so many departments could be meaningfully addressed by creating more provinces. Whereas, by having more provinces the local government structures could be made really functional, to be of any value to people.