As the federal cabinet has given an ambiguous approval to the merger of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province the issue of, and debate over, creating more provinces, which has been making the rounds in the country’s power and policy circles since a long time, has slowly and gradually vanished into thin air. This is despite the fact that creation of more administrative units or provinces has been critically needed and would continue to be required in the future. However, the perennial problem with our nation, media and leadership is that they are reactive rather than proactive regarding different issues and problems faced by the state and society, whether terrorism, extremism, human rights, environmental degradation or foreign policy. Resultantly, we have always found ourselves napping in the face of great challenges and national emergencies.
The malfunctioning of the political and administrative system of Pakistan is partly due to the huge administrative units or provinces, which were created on the basis of political expediency or ethnicity by our colonial rulers and their Pakistani successors. However, with the ever-growing complexity of society, and the ever-increasing problems and issues they have given rise to over decades, efficient administrative management systems are required. In order to make the state and its administrative machinery and apparatus responsive to the growing needs of the increasing population there ought to be changes in the administrative structures and units of the country. This has not taken place, due to which all aspects of our governance are suffering, the ultimate victims being the common Pakistanis. In this context, the creation of more administrative units by dismantling and division of the existing provinces has been the need of the times, but has been ignored due to purely sham reasons such as it would infuriate the sentiments of certain ethnic communities, particularly after whose identity the provinces are named. Leaders, if such they be, think beyond what is liked by people and communities. Rather, they think in terms of the long-term survivability of the state and the progress of society. Therefore, such petty issues should not stand in the way of the national good. This is the case to be made for the creation of more provinces and administrative units in the country.
It is provincialism and parochialism at its worst that has placed Pakistan in the existential problem of water resources. That is just one example of a warped ethno-provincialism. The debate over creation of more provinces has virtually died down since the present government of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) came to power in June 2013. Last time it was in the stint of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) 2008-2013, that the debate in the country of having more provinces had reached its apex. At that time it was very much expected that the discourse might take concrete shape as the ruling PPP had revealed that having a Seraiki province may be included as part of the party’s election manifesto for the 2013 elections. However, nothing came out of this discussion and promises.
Significantly, at that time the main ruling party of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and its long-time Pakhtun nationalist Awami National Party (ANP) chief Asfandyar Wali had declared that his party would not oppose the formation of a Hazara province by separating the districts forming Hazara Division from KP. The debate regarding new provinces received a fillip when Chief Minister of the Punjab Shahbaz Sharif, about the same time, stated that there should be a national consensus on the creation of new federating units and that Karachi should also be made a new province. Importantly, Sharif did not oppose the restoration of Bahawalpur State as a new province by separating it from the Punjab.
This was, indeed, a healthy political development as need for the formation of new provinces had been felt since long. This has been mainly to improve administrative efficiency, as well as to equitably distribute national resources among various ethnic groups, communities and regions. With such huge federating units, the administration can never be expected to deliver much-needed social services. Moreover, as the provinces have become the political monopolies of majority ethnic communities, the rest of the ethnic and regional groups constituting a minority have always felt disempowered and economically and politically marginalized.
Yet another important reason for raising the demands for creating more provinces in Pakistan, has been the virtual domination of the Punjab in parliament and the establishment, at the perceived cost of the rest of the federating units. So there have been very vociferous demands from the three relatively smaller provinces of Sind, KP and Balochistan to have more provinces in the Punjab, so that the near-domination of the province could be ended. In this respect the leadership of these provinces exploited the historical faultlines by pointing at erstwhile Bahawalpur State and the Seraiki belt of the Punjab, not historically part of the province. However, the nationalist leaders of some of these provinces in its Punjab-bashing and ethnic fervor lost sight of the fact that that some of the ethnic communities of their provinces have been desirous of having their own provinces. The Hindko-speaking community of the Hazara region in KP and Pakhtun community of Balochistan, forming roughly half of its population, are cases in point.
The debate on having more provinces was given a spur as part of the 18thConstitutional Amendment, in which the erstwhile NWFP was named as Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa triggering strong reaction from the non-Pakhtun community of the province in the Hazara region. The Hindko speaking Hazara inhabitants started a strong agitation movement for the creation of the Hazara province as the new name Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa had denied their identity in the renamed province. Now if FATA is allowed to merge with KP, a new movement for the formation of Hazara province would gain decisive momentum. Because those who have been opposed to the separation of Hazara, like the ANP, would not be able to justify keeping Hazara part of the KP when it itself has been vociferously supporting the idea of merging the Pakhtuns of FATA with KP.
On the other hand, taking a clue from people of Hazara, the people of the Seraiki areas of the Punjab would also restart a campaign for a Seraiki province. The movement has lost momentum since the most vocal advocate of a Seraki province, Taj Muhammad Langah, died in 2013. Certain civil society groups from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, like the FATA Grand Alliance, which had already expressed serious reservations over completely ignoring reforms in FATA in the 18th Constitutional Amendment package, has been consistently demanding making FATA a separate province.
Realistically speaking, there is no harm in the creation of a Hazara, Seraiki, FATA or Karachi province. It would result in efficient administration as big provinces cannot be governed, and have not been governed, effectively. However, the problem is that the new province of Hazara and Seraikistan would be more-or-less based on linguistic and ethnic lines. This is the most compelling force behind the demand for new provinces at the moment, but therein lies its biggest defect. Because having provinces on an ethnic basis can never guarantee a functional federation and efficient administration. So while the creation of additional provinces is the need of the hour, this should be done on administrative lines rather than ethno-linguistic lines.