The once raging debate in the country of creating more federal administrative units or provinces although has subsided, but has not completely died down and in the upcoming electioneering season the issue is going to rear its head. On the other hand, instead of bifurcating provinces, a decision has been taken to merge the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. All the leading political parties apart from two small ones are supportive of the merger, which is quite strange if seen in the historical demand of creating more provinces by dividing the existing ones.
Keeping in view the administrative issues and prevalent bad governance, Pakistan needs to rationalize its administrative structure. This administrative restructuring has many aspects but the most important is creating more viable and administratively functional units. The question of creation of more provinces is extremely important for Pakistan because the population of the country has increased manifold while the problems of the people have also multiplied. When Pakistan came into existence the population of present-day Pakistan (at that time called West Pakistan before the separation of East Pakistan to become Bangladesh) was more than 300,000 people whereas today the population of Pakistan is estimated to be around 220 million. At the time of the nascence of Pakistan there were three provinces in the existing Pakistan while Balochistan was given the status of a full-fledged province in 1970. So with the rapid and huge increase in population and its issues they could not be effectively addressed by just four provinces. Time has proven very strongly that the provinces have failed to provide viable, sustainable good governance structures and models. The reason is that provincial governments have so many issues and pitfalls to negotiate, that they are hardly up to the task.
This has been seen prominently by after the passage of the 18th Constitutional Amendment in April 2010, when the Concurrent List of the constitution and the subjects mentioned in the said list were handed over to the provinces. However, what we have observed since the passage of the 18th Constitutional Amendment is that the provinces have gargantuan issues incapacitating them from being able to come up with sound legislation and policies regarding the large number of departments handed over to them.
At the same time, the establishment of the local government system in the provinces has provided a constitutional cover and put in place district governments across the country. However, most of these districts and lower tiers of municipal structures have generally failed to deliver to the people and address their key issues. The reason has been that the provinces have been hesitant to decentralize powers and legal and financial authority to the districts and tehsil level governments. Resultantly, what we have seen is a kind of an administrative hotchpotch with so many officials and departments but little respite and relieve to the people in terms of provision of basic amenities and solution of their basic problems. Against this backdrop, having more provinces has become exigent. By having more provinces or federal administrative units the issue of lack of capacity of the provinces to deal with so many departments could be meaningfully addressed. Whereas, by having more provinces the local government structures could be made of genuine use to help the people.
The debate on, and demand for, having more provinces in Pakistan is quite old and has had political and ethnic reasons behind it. But in the present situation it has attained new importance. Last time the debate in the country of having more provinces started during the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government from 2008 to 2013. At that time the ruling PPP had revealed that having a Seraiki province may be included as part of the party’s election manifesto for the next elections in 2013. Significantly, the main ruling party of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and the long-time Pakhtun nationalist Awami National Party (ANP) chief Asfandyar Wali at that time had declared that his party would not oppose the formation of a Hazara province by separating the districts forming Hazara Division from KPK. On the other hand, the debate regarding new provinces assumed a new and critical dimension when Chief Minister of the Punjab Shahbaz Sharif stated that there should be a national consensus on the creation of new federating units that 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.
The debate of having more provinces was given a spur as part of the 18th Constitutional Amendment, NWFP was named as Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, triggering strong reaction from the non-Pakhtoon 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 diluted their identity in the renamed province.
Taking a cue from the people of Hazara, the people of the Seraiki areas of the Punjab also started a campaign for a Seraiki province. Certain civil society groups from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas like the FATA Grand Alliance have expressed serious reservations over completely ignoring reforms in FATA in the 18th Constitutional Amendment package, and have demanded making FATA a separate province.
Realistically speaking, there is no harm in creation of Hazara, Seraiki or FATA provinces. 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 provinces of Hazara and Seraikistan would be more-or-less based on linguistic and ethnic lines. However, if new provinces have to be created, they ought not to be on linguistic and ethnic bases. This is the most compelling force behind the demand for new provinces at the moment and therein is its biggest defect. Because having provinces on ethnic basis can never guarantee a functional federation and efficient administration.
The case of FATA is also quite interesting. The name of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa incidentally has linked FATA with the NWFP. Because Khyber i.e. historical Khyber Pass and Khyber Agency are part of FATA. This has also raised resentment among the tribesmen, who demand making FATA a new province. Although FATA’s 99% population comprises of Pakhtuns, most of the tribesmen seems to favour a separate province. This is, indeed, a logical demand and may result in efficient administration in the hitherto ungovernable territory. However, despite this the FATA Reforms Committee headed by Sartaj Aziz came up with recommendations to merge FATA with KP. These recommendations have to be implemented over a period of five years: first, this is not possible, but if given practical shape would be disastrous. The main solution of all our administrative issues is to create viable, sustainable administrative units. In this writer’s opinion, the merger of FATA with KP would not constitute a viable unit.