SENATOR Raza Rabbani, central leader of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), spelled down on July 5, 2014 in Karachi, the agenda of preserving gains of the 18th Constitutional Amendment 2010, most importantly the parliamentary form of government and the provincial autonomy. He became chairman of Senate and his mission remains intact. Why he is not thinking devolution beyond provincial autonomy, is strange. An 18-member Constitutional Reforms Committee under Raza Rabbani, as per the part of commitment made through the PPP-PML-N Charter of Democracy (2006) had reviewed the constitution clause by clause so as to restore the 1973 Constitution in letter and spirit (parliamentary form of government, religious identity of state, and integrity of provinces) and fulfilling the promise of provincial autonomy and independent judiciary.
Provincial autonomy did mean devolution of more than a dozen ministries to the provinces besides a surge of their share in the federal divisible pool. The post-reform era is marked with freedom for provinces to utilize their human and natural resources for their socio-economic uplift; they have every chance to attract foreign direct investment by faithfully practicing the norms of good governance and rule of law. Provincial autonomy had been a dream of the intelligentsia of the smaller federal units. Pakistan People’s Party did champion their cause and secured a sort of autonomy which no country in neighbourhood has extended to its provinces.
PPP, the major force behind the gigantic task of building consensus on Constitution 1973, had been formed basically as a socialist party but soon reverted to opportunism by fusing religion into politics. The religious character of the Constitution carved out enough political space for the right-wing groups. Z A Bhutto’s romance with religion as a means to achieve political ends ultimately led him to gallows. PPP would never take up the issue of land reforms again; it would play the politics of confusion and deceit as is the case with the feudal mindset. Despite it suffered a lot at the hands of Islamists, PPP never came to the open, confess its mistake and urge on constitutional reforms to ensure separation of politics from religion. Babar Awan, who was also the part of Constitutional Reforms Committee, once told media with a great sense of pride that he played an active role in thwarting a political party’s bid ‘secularize’ constitution.
The PML-N has steadily stolen the show from the PPP with the result that it has emerged as the largest political party of the country. The leadership of the PML-N and the PML-N after entering and sustaining a bitter struggle of 1990s with bad consequences and bitter memories forcing them to strike a deal in 2006 for survival and co-existence. It is another matter as to whether this bonhomie has benefited the people at grassroots level or not, but the fact remains that democracy has got a chance to strike its roots in Pakistan with PML-N and PPP getting closer. During last half a decade, the PML-N and PPP have shunned confrontational politics and have not reverted to tactics of the 1990s to marginalize each other. PML-N actually stood magnanimous while accommodating the parties, which were not part of the CoD, while undertaking constitutional reforms, but it does not mean that it will not pass cost on to the real beneficiaries of provincial autonomy.
The Constitutional reforms have changed the paradigm of politics. With the decentralization drive taking its course adding more funds to the provincial kitties and giving provinces freedom to chalking out their own development plans, the demand of making the benefits reach to the grassroots level has also become a reality. The deletion of concurrent list and the resulting provincial autonomy though were big achievements but the same have brought new and old claimants to the limelight for just allocation of political and economic resources. The PPP and its allies did not contest general elections 2013 properly due to the reason that they could not justify as to why the power should not be devolved beyond the provincial capitals. The very first reaction to such a demand was ANP’s decision to handle the people demanding Hazara province with cruelty whereby police opened fire on a peaceful public meeting in 2010 and killed a dozen of innocent people.
The PPP first distanced away from its promise to create a Seraiki province but later, when it took up the issue, it was late: it lacked majority in the Lower House of Parliament. It got confused when the Punjab Assembly asked the centre to create not two but three provinces in Punjab (adding Bahawalpur Province in PPP’s list). Too, the ANP, refused to let its two southern districts to be part of the proposed South Punjab province other than the popular movement in Bahawalpur division for the restoration of its provincial status. The parliamentary system of government is something the provincialists of this country like to the core of their hearts. It means prized ministerial posts, huge development funds and a strong, if not effective, say in the Upper House. Parliamentary system is that must to preserve the gains of the PPP and its ethnic partners. The deletion of concurrent list and the resulting provincial autonomy though were big achievements but the same have brought new and old claimants to the limelight for just allocation of political and economic resources. The PPP and its allies did not contest general elections properly due to the reason that they could not justify as to why power should not be devolved beyond provincial capitals.
Failing to achieve its goal PPP lost South Punjab in the following general elections, hence losing a big reason to be national-level party. PPP and PML-N have respected the understanding, which they reached in 2006. And it is also a fact that they have resisted every move to decentralize power and resources further to the districts level. PPP wants to revive the commissionarate system of the British era in Sindh besides avoiding the question of local governments as per the spirit of the Constitution (140-A).
The PPP and the PML-N leadership fail to understand that the question of devolution of power to the districts and divisions, and further to the Tehsil and Union Council level, is attached with the legitimacy of civilian rule. Without letting the people taste the fruits of democracy at their door steps, the claim of democracy is merely rhetoric. The PPP and the PML-N leadership fail to understand that the question of devolution of power to the districts and divisions, and further to the Tehsil and Union Council level, is attached with legitimacy of civilian rule. It means democracy and, one should remind Senator Raza Rabbani, integrity of state.
— The writer is political analyst based in Islamabad.