The first general elections in Pakistan (1970) resulted in disintegration of the state. Well they actually resulted in Sheikh Mujib’s Party winning a clear majority, which resulted in Yahya and Bhutto not wanting to hand over reigns of the country to East Pakistanis, which resulted in violent clashes, which resulted in the indo Pak war, which finally resulted in the said disintegration. In the spirit of being politically correct let’s call the whole episode “controversial” and not put blame on the then administration of Pakistan. There are many things to learn from this controversial episode. I can’t say we learnt any of them.
Forty three years later we still have a system that enables one province to dominate the Parliament. The justification for said dominance is population. Provinces have population based representation in the Parliament which results in alleged injustices to smaller provinces which results in resentment for the State which results in separatist movements which may yet again, God forbid, result in another “controversial” episode.
Regardless of the countless conspiracy theories – some of which this writer subscribes to – the fact remains that we have a dysfunctional system. Foreign involvement in promoting and encouraging terrorism and separatist agenda cannot be ignored. Nevertheless the fact that we have provided an environment conducive for these evils to grow, needs attention.
The population based representation formula seems workable on paper. But it can only work in practice where population is the only difference between the people of these provinces. Where cultures, languages, traditions and even political inclinations are dramatically different, one cannot decide their representation solely on the basis of their numbers. The people of Punjab generally support politics of right, Sindh goes for leftists, Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa has an inclination towards extreme right conservatives whereas Balochistan seems to have an inclination based on Baloch nationalism.
Our current Constitution of 1973 provides for a total 17 seats in the National Assembly for Balochistan. Punjab’s seats are 183, Sindh has 75 and KPK has 43 seats. The legislative procedure puts Punjab in a much better position than the other provinces. Same is the case for electing leader of the house which requires a simple majority in the National Assembly i.e. 172 votes, which is eleven less than the number of Punjab’s MNAs.
Even though several allegations of injustices on the federation’s part may be exaggerated or even false, the imbalance in representation does give the allegers a firm platform. The resulting provincial disharmony is a critical issue that needs immediate attention. In the humble opinion of this writer an impending crisis looms owing to ignorance of this imbalance.
Having identified the problem, what then is the solution?
It would be pointless to suggest equal representation for all provinces in the National Assembly, for that would then be an injustice with the people of Punjab who form a major part of Pakistan’s population.
The balance between provinces can be achieved, along with several other benefits like administrative efficiency, with a two tier constitutional reform.
1. Formation of new provinces on population and administrative basis.
On basis of a census (which is long overdue) the larger provinces can be divided into smaller ones, bringing them closer in representation to the already small provinces. This would make their administration easier as well.
2. Provincial Autonomy.
The Federation should further decrease its control on the financial and administrative matters of Provinces. Unlike a general view that this would weaken national integration, I believe this would only help make it stronger.