The demand for more provinces re-emerged with the coming of the 18th constitutional amendment in the year 2010, which gave control of resources to provinces. Since then, there were calls for more provinces in Pakistan. If one looks around the world, one would find the US with 50 administrative units, India with 28 plus seven Union territories, Turkey with 81, and China with 34. These countries have been doing well economically and politically with more units. Probably this was one of the main reasons that the proponents of creating more federating units in Pakistan predicted that by doing so Pakistan would substantially improve economically and politically. But creating more provinces seems an uphill task in Pakistan unlike India as it started this process right from the beginning. Even if new provinces are carved out in Pakistan, it has to be seen that whether those would be on administrative basis or on ethno-linguistic lines.
Creating more provinces is basically a political issue and there are several reasons for that, which need to be studied. For example, political parties in Pakistan have become mostly province-based, i.e. PPP has been restricted to Sindh lately, PML (N) in Punjab and is struggling to be a national party, MQM is a local Karachi-based party, PTI is yet to be tested as a national party, and there are many other regional parties. Also, there are no fresh voices which have been heard these days on the issue of more provinces. Due to crisis in Karachi, the movement seems to have died down. The appointment of present Governor of KPK, who hails from Hazara region, has weakened the movement by Hazaras to create a separate province.
- Punjab (Demanding Saraiki and Bahawalpur provinces): The proponents of the Seraiki and Bahawalpur provinces expect that their provinces will get a quota in federal services. Presently, Punjab has above 50 per cent quota in the federal services and most of the jobs go to the upper and central Punjab as candidates from Southern Punjab are unable to compete for these jobs. The disparity in the quality of education in these regions of Punjab is a major cause for this. Besides, there would be a cadre of provincial services for the new provinces.
- KPK (Demanding Hazara province): The 18th amendment calls for control of the resources by the provinces. This offers a lot to the Hazara region as it can earn a lot through royalties on hydropower projects, dams, and mineral resources it owns. But in the case of the South Punjab province, the situation is not the same due to its agro-based economy.
- Sindh (Demanding Karachi/Urdu Speaking province): As regards Sindh, the issue of dividing it into two or more provinces is very sensitive. The local Sindhi population will not accept it as they are very much emotional about their provincial boundaries.
- Balochistan (Pashtun Belt): Though the demand of separate province by Pashtun speaking people of the province is not on the table yet it could be heard in the future if new provinces were made elsewhere.
Justification in Favour of More Provinces
- Poor governance and lack of economic development.
- Distance factor to the provincial capitals as often argued by Hazara province supporters and Seraikis.
- Ineffectiveness of the local government system justifies voices for more federating units.
- It is also argued by many analysts that more provinces would reduce ethnic conflict, prevent Punjab from dominating the smaller federating units, make administration efficient, and give all units a stake in the system.
- Grievances of provincial-level minorities regarding their economic and/or political marginalization by provincial majorities would be addressed.
- Small provinces provide a more favourable environment to explore the economic potential of the areas under their jurisdiction.
- People feel isolated in their present provinces on ethnic or geographical lines.
- Supporters of more provinces get encouraged from the neighboring countries, especially India, with greater number of provinces.
- People demanding separate provinces feel themselves a major minority and hence consider themselves distinct from the majority, i.e. Saraiki belt amongst Punjabis and DI Khan, Hazara in KPK and Urdu speaking/Muhajirs in Sindh.
- Pakistan has an additional excuse of demographic division that becomes a structural justification for increasing the number of its provinces.
- It is a well-established fact that the smaller the provinces, the stronger will be the federation. The smaller units would not be in a position to demand separation from Pakistan.
Justification against More Provinces
- Any attempt to make more provinces has the potential for violence and conflict keeping in view the present state of affairs in the country.
- It would encourage more ethnic movements.
- If any single new province is created, it will lead to a demand by other pressure groups for a province of their own on ethnic basis.
- Pakistan is facing provincialism since its creation. First it was East and West Pakistan. After 1971, it has been the Punjab that is facing criticism from the rest of three small sister provinces.
- Pakistan is suffering from two-pronged cancer/fault-lines, i.e. sectarian and ethnicity. So, any attempt to disturb existing ethnic boundaries would bring myriad of problems.
- The country is in a state of war coupled with a range of problems in socio-economic sector. Pakistan has suffered an economic loss of around US$ 107 billion during the “War on Terror”.
- The Karachi situation coupled with Balochistan issue does not call for playing with new sensitive cards in the country.
- Pakistanis are by nature a “status quo” nation so there is very little possibility of creation of more provinces in the near future.
- Most of the revenues are collected by Centre and then redistributed among provinces. This redistribution has been a contentious issue between the federation and provinces. Provinces have always been demanding larger share in resources and income. There has been disagreement over National Finance Commission (NFC) Awards and Indus River System Authority (IRSA), i.e. river water distribution. The main reason for demanding new provinces has been the unequal distribution of developmental funds between metropolitan cities and remote areas of provinces. In case of bifurcation of Punjab the greatest challenge would be the distribution of vast network of canals.
- Also, before the reorganization of political units, it is imperative to consider their economic viability as to how much those new entities would contribute to the national economy.
- Expenditure of new provinces could increase manifolds.
Some Interesting Facts Debunking Calls for More Provinces
- One finds that provincial minorities in three provinces (Sindh’s Urdu speaking/Mohajirs, KPK’s Hindko-speaking and Balochistan’s Pakhtuns) are economically and politically better off than the respective majorities.
- Punjab is the only province where the minority feels politico-economic marginalization, which could be avoided by initiating mega projects in the Southern Punjab.
- It is unclear now whether Seraikis desire separation as in 2013 elections they supported separation-averse PML-N.
- Ethnic differentiation within Punjab is less stark than elsewhere. In applying the terms of lineal trees to language trees, Seraiki and Punjabi emerge as twins or siblings whereas the languages of conflicting ethnicities elsewhere are first or second cousins.
- 18th constitutional amendment is a hurdle in creating more provinces easily. Article 239 (4) of the Constitution says, “A Bill to amend the Constitution which would have the effect of altering the limits of a Province shall not be presented to the President for assent unless it has been passed by the Provincial Assembly of that Province by the votes of not less than two-thirds of its total membership.”
Is It Right Time to Demand More Provinces?
- Firstly, provinces just got their share in the NFC Award and there is a need to observe its outcome.
- Secondly, we have to see the political, administrative and fiscal implications of provincial autonomy granted to provinces under 18th amendment.
- Local government is not fully functional. The local government system is undergoing a transition. Once it is re-activated, people will get numerous problems’ solutions at their door step and hence will not go for a different path. There is a need to see the outcome of devolution of powers and development of democracy at the grass root level.
- Judicial reforms at magistracy level are still in the pipeline.
- Until and unless it is not demanded by a vast majority of the people, the decision to make more provinces must not be imposed for vested political interests.
- More provinces should be formed on the basis of population, and not on linguistic or ethnic basis.
- Demands for more provinces largely represent populist slogans targeting Pakistani desires for instant short cuts to good governance. They confuse the functions of provinces and districts. There is, therefore, a need to improve governance instead of adventuring with the idea of more provinces.
- There is also a need to differentiate between provincial autonomy and creating more provinces as 18th amendment is in place and the outcome of the powers given to the provinces need to be observed.
- Pakistan could do with a few new provinces, but the most compelling cases are of Gilgit-Baltistan and perhaps FATA. But AJK Prime Minister Chaudhry Abdul Majeed warned the federal government against any attempt to convert Gilgit-Baltistan into a province of Pakistan. He said, “Gilgit-Baltistan is part and parcel of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Any attempt to merge it into Pakistan will deal a fatal blow to our stand in the light of UN resolutions envisaging right to self-determination for the Kashmiris.” (reported in Dawn, July 9, 2015).
- Pukhtoonistan issue, the Sindho-desh slogan, and the greater Balochistan are few harsh realities of our history, which could not be ignored. Keeping in view the checkered history of the country, thinking of creating new provinces thus seems playing with fire.
- Ethnic, religious, regional, and lingual divides have on many instances shaken this land of the pure. Pakistan is currently passing through the most volatile phase of its life. If the issue of creating newer provinces is given more air, it may blow out of proportion.
- There is a need to strengthen local government and improve governance at gross-root level. In fact, the holding of regular local bodies’ elections throughout the country appears to be a better course of action. The local bodies should be granted necessary powers and financial resources to address the problems at grass-root level. Any major over-hauling of the Constitution in the present circumstances is not advisable as it may unleash centrifugal and other undesirable forces.
- Provinces should address the issues of their backward areas from where calls for new provinces are coming.
- Culture of giving “development funds” to lawmakers (MNAs & MPAs) must be curtailed as it has hardly paid any dividends. In fact, “development funds” are like “pocket money” given to lawmakers for winning elections.
- Lastly, instead of making a strong federation, why are we splitting the country further into sub-state units.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.