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Decentralization of Power in Pakistan: Is There A Need For New Provinces?

The creation of new provinces is not a thing unknown to the world. It is being experimented with even among the most developed nations of the world including China and the USA. Pakistan can have new provinces provided the issues of ethnicity and cultural divide, assets distribution, natural resource distribution, and public perception are addressed.

Decentralization of power in Pakistan, being an ideological state, extends its basis on the motto of two-nation theory but the people living across her don’t follow the same culture. Pakistani culture has the co-existence of Balochi, Sindi, Punjabi, and Pashtun cultures provided their own feeding habits, dress codes, social norms.

The ethnic approach of her people is also very strong and it seems very unlikely for them to go beyond their ethnicity. As the population of Pakistan is on increase since its inception in 1947, so the need for the creation of more provinces has been realized from time to time. It’s 17 years on that the last census of the population taken place there yet the realization for more provinces or administrative units is very strong.

Many political parties of Pakistan have expressed their willingness for the creation of new provinces but yet to transform into reality. Clause 4, clause 5, and clause 6 of Article 239 of the 1973 constitution of Pakistan declares no right to amend the provincial boundaries unless the given amendment is proven by the two-thirds majority of the provincial assembly of the concerned province. It also delimits the courts to put the provincial boundaries in question. It is much clearer that to reform the provinces or provincial boundaries, the amendment in article 239 0f the constitution is needed first. To amend the said clauses of the constitution the will of the provincial assembly is crucial and required first.

As our political parties get their due share of votes in their respective provinces more commonly based on ethnicity and locality, so they don’t want to demarcate their existing share at any cost. The election result of election 2013 indicates the more ethnic and regional vote bank of political parties.

The census of population has only occurred six times since the inception of Pakistan provided the most recent occurred in 2017. As the population of Pakistan ranks it as the 6th most populous country on earth, so this increase in population is accompanied by the number of issues and problems in question. Some of these are:
Governance, the quota system, Poor coordination between the people and the ruling elite, Unequally represented local cultures and a sense of deprivation, Linguistic and ethnic variance, etc.

Good governance can be achieved by the devolution of power from the center to provinces. The 18th amendment in the 1973 constitution advocates provincial autonomy and grants more power to the provinces but still, effective governance and equivocal public services are more likely a dream unfulfilled. Let’s examine the World Bank (WB)
Report on 2010 floods in Pakistan which inflicted a heavy toll on the life and economy. The total loss was estimated to be approximately $5 billion.

The world bank examined that the major concern behind the poor control over flood waters was the poor co-ordination between the central and provincial flood management authorities. The state of unwillingness prevailed among the public till the onset of floodwaters mainly due to the negligence on the part of disaster management and poor co-ordination between the public and disaster management authorities.

The timely action and robust management could save many of the flood victims and the loss of life could be lessened. The same happens when provincial autonomy decreases across the regions of the province. The lack of effective coordination between the various regions of a province causes severe negligence on the part of the government or government institutions.
According to the quota system which is being implemented in Pakistan, Punjab gets 50 percent of the total share of all the provinces due to its overwhelming population. The share of Sindh is only 23 pc and Balochistan only gets the 19pc of total share due to its reduced population. This quota system seems unjust as the census has not taken place for long. The exact share of provinces in financial assets is unknown even if it is based solely on population.

Karachi, being the coastal city is the economic hub for the land of the pure and contributes much to the national economy than the resting areas of Pakistan. The people of Sindh exhibit the deprivation of their due share despite their heavy contribution to the national economy. The same is the case for resource-rich Balochistan who also feels denied of its due share in national income. The people of Balochistan comprise two major ethnicities: Baloch and Pashtun. The Baloch people consider themselves under-represented also due to the Afghan people colonies settled there in the aftermath of the USSR attack in Afghanistan.

There exists poor coordination between the general public and the ruling elite mainly due to the poor coordination between them. The example of Bengal best predicts the case of ineffectiveness of the ruling party over a vast region. The Bengal during the British rule was poorly governed and it was difficult for the center to control such a vast region due to its overwhelming population. The people of Bengal demanded the division of Bengal into two: east and west Bengal. For effective governance, the devolution of power is a major concern. Effective governance can only be achieved if there exists a power share in relatively small administrative units.

The cultural groups of different provinces are in a continuous sense of deprivation due to their poor representation nationally and regionally. If we look at our neighbors i.e., India. It has Hindi as its official language written in Devanagri style alongside English but each state of India is allowed to have the official language of their choice based on their linguistic demographics. So it ends up having 22 official languages in total excluding English. So what is wrong with having the regional languages represented nationally. It has the potential to satisfy the linguistic concern of the provinces.

Also, India has more than 23 administrative units. It has twenty-nine states and seven union territories which were only 17 at the time of independence in 1947. The only world superpower: the United States of America has 50 administrative units which work under a federation working efficiently and more effectively. If we take the examples of different countries having the greater number of provinces over a specified portion of land then all we get to know is proper governance, efficient control over the governing region, and somewhat better administration.

There is nothing wrong with having more provinces in Pakistan provided the newly formed provinces are not based on the ethnic and linguistic divide. The new provinces are to be formed based on fewer administrations. The division of existing provinces based on the ethnic approach is more like a genie out of the bottle which is hard to push back into it. This ethnic uprising can happen every other day in view of having the different tribal groups across Pakistan.

The PPP government advocated the division of Punjab into two: South Punjab and the remaining areas of Punjab but seems in a denial mode when it comes to the province of their own governance(Sindh). The Saraiki belt is demanding the provincial status on and off but never-ending its demand of having the status of a province.

The Hazara community of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa also wants provincial autonomy. All these demands appear to be unjust because they are of a more ethnic and lingual basis. The political scenario is also falling in the same category as PPP gets more votes from their local population and the same is true for other parties in the field of political battle. The awareness and education on the part of the people are all required to control the situation.

If the languages of different provinces are supported publicly then the regional fear of their denied status will likely get controlled. Pashtun being spoken and understood in Afghanistan and other Pashtun speaking regions of South Asia can become the language of trade and communication between the population of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

As two percent of the population of Iran speaks and understands Balochi, it is likely to become the language of communication between Pakistan’s Balochistan and its Iranian counterpart. The CPEC project is likely to provide a bit larger space to Chinese languages but we can equally support and promote our own regional languages by granting them an official status and language of communication at least in the level of province alongside Urdu and English. This will really help in quieting the genies of the linguistic and ethnic uprising. All we need is to get the political attention and subsequent implementation in having the cultural highlights.

There is a dire need to have the population census in accordance with the constitutional spirit of 1973 which says that the census of the national population will be held every five years. Only then the people’s share of resources can be just and vigilant.

The share of provinces in getting their share of financial assets needs to be shifted from a sole parameter of the population towards their contribution to national income and labor work. This will also propagate the residents of different units to contribute more lively to the national economy.

The quota system also needs to be addressed in the latter and spirit which will satisfy the due share of existing provinces and autonomous regions. Having these issues addressed and provided the education and political will of the people the public understanding on the administrative issues can be achieved more conveniently. Political campaigning in understanding the administrative issues is required in Pakistan.

Pakistan being a developing country is likely to face a financial crisis after the provincial divide into several provinces and administrative units. To address the financial dilemmas for new provinces the tax net needs to be increased. Direct taxation should be increased.

There is also a need to increase public awareness about the importance of tax money paid by them. The people of Pakistan need to understand that the development of infrastructure and public services becomes more frequent due to the well-deposited tax income. There is also a need to take vigilant steps to brought more people into the tax net.

Corruption should be reduced institutionally and politically because it eats the finances of a country like a termite. Once the evil spirit of corruption is bottled, the institution-building will be automated.

Distribution of resources is also a serious concern in the post-provincial division scenario, especially the distribution of water resources. There is a need for vigilant public sector policies to ensure the equal distribution of water resources.

The natural resource-rich areas need to get in cash or kind on the part of sharing their natural resources with other provinces probably newly formed provinces.

The major implication is the consensus on the part of political parties which needs to be addressed sooner or later. The legislative and parliamentary status must be settled accordingly.

The creation of new provinces is not a thing unknown to the world. It is being experimented with even among the most developed nations of the world including China and the USA. Pakistan can have new provinces provided the issues of ethnicity and cultural divide, assets distribution, natural resource distribution, and public perception are addressed.

About Noshin Bashir

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