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New Provinces Debate: Should New Provinces Be Created Or Not In Pakistan?

There’s nothing wrong with creating new provinces in Pakistan provided their creation won’t further aggravate the public divide and chaos. In order to ensure equity and fairness, a referendum can be conducted to know about public aspirations. After all, Pakistan is a democratic country and democratic solutions to the crisis must take their due course.

New provinces debate – A bird’s eye view

The debate for the creation of new provinces in Pakistan is not new. Before moving towards the real debate over the creation of new provinces the exact meaning of the term deserves to be understood.

A province is almost always an administrative division within a country or state. The term derives from the ancient Roman Provincia, which was the major territorial and administrative unit of the Roman Empire’s territorial possessions outside Italy.

There are demands for furthering the provincial divide in various areas of Pakistan. Likewise, there are demands in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa to establish the Hazara province comprising the Hindko-speaking population. Balochistan faces the issue of the Pashtun ethnic group seeking a separate provincial status.

Demand for the new provinces, on the basis of regional identity, culture, and geographical differences, is more evident in Saraiki and Hazara regions. Furthermore, there exist demands for the creation of South Punjab and Bahawalpur provinces out of the old Punjab.

In essence, the matter is not limited to the creation of South Punjab province, but there is a demand for a province from Hazara, Potohar, Kohat, Sindh, and Balochistan.

Why do people demand new provinces?

  • The precedence of language-based division in the Sub-continent is historically prevalent.
  • There is also a change in populace criterion on the division of the province, now new provinces are being demanded on the basis of good governance, efficiency.
  • There is an increasing demand for the creation of new provinces among the masses, due to uneven socio-economic growth in the less developed regions of Pakistan which seems to be reasonable enough considering their basic right to prosper.
  • The trust deficit in the provincial setup has made voice louder in the concerned public, for new and small administrative units in the form of new provinces.

Existing Provinces of Pakistan

Four Provinces Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Balochistan, Islamabad Capital Territory, Gilgit Baltistan, and AJK constitute present-day Pakistan. The provinces are administered by their respective provincial assemblies and governors and comprising of multiple ethnicities, speaking a variety of languages, possessing cultural and social norms and traditions, having diverse religious affiliations and lifestyles in the provinces.

The Government of Gilgit-Baltistan is the government of the autonomous territory of Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan. Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) have not been given provincial status because of the unsettled issue of Jammu and Kashmir.

The socio-economic situation and level of development also vary in the provinces, even within a province, the level of prosperity and growth is uneven. However, at the time of inception Pakistan was a federation of five provinces namely East Bengal, West Punjab, Balochistan, Sind, and the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) along with the Princely States within the geographical boundaries of the provinces and others willing to accede to Pakistan.

A brief historical perspective

At independence, Pakistan comprised of two wings – eastern and western, separated by a distance of thousand miles of Indian Territory. From 1955 to 1970, The One Unit Policy meant that there would only be two provinces in Pakistan, namely East and West Pakistan.

After the Fall of Dhaka in 1971, the Eastern wing separated from the western as a new state, known as Bangladesh. The remaining portion of the western wing comprises present-day Pakistan.

From the historical perspective of provinces and their division, the Partition of Bengal on October 16, 1905, is quite important to understand the political, religious, and social dynamics. The first partition of Bengal in 1905 was an administrative initiative to boost good governance in the province.

The former province of Bengal was divided into two new provinces — ‘Bengal’ (which comprises of western Bengal and the province of Bihar and Orissa) and Eastern Bengal and Assam, with Dacca as the capital of the latter.

It shows that the administration is a core criterion for the division of provinces in the greater interest of the nation and the state. However, the division of Bengal into two provinces was later annulled due to political agitation that followed.

The administrative system has evolved in India, from the rule of Mughals to East India Company. A modern approach to administration was introduced by the British to cater to the vast apparatus of the government as a colony. Bureaucracy was introduced to govern and administer the large territory of British India.

The British followed the Mughal precedent of provinces at large which was headed by the governors. They further divided the provinces into small administrative-territorial units called districts.

The British stretched their network of administration to the grass-root level for increased control and governance. The motive behind the division of provinces into divisions, districts, tehsils, and villages was to manage the state affairs and its administration efficiently.

Should new provinces be created or not in Pakistan?

Whether new provinces should be created or not in Pakistan is a debatable question that needs parliamentary discussions and political consensus. One thing that should be kept in due consideration is the welfare of the people at large. A just principle in the form of a policy decision is the need of the hour, taking on board all the parties, ensuring the division satisfies the public grievances.

As far as political perspective is concerned, the incumbent Government of PTI had made the creation of a separate province part of its election manifesto. However, the ruling party did not have a two-thirds majority in parliament which is a must for the creation of a new province. During its election campaign, the PTI pledged that if it forms government, South Punjab will get a provincial status.

Apparently, PML-N supports the creation of new provinces on an administrative basis as mentioned by one of the PML-N’s representatives. PML-N also tabled a bill in the National Assembly for the creation of these provinces and offered the government support. Also, the Punjab Assembly passed a resolution for the creation of two provinces. Resolutions pertaining to the creation of the South Punjab province and restoration of Bahawalpur province were unanimously approved in the session of the Punjab Assembly in May 2012.

The demand for the creation of new provinces is stirred due to local socio-economic disparities in the country. An irksome perception is prevalent among the masses that the economic and social development of Pakistan has been uneven in the last few decades. Historically, the smaller provinces did not receive their due share in royalty, i.e. exploitation of gas from Balochistan.

However, speculative demands and the lack of any criteria for changing the administrative status of provinces in Pakistan have weakened the narrative of creating the new administrative units into an issue of ethnic and linguistic concerns.

The forces that resist the formation of new provinces want a strong Centre and argue that any change in the existing provincial set-up will promote ethnic nationalism which will undermine the ideology of Pakistan and pave the way for the country’s disintegration.

In Pakistan, to reduce administrative costs and provincial prejudices, ‘One Unit’ was introduced in the mid-1950s, but the eastern wing interpreted that as an attempt to counterbalance its numerical strength. East Pakistan’s demographic profile was homogenous while West Pakistan had ethnic diversity. During the One Unit, the eastern wing often criticized the parity formula of the 1956 constitution, saying that it compromised the demographic reality.

The Bahawalpur-based movement centered on the demand for restoring the geographical and administrative boundaries of Bahawalpur state that had been merged into One Unit in 1955 and a Multan-centred linguistic-nationalist movement for the creation of a province comprising those districts of Punjab where Seraiki language is spoken.

The former movement was premised on the contention that Bahawalpur, one of the most prosperous princely states at the time of independence, had suffered a steep economic and political decline after its merger in One Unit.

A number of complaints about developmental deprivations, administrative neglect, and oppressive centralization of power in Lahore led to public demands for the restoration of the state when One Unit came to an end in 1970.

This ascertains that there exist serious unaddressed administrative flaws that led to the popular demand for the creation of new provinces. The demand for the creation of a new province in south Punjab is rooted in the economic, political, and cultural grievances of the people of the region.

For instance, non-compliance with the regional job quota for south Punjab and the lack of suitable allocation of the development budget for the region are cited, among many other things, as major justifications for demanding further division.

From the standpoint of finances, the distribution of finances among the provinces was, until 2010, solely based on population. This meant a major share of the resources went to Punjab.

The public investment complements private investment. Since there was minimal public investment in Balochistan and K-P ever since the colonial era, both the provinces remained deprived of private investment as well. Hence, historically, they have been at a disadvantage.

However, National Finance Commission in 2010 has addressed at least a long over-due concern and made a shift from population-based criteria and introduced a multiple indicators formula for the distribution of financial resources among the provinces.

The indicators now are population (82%), poverty and backwardness (10.3%), revenue collection and generation (5%), and inverse population density (2.7%).

As today’s Pakistan is a federation and has four federating units, as well as other territories including Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir which come under the federal government directly.

The NFC award is meant to distribute financial resources between the federal government (vertical distribution), and the provinces (horizontal distribution). NFC award is just an extension of the Raisman Award – the program of economic reforms in Pakistan announced by Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan.

According to Article 160 of the Constitution, after every five years, the president constitutes the NFC for a period of five years. Once there is a consensus of all stakeholders on a particular formula to distribute the finances, the award is implemented for the next five years.

From the perspective of the Constitution, Article 239(4) of the 1973 Constitution provides for a procedure that requires two-thirds of the votes of the total number of the provincial assembly in case you want any change in geographical boundaries of the province.

It is inferred from the constitution of 1973 that new provinces can take their due existence only when there is a political consensus among the political leaders sitting inside the parliament and that too for the fair distribution of geographical boundaries from the perspectives of economy, resources, as well as assets.

The creation of new provinces is not a thing unknown to the world. It has experimented among the most developed nations of the world including China and the USA.

New provinces debate from the perspective of other countries of the region

At the time of Partition, India had 14 states and seven union territories. In India, a number of new provinces have been formed over the last seven decades. Now India has 29 states and nine union territories. Afghanistan currently has 34 provinces and the government wants to create five more whereas Iran has 31 provinces.

In neighboring India, the creation of new provinces is a relatively easy affair. The central legislature approves the creation of a new province through a simple majority of its members even though the constitution requires it to have a consultation with the concerned state’s legislature as well.

Recommendations for peacefully creating the new provinces in Pakistan

There are some basic areas of concern that must be undertaken while devising any criteria or framework for the further division of pre-existing administrative units. These are Constitutional Amendment, political consensus, linguistic cohesion as well as ethnic faultlines.

A two-thirds majority in parliament is a constitutional prerequisite for the creation of new administrative units. In order to achieve this goal, regressive parliamentary debates should be conducted on the issue. This would highlight the key areas where people feel deprived and sidelined and demand new political sub-units.

The issue of new provinces needs to be raised at various forums. The general public must be taken into confidence before any change in the provincial status. Public perception matters a lot and this needs to be built in a progressive manner. Students union, teachers’ community, political leaders can help to accomplish this task if the government’s will is there.

Financial implications should not obstruct the formation of new provinces provided resources are rationally allocated and justly used.

Moreover, the distribution of assets and income should be fair enough to address the basic issues of the public. No particular area or provincial capital should be given preferential treatment especially at the cost of other regions of the same province.

The provincial debate must be high on the agenda of the government. Unfortunately, such popular demands are made a part of the election manifesto for winning public support and later brushed under the carpet.

Conclusively, there’s nothing wrong with creating new provinces in Pakistan provided their creation won’t further aggravate the public divide and chaos. In order to ensure equity and fairness, a referendum can be conducted to know about public aspirations. After all, Pakistan is a democratic country and democratic solutions to the crisis must take their due course.

Do you think that Pakistan should go for the creation of new provinces? Write your opinion in the comment section 

About Noshin Bashir

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