Provincial harmony

Senator Salim Saifullah Khan called for maximum provincial autonomy while addressing a press conference at the Chief Minister’s House in Quetta on Sunday. Further, the provinces would be having inter-province coordination ministers to take up disputes amongst the federating units or with the Centre. The provincial governments have been asked to notify their respective ministers for this task. Punjab and Balochistan promptly responded to the directive, while Singh has notified Dr Sohrab, but NWFP has not yet notified its minister. The dialectics of the developing situation in Pakistan suggest that the country that started as a beacon of hope 59 years ago is now entrenched in darkness. Half of Pakistan was lost in 1971 due to inter-provincial disharmony. There are chances that if the federation continues with its current policies, history may well repeat itself.

In such a situation, while there may not be too much serious harm in the idea of having inter-province coordination ministers in the provinces and one at the Centre, it is nevertheless imperative to revive the Council of Common Interests (CCI), a key constitutional body meant to sort out differences in the federation. It would help create an atmosphere of trust between the federal government and provinces, and amongst the provinces, on all issues. The government must acknowledge that the internal friction between the provinces and the Centre, and also among the provinces themselves, would only come to an end through the revival of this constitutional statutory body. The idea of the CCI shows that the framers of the Constitution had in mind that as Pakistan is going to be a federation, then such a Council would be definitely needed because differences among provinces or with the Centre are a natural outcome of a federal structure. Lack of confidence of the provinces is inevitable if the Centre has a history of favouring the major province at the expense of minor provinces. The provinces do not have any confidence in the Centre and are not ready to accept the Kalabagh Dam even after the offer of legal and constitutional guarantees by the president.

In the Musharraf dispensation, the CCI has not so far been constituted, despite parliament being in existence since 2002. In its absence, problems have festered and some things have gone haywire. Instead of reviving a constitutional statutory body, the government is now creating four new ministerial slots in a bid to “promote inter-provincial harmony” under the supervision of federal minister for inter-provincial coordination, Salim Saifullah Khan. One wonders how these five ministers would dispel the grievances of the federating units without being empowered. The CCI has such powers constitutionally, whereas these ministers would have none. It may just become a debating club. Such is the result of reinventing the wheel outside the Constitution – a toothless coordinating forum with no power, which will only be a sinecure for five people. In addition, the expenditure entailed in setting up more ministries would be a burden on the exchequer. This appears as nothing but a political manoeuvre on the part of the government in an attempt to allay the bitterness prevalent in the smaller provinces.

Parliament after all – whether it be the National Assembly or provincial Assemblies – has been reduced to nothing but a (noisy) debating club already. The government must seriously consider how to take the country forward with a new beginning and putting the frictions and injustices of the past behind. One way to do that would be to revive the CCI instead of relying on such airy-fairy ministries.

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