National Integration: Challenges and Opportunities
There are anecdotes which illustrate situations much better than long discourses. As young officers, we were taken on a study tour of the provincial capitals. I still recall that during our meeting with the chief minister of Balochistan, I asked him if there was no gas supply in Quetta. He retorted by saying, not only there was no gas in Quetta but not even in Sibbi. You may recall that at that time all gas supply originated in Sibbi and supplied to other provinces but not to Balochistan.
Half a century later, I learn that a group of Foreign Service Officers, who happen to be my students, called on the chief minister of Sindh this week and were told that the federal government was not cooperating in placing 96 madrassahs harboring militants on the watch list.
The common point between the two meetings is the acute sense of hurt by the leaders in Sindh and Balochistan. The difference being that the Sindh chief minister’s office deemed it appropriate to release content of the conversation to the media. Bickering between the federal government and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government is well known. Situation in Balochistan would be the same if the coalition there was not a partner of the federal government in Islamabad.
Turning to the conceptual part of my presentation, there is no doubt that in order to survive and prosper, a country requires national integration and cohesion. Pakistan represents a rich mosaic of religious, ethnic, linguistic, political and economic components. That also means the march towards integration is more challenging.
Ijaz Hussain, one of the scholars who have addressed this theme, says the following in his paper on the subject of integration in Pakistan:
Having inherited a complex nature of multi-ethnic and multi-linguistic population…with different socio-cultural backgrounds, the danger of fragmentation is always there.
He argues that national integration would mean establishing a common citizenry, common political and social structures, and a common sense of identity. It means building a common national community on top of the existing diversity.
In the early years of Pakistan’s 70 year life as a nation, there was a clear tendency to think that in order to be strong, Pakistan needed a strong centre. This approach, however, ran into a huge obstacle when the majority wing of the new born country felt that the so called strong centre happened to be in the minority wing of the country. Their sense of deprivation grew further when the capital was abruptly relocated from Karachi to up north.
The 1956 and 1962 Constitutions were federal in nature but they did not provide sufficient powers to the provinces. The 1973 Constitution, drawing on lessons of the failure of a strong centre model, gave greater autonomy to the federating units, with a senate giving them equal representation and more powers to the provinces, but ended up with a large concurrent list curtailing their authority.
It was inconceivable that the power wielders who believed in a strong centre would have ceded power to the federal units. Indeed, they turned the four provinces in West Pakistan into one unit further centralizing power. Imagine what the course of history might have been if something like the 18th Amendment had existed giving the provinces far more budgetary resources and executive powers. In the absence of that kind of dispensation, the break with East Pakistan came soon and suddenly.
Over centralization produces frustration in the smaller provinces for the simple reason that a very large province invariably controls the centre. Any departure from constitutional rule like a military government enables the dominant province to exercise even greater control of levers of power. Steps were taken to remove the grievances of smaller provinces by changing funds allocation under the National Finance Commission awards.
The biggest change came with the 18th Amendment which ushered very important changes in the Constitution. Besides removing the president’s power to dissolve parliament, restoring parliamentary form of government, renaming North West Frontier Province as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the 18th Amendment enhanced provincial autonomy. The president cannot declare emergency rule in a province unilaterally.
The Amendment further provides that the federal government shall consult the concerned provincial government prior to taking a decision to build hydro-electric power stations in the province. A revolutionary change was made whereby the federal excise duty collected at the well-head and royalty on natural gas shall be paid to the concerned province. The same will apply to the federal excise duty on oil collected at the well-head.
The 18th Amendment allows the provinces to raise domestic or international loans within conditions set by the National Economic Council.
The concurrent list was drastically cut, shifting a whole range of subjects to the provinces. So here we stand, with a weaker centre and more powerful and richer provincial units. This is national integration by decentralization, giving the provinces less cause for grief over the allocation of funds and exercise of power.
What more needs to be done to improve the chances of better national integration. First is respect for the laws particularly the fundamental law of the land i.e. the Constitution. If there is one law for the poor and the privileged classes are above the law then there will be fewer chances of success. These days we hear about a possible detour from democracy to fix the country’s ills. Any deviation from the basic law will only bring grief. Democracy per se is not a panacea for our shortfalls. But it provides the most stable form of government.
Some other areas of action identified by Ijaz Hussain:
Efforts should be made to support national political parties. The fact that regional parties are stronger in smaller provinces shows that there are misgivings about their share in the national financial and political power structure. Political parties should rise above narrow agendas, and work for the best interest of the nation.
Mass media can play an effective role in strengthening a national narrative thus marginalizing the parochial tendencies. There should be a code of conduct for the media to promote national harmony rather than disunity.
The list of obstacles in the way of national integration is long. Here are some:
- Religious, ethnic, linguistic differences - poor governance
- Economic disparity - social injustice - lack of patriotism.
[System of national service in some countries. Splitting Punjab. Integrating FATA into KP.]
We need urgently to promote patriotism and nationalism instead of regionalism, sectarianism and militancy.
The big change in Pakistan over the last fifteen years is the phenomenal growth of electronic media and more recently of social media.
I am going to talk a bit more about the promotion of national integration through the emergence of a popular culture. The news and views programs are based on motivated narratives and bring more negativity than harmony. Drama serials with highly emotional plots attract huge audiences. I doubt these can contribute to national integration. Yet the dramas may be based on stories which can engender the feeling of belonging to a composite culture.
That leaves music and comedy shows. Both these are gradually but surely encouraging the younger generation to behave and think alike. We can say that with the help of music, comedy and our small film industry, a common popular Pakistani culture is taking shape, different from western or Indian cultures which do influence our youth. A popular culture is the most formidable component of national integration when some people are trying to create divisions in the name of religion, language and ethnicity. Popular culture is more resilient because it is not imposed from “above”.
October 29, 2017