In the preceding articles I have examined the performance of Khairpur, Bahawalpur and Swat states after their accession to Pakistan, till about 1955, when the One Unit merged most of the states into West Pakistan. Only the frontier states survived but they were also unsure about their status and, according to Miangul Jahanzaib, were just waiting for their states to be merged.
Despite their short survival, just under a decade for the larger states, in Pakistan, these princedoms clearly exhibited that given the right environment and support they could significantly excel and even leave behind the hitherto advanced former British Indian provinces. The fact that these states were smaller units was to their great advantage and ensured that they could make strides even in a short duration of time and with even limited resources. Therefore, it is all the more important to heed the experience of these erstwhile princely states while contemplating smaller units in Pakistan in the present.
The incoming Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) had promised in its 100-day manifesto that after coming into power it will create a new province of South Punjab on ‘administrative grounds’. Its now allied party, the Mutahidda Qaumi Movement (MQM), had also argued for a South Sindh province (mainly the Urdu-speaking areas of Karachi and Hyderabad). Hence the question of newer provinces is again critical and a serious thought needs to be spared on the issue.
Pakistan has a history with being wary of sub national groups, especially those demanding more autonomy and newer provinces. However, after the 18th Amendment to the constitution which devolved a lot of power to the provinces the arguments for a strong centralised state have dissipated. Furthermore, the performance of provincial governments since the 18th Amendment has clearly exhibited that the experiment, by and large, has been a success especially since delivery and development in educational and health sectors in all the provinces has been significant since devolution.
But when newer provinces are contemplated, they should not be created only on the basis of ‘administrative grounds’. While good administration is a central criterion it should not be the only yardstick for newer units. History, language, demography, and-most importantly, the will of the people, should be critical features of the discussion.
For example, the Hazara province movement is a demand which ebbs and flows in the Khyber Pakthunkawa (KP) province. Hazara has never been a separate unit in the past, and the size of the region does not automatically merit a separate existence. However, the prevalence of Hindko language in the region, and the racial difference of the Hazarawal from the Pakhtuns in the adjoining districts do make it an arguable case. The case should therefore not be simply thrown out but perhaps put to the people of the Hazara division in the referendum, which should finally decide the region’s fate.
In the case of the South Punjab province, there is again uncertainly. This mainly flows from the fact that the two main regions in southern Punjab, Multan and Bahawalpur, have rarely been under one government. Multan was a separate principality till Maharaja Ranjit Singh occupied it, and Bahawalpur existed as a separate princely state till 1955. In fact, it was only in 1955 that Multan and Bahawalpur came under one political government in several hundred years. Therefore, creating one unified South Punjab province will certainly create friction between these two regions, despite the fact that they share an ethnicity and language. Again, a reference to the people might be essential to ascertain what should be final outcome of the debate.
The case of Balochistan is also complicated, as it comprises a distinct Baloch/Brahvi and Pashtun belt. Under the British the Pashtun region was called, oddly, British Balochistan, while the Baloch and Bravhi region was the princely state of Kalat. These two regions were combined in the one unit scheme in 1955 and they remained tied to each other in 1970 when the one unit was unravelled and a Balochistan province created.
However, perhaps the time has come to either bring all Pashtun lands together (which would mean a major reorganisation of the KP province too), and also create a majority Baloch and Brahvi province. This measure will not only prevent ethnic conflict which is increasing in Balochistan, but also enable the development of specific policies for the amelioration of the problems of the local people. But then the will of the people must not be ignored in this.
One important thing which must be remembered even after the will of the people is ascertained is ‘viability’. There is no benefit in creating a new province which will forever be a deficit region and depend on either loans or hand-outs from the federal government. Such a condition will not only increase dissension within the province but also fan inter-provincial resentment and acrimony.
One way to test the viability of a province is to adopt the old British Indian practice of gradually upgrading a region, first to a Chief Commissionership, then a Lieutenant Governorship, and then finally to a full governor’s province. This gradual upgradation of a region would enable it to develop capacity and improve services, without over burdening the tax-payers and the province itself. This pattern was followed both in the cases of Sindh and the erstwhile NWFP, and even the Punjab was not upgraded to a full province till 1919.
It seems that Pakistan is always at a crossroads, since it never seems to make a decision to cross the junction. The bridge of newer provinces has always been in front of it, with enough historical, political, demographic, and administrative rationale; however, we never seem able to make a decision on them.
I hope that the new incoming government does not drag its feet over the issue and makes an informed, measured and sensible decision on it, so that the issues of the past are resolved and efforts focused on the pressing issues of the present.