New Prov­inces

Enterprise - - Letters - Shazia Ilahi, Karachi.

It is a sound idea and one that all po­lit­i­cal par­ties ought to con­sider tak­ing up in the next par­lia­ment. Prime Min­is­ter Shahid Khaqan Ab­basi’s in­vi­ta­tion to all po­lit­i­cal par­ties to come to­gether for a di­a­logue on cre­at­ing new prov­inces is un­likely to be taken up in the fi­nal weeks of the cur­rent par­lia­ment. In­deed, the very fact that Mr Ab­basi ex­tended his of­fer in Ba­hawalpur and went on to crit­i­cise the South Pun­jab Province Front, sug­gest­ing that the group should wait for the gen­eral elec­tion to de­ter­mine if it has a pub­lic man­date, in­di­cates that the PML-N does not ex­pect to con­vene a mul­ti­party con­fer­ence on the is­sue soon. Yet, the case for re­con­sid­er­ing the four-province struc­ture of the fed­er­a­tion is un­de­ni­ably strong.

To be­gin with, the con­sti­tu­tional fu­ture of Fata has yet to be set­tled, with the PML-N de­lay­ing im­ple­men­ta­tion of its own Fata re­forms pack­age. If a merger be­tween Fata and Khy­ber Pakhtunkhwa is deemed the most ap­pro­pri­ate, the fu­ture of the ex­ist­ing prov­inces can also be con­sid­ered at the same time. As Mr Ab­basi noted, there have long been claims to a sep­a­rate Hazara province in an area of KP that also hap­pens to be a po­lit­i­cal strong­hold of the PML-N. Mean­while, the pop­u­la­tion of Pun­jab is more than 100m. The sheer size of Pun­jab de­mands that at least some con­sid­er­a­tion be given to whether smaller prov­inces would be bet­ter for ad­min­is­tra­tion and gov­er­nance pur­poses. Cer­tainly, there are no easy an­swers and great care will need to be taken to en­sure that a na­tional de­bate on new prov­inces does not de­scend into bit­ter, par­ti­san fight­ing.

Yet, a series of con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments and the land­mark sev­enth Na­tional Fi­nance Com­mis­sion award since the tran­si­tion to democ­racy be­gan in 2008 sug­gest that se­ri­ous po­lit­i­cal de­bate can be held and con­sen­sus on tough is­sues is pos­si­ble. There is an­other as­pect to the de­bate on new prov­inces: the mostly dys­func­tional lo­cal gov­ern­ment sys­tems that ex­ist in the prov­inces to­day. While new prov­inces may be nec­es­sary, they are not the only so­lu­tion to the democ­racy and gov­er­nance deficits that ex­ist to­day. The third tier of the state, lo­cal gov­ern­ments, is of­ten where many of the ser­vices that the cit­i­zenry needs or is de­mand­ing can be pro­vided most ef­fi­ciently. A com­bi­na­tion of more prov­inces and much stronger lo­cal gov­ern­ments in all prov­inces could be the key to bet­ter gov­er­nance.

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