A question has always arisen whether the displeasure of the small federating units has been prompted and sustained by self perpetuating political and economic reasons or it is a political bogey being skillfully employed by the wily politicians in order to furbish their dwindling political fortunes or have crumbs of political power from the Federation. To address this muddle, one has to delve a bit in the history of Pakistan and the administrative, political and economic arrangements put in place to build a nation out of historically, culturally, linguistically and ethnically heterogeneous political and national entities that came to constitute the territorial and geographical bounds of the new country.
We had a geographically unique country and culturally a unique nation. We had East Bengal, effectively separated from the western part of Pakistan by 1000 miles of hostile territory. What formed the western part of the country were the four politically, culturally and ethnically diverse national entities known as NWFP, Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan. The Eastern wing, culturally, ethnically and linguistically a separate land, was linked with the Western part in the pursuit of shared political ideals and aspirations in the humdrum of the struggle for independence both from the colonial power and the perpetual political and economic domination of the majority community in the united India. These shared political ideals and aspirations should have formed the bedrock of the Pakistani nation seeking unity in diversity, freeing the components of the federation to develop their territories, cultures and languages in accordance with their resources and traditions and, in the process, create a rainbow of Pakistani culture within legal and constitutional bounds sanctified by a democratically elected Constituent Assembly.
Unfortunately, we failed to understand the challenges inherent in the task of nation building out of the cultural and ethnic diversity. The perspective of the leadership who took over the country after independence was at odds with the local political leadership. They came with preconceived suppositions about the lands that were giving birth to Pakistan. The new leadership fell to the temptation of the quick solution of the problems facing the Federation in nation building by use of force or legal and political trickery than the long but tried and tested process of elections, constitution making, political and economic equity. The holding of the referendum in the NWFP; the use of brute force in Balochistan; declaring Karachi as a federal city to the anger of Sindhi leadership; imposing the infamous scheme of One-Unit and dilly dallying in the constitution making and elections were highly unwise political and legal decisions.
Therefore, the small federating units have remained at loggerheads with the Federation since the inception of the country. The main blow to the autonomy of the federating units was their forcible merger in the One-Unit. After the loss of the Easter wing, the power was transferred to Z.A. Bhutto who had won elections from West Pakistan. Late Bhutto is credited with the achievement of the Sindhi leaders’ consent to the Punjab demand for the division of the resources from the federal pool on the basis of population instead of the territory as was in vogue in the previous Pakistan and rebuilding the ‘New Pakistan’. This is where Bhutto gave in due mainly to the pressure of the Punjab dominated establishment. However, the Constitution of 1973 provided a workable mechanism for addressing the grievances of the smaller provinces.
After Z.A. Bhutto, the decisions taken in the Council of Common Interests were never followed in letter and spirit by the bigger province because of its sheer power and force in the federal bureaucracy and the security establishment. The water accords between Punjab and Sindh signed prior to the partition or later were never acted upon to guarantee the genuine share of Sindh in the Indus waters. Even the formation of IRSA and the installation of telemeters did not alleviate the situation stopping the theft of Indus waters through flood canals.
Similarly, the share of the provinces in jobs in the federal ministries, corporations and auxiliary entities, gas and oil resources and federally funded development schemes has always been sidestepped or ignored. Either the leadership of these provinces has failed to present the grievances of their provinces within the constitutional forums or the federal governments have been deliberately shirking from addressing the concerns of the provinces. Their grievances remained unaddressed during the previous federal administrations. The differences between the provincial governments and the federal regimes on various issues have, sometimes, been very pronounced to the peril of the federal bonds in the country.
The people’s disillusionment with the existing political parties particularly in Sindh has been leapfrogging but the wily landlords and feudal politicians in their third generation have perfected the art of creating political slogans including nativist populism to stem the emergence of any alternative political platform to challenge their kleptocratic rule which has clearly been complicit in the plunder of the precious lands and resources of the province by the known land grabbers and estate tycoons. With their past bitter experience with the rule of any national political party or any dictatorial regime in the center, the poor masses of Sindh seem reluctant to trust any political entity that does not have a substantial representation from the province at all tiers.
Today, we are not living in the era of One-Unit or under a dictatorial rule. This democracy howsoever imperfect it is and the freedom of press and publication despite many restrictions have helped people value their constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms. They could no more be suppressed to abdicate from their genuine rights. The federal governments will have to come up with a mutually acceptable formula to resolve all the controversial issues in the interests of national and federal harmony. Mind it gentlemen, the dilly dallying in state affairs always compounds the difficulties of the thrones.
The federal authorities, ensnared in the self deceiving theory that only a strong center rather than autonomous federal units could guarantee the survival of Pakistan as a culturally, politically and economically homogeneous country, trudged on the misguided path of nation-building declaring Urdu as the sole national language, imposing One-Unit as countervail to the majority Bengal, introducing the scheme of parity in political and administrative structures despite the numerical strength of Bengalis. All this could not save Pakistan from disintegration. All the democratic and nationalist leaders from Sindh, Balochistan, Punjab, KPK and Bengal resisted these misguided measures for nation-building but no avail.
The political dynasties which had jumped on the bandwagon of ZAB, in their second or third generation, have perfected the skill of sentimentally exploiting the Sindhis singing the hymns of the tragic deaths of ZAB and Benazir Bhutto or playing on their fears of cultural and economic invasion on their land by ‘others’ or the division of their province with the connivance of the federal authority. Sindhis are caught in this political charade since the mid 1980s. With the national political parties interested only in their votes without putting in place viable organizational structures to tap the vast number of political activists, liberals, left wingers, nationalists and reconciling their manifestos with the concerns of Sindhis on the main issues of utmost concern to the people of the province, Sindhi masses find no alternative use of their votes than gravitating to the old hand politicians of PPP for petty favors.
The feudal old politicians have woven a cobweb of client-patron politics to strengthen their grip on these hapless voters. They usually have officers of their choice in every district administrative department to dole out favors and manipulate electoral rolls and polling booths and, some of them, even patronize goons to keep voters in line. Sindh masses need to be freed from the clutches of these political mafias.
(to be concluded)