The contemporary debate on the central provincial schism in Pakistan is not new. Rather, it is the continuous problem of Pakistani politics since its inception. It is very heartbreaking to note that even after 74 years of independence, Pakistan confronts a plethora of problems in its federal structure. It created complex problems of governance, politics, economy and nation-building process.
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The purpose of federalism is to divide authority or power between the centre and provinces.
Pakistan came into being as a federal democratic state in 1947 and adopted the Government of India Act 1935 as its provisional constitution with some changes. Muslim League supported provincial autonomy with federalism in the pre-independence era for the protection and advancement of Muslim interest in British India.
Later on, at the peak of its nationalism, Muslim League demanded the establishment of a separate homeland for Muslims of South Asia under a federal state. In 1945, in an interview Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah said:
“The theory of Pakistan guarantees that Federal units of the national government would have all the autonomy that you will find in the constitution of The United States of America, Canada and Australia. But certain vital powers will remain vested in the central government such as monetary system, National Defense and Federal responsibilities.”
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Pakistan’s fragile political structure
The constitutional and political history of Pakistan has always been subject to the imbalance between the federal and provincial governments. In a short span of its life i.e. 74 years, Pakistan, and the Islamic republic, has faced four Martial Laws. So we can say that democracy was not ingrained in the roots of this historically authoritarian soil.
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This article explains the intra-governmental relationships in Pakistan and the provincial prejudices per se. The narrative of the domination of the “Punjabis” on other units often remains the hot topic. The background of this very cliché still remains vague and ambiguous for some and to address it is an important matter.
We shall have a bird’s eye view on its history and factors that why the centre became so powerful, until the 18th amendment. The psychological and behavioural aspects which moulded the political consciousness and conscientiousness of this Republic goes back to 1947.
Even the strained relationship between the executive, judiciary and legislature affected the whole political system apart from its provincial prejudices and caused great harm to the country.
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A historical problem
The problem of federalism in Pakistan and its relation among the governmental institutions goes back to the 1935 act of India which was, after partition, amended and used by the government of Pakistan.
Quaid-e-Azam demanded liberty from the unitary system of the British to establish a federal state like Pakistan, however, the problem occurred that how in such a state, federalism is going to work. Then with certain amendments, the government of India act 1935 was adopted as a constitution of Pakistan, making it one of the most powerful Federal states of the world with an extremely assertive central government.
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The governor-general was made extremely powerful and so was the bureaucracy to implement his decisions. From the dismissal of Khawaja Nazimuddin to the dissolution of the East Pakistan Assembly, Governor-General and Central government exerted an extraordinary influence on the provinces and since then the central provincial relationships are on the verge of chaos and confusion.
The chaotic central-provincial relationship
For so long, the central government was autonomous in deciding the matters in the federal and concurrent list, which again neglected the provincial autonomy and by doing so damaged its relationship with all provinces.
The various institutions and agencies of the government i.e. executive, judiciary and legislature and their working relationship with each other have not been so harmonious in history because of the quasi-unitary powers of the central government.
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Moreover, the central government, as manifested in history, always maintained the balance of power in its own Court, allowing the executive to circumvent even the judiciary and the legislature. However, the claims that Pakistan’s atmosphere, both political and social, is not favourable for federalism but only for the unitary system is naïve.
The protagonist of this version says that because of the cultural and ethnic diversities, Pakistan cannot afford to enjoy the luxuries of federation per se. Furthermore, the democratic administration has been toppled so many times, instigating ethnic and linguistic schisms, have ripped the country apart.
Central provincial relationship in the past was the main factor of the administrative collapse of the system, resulting in the fall of Bengal in 1971. Perhaps, now we have to understand how to maintain the balance of power, between intragovernmental agencies and central provincial relationship if we are to avoid another great catastrophe.
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The writer is the Political Advisor to Chairman Senate Commerce Committee and FBR Reform committee. He is also the founder of POLITICA-think tank and a student of Masters in Political Science and International Affairs at the University of Punjab. The views expressed in the article are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.