Syed Anwar Mahmood
ISLAMABAD: The mayhem in Karachi in which twelve innocent lives were lost during a rally on May 22 again points to a malaise we refuse to see, much less feel and understand. The rally itself was only incidental. It was ostensibly against a recent spate of wall chalking in Karachi propagating the creation of “Mohajir Sooba”.
In reality, it was symptomatic of a deeper crisis. The crisis of confidence, lack of it actually, in any authority, be it administrative or political. And who can blame them? Betrayed again and again, they refuse to believe those in authority. And this leaves them vulnerable to all kind of machination and exploitation by groups harbouring different interests but coming together for what they pronounce as a larger cause-prevent the division of Sindh.
Who wants Sindh divided? Not PPP. Not MQM, as per their repeated declaration. Not the Sindhi nationalist parties. Not PML-N. Indeed no political party, large or small, wants the division of Sindh. Who then, launched this wall chalking in Karachi and why at this stage?
Was it timed to create confusion as the demand for a Bahawalpur Province or a Hazara Province or a separate Province of South Punjab was gaining ground? Was it launched to put brakes to these demands or was it being done to stir unrest, yet again in a city that drives the country’s economy? The reason could be any of these or none. But the resolution of this recurring malaise lies not in dividing Sindh which no one really wants. One has to move beyond the debate on new provinces to see where the answer lies. I have written earlier and will say yet again that much of our problems today can be traced back to 1955 when we merged all the provinces and the Princely states into the one unit of West Pakistan.
And worse still was the decision in 1969-70 to break that one unit into four provinces without restoring the unit of Balochistan States Union (BSU) comprising Kalat, Kharan, Mekran and Lasbela. Since then, the wounds in these areas have not healed, in effect they have festered. Restore Bahawalpur and BSU to their respective status of 1955 and you would be addressing, to a great extent, the issues of “Balochi nationalism” and the cribbing of South Punjab. Our problems of today arise in large measure from the reluctance of our provisional leadership to devolve power downwards. They interpret devolution as limited to transferring resources and authority from the Federation to the provinces. The 18th Constitutional amendment did that and for them that is the end of devolution.
They conveniently forget that for democracy to take roots and flourish, power both financial and administrative, has to go down to districts, tehsils, cities and towns. The people face problems and difficulties in their areas and expect their resolution not hundreds of miles away in Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar or Quetta but through their local leadership. Democracy should come into play in the day to day lives of the people and that means the local police, the patwari, the tehsildar and the likes taking orders from the elected representatives of the people.
Unfortunately, that has been done away with. In their keenness to retain power and pelf more than their desire to remove traces of General Musharraf, the provisional leaders of all hue have thrown away the local government system introduced by him. Unfortunately, and indeed deliberately, they have thrown away the baby with the bath water. How else does one interpret the recently introduced toothless local government laws in Sindh and KP?
My belief remains that the festerings not only in Sindh but in Pakistan as a whole will evaporate if we devolve power meaningfully and effectively from the provinces down to the cities, towns, districts and tehsils. Devolve them effectively to the elected representatives after holding local government elections as soon as possible.
And before that, amend the local government law to vest the local governments with effective financial and administrative authority. If Islamabad could give the NFC to the provinces, will it be asking too much of the provinces to show magnanimity and vision by transferring money and authority downwards. For the democrative spirit to pervade and for Pakistan to stabilize and progress peacefully devolution is the answer, be in Sindh or elsewhere. Will the political leadership in all the provinces stand up and be counted as willing to share to shore up the state of Pakistan? We will wait to see if they rise above self or continue with their narrow self interests.
The writer is a former federal secretary