Aug 11, 2011

Sindh: What 18th Constitutional Amendment?

Sixteen months after the passage of Pakistan’s 18th Constitutional Amendment, there continues to be little, if any, evidence of comprehensive devolution in Sindh, Balochistan or elsewhere. Liability, without any significant level of regional autonomy, will be the legacy.

Below is an article published by the Daily Times

Pakistanis are full of celebration over the 18th Amendment, presented as a great achievement of the ruling party and its allies and portrayed as a panacea for all the constitutional and political problems this country has been facing.

But, in reality, is the situation worth these celebrations? And does this piece of constitutional amendment answer the basic and complicated questions of provincial/national autonomy as it stands today?

The main achievement, as claimed by the government, is the abolition of the concurrent list and transfer of powers to the provinces, which is the biggest lie of the 21st century.

In reality, the title of the subjects of the concurrent list has been transferred to the units/provinces while the substance has been kept with the centre. Out of 178 departments of the ‘transferred’ ministries, only 47 have been handed over to the provinces while the centre has retained 131. Either they have been ‘shifted’ to the various (existing) central ministries or new ministries have been created for this purpose.

Particularly those departments where money is involved have been retained. Details of such manipulation have already appeared in the media and are being discussed, particularly in the Sindhi media. For instance, the Employees Old-age Benefit Institute (EOBI) and Workers Welfare Fund (WWF) have been taken from the labour ministry and given to the federal ministry of inter-provincial coordination. Similarly, the Evacuee Trust Property Board has been handed over to the federal ministry of human rights. Also, the lucrative departments belonging to the health, environment, food and agricultural ministries have been retained by the centre. This can be described as giving all liabilities and taking all assets.

Now let us have a look at the importance, or otherwise, of the concurrent list in the current scenario, in the light of the past. Five years ago, I wrote an article in a leading newspaper called ‘Concurrent list: too little, too late’. During these five years, a lot has happened. In fact, the issues addressed through the 18th Amendment are the issues accumulated over the last 40 years.

During the 1960s, the struggle of the Sindhi, Baloch and Pakhtun people was for provincial autonomy. Not only were they denied such autonomy but their leaders were labelled traitors and put behind bars. The National Awami Party (NAP) contested the 1970 elections with a manifesto of provincial autonomy, demanding the transfer of subjects from the centre to the provinces. NAP won the election in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and formed its governments there. Before implementation of their manifesto of provincial autonomy, their governments were dismissed, their party was banned and their leaders incarcerated. The party in power in Islamabad was the same — the PPP. The situation, particularly in Balochistan, has gone from bad to worse. What treatment Sindh has received from Rawalpindi/Islamabad during the last 40 years, if explained in detail, would require a separate article.

The situation in regards to the rights of the constituent units/nations has undergone a sea change. The Baloch are demanding the status Balochistan enjoyed before its forced accession to the state of Pakistan. The Sindh nationalist movement has also gone far ahead. Sindhi people do not like to live on charity. They do not plead for mercy and they do not beg for any kind of sympathy. Their struggle now is for regaining their national sovereignty, committed in the 1940 resolution.

Pakistan has been ruled by the combination of an establishment adept only at using might to make things right and politicians playing only the politics of constituency. The result is that all policies and decisions are made on a ‘win today, leave tomorrow’ basis. The Pakistani rulers have only been able to ‘follow the events’ while history has taken its own course and given its own decisions.

Bengal’s nationalist movement started with the language issue when, in 1948, Bengalis demanded recognition of Bengali as the national language and Mr Muhammad Ali Jinnah responded that, “Urdu and only Urdu shall be the national language of Pakistan.” During their movement, on February 21, 1952, police firing killed four students at Dhaka University. That day was later declared by the United Nations as the ‘day of mother languages’.

Afterwards, Pakistani rulers recognised Bengali as the national language but by that time the movement had gone ahead. Now, instead of pleading for each right separately, they started their struggle for political power, i.e. the power to make decision themselves. This shaped itself into the famous six points of the Awami League. Surprisingly, the six points did not include any point about language or culture because, at that point in time, the movement had become a struggle for political and economic rights.

The rulers immediately declared it as an anti-Pakistan programme and Indian conspiracy. The Awami League contested the 1970 elections on the basis of this six-point programme and won 99 percent seats from Bengal (East Pakistan) and a simple majority in the whole of Pakistan. Instead of conceding to them the right to make the constitution and rule the country, the gun-toting establishment and power hungry politicians sent tanks into Dhaka and changed the colour of the rivers and streams of Bengal into red “to save Pakistan”.

The consequence of this ‘save Pakistan’ venture was that Bengal’s national rights movement went one step further and culminated in the emergence of an independent Bangladesh.

After the passage of a quarter century, a Pakistani prime minister went to Dhaka and tendered an apology to the Bengali people, conceding that the military operation of 1971 was wrong.

It is said that history’s biggest lesson is that people do not learn lessons from it. The Pakistani rulers seem to outdo all other people in proving this lesson true. Their concepts, attitudes and policies vis-à-vis the nationalist movements of Sindh and Balochistan are identical to what they followed while dealing with Bengali aspirations. On the one hand, they are pursuing the policies of oppression, suppression and exploitation while on the other, they are offering cosmetic treatments for very serious and deep-rooted problems. Still not realising the facts and not accepting the realities of today, they are suggesting solutions from 40 years ago.

This is like treating a complicated disease like cancer with ordinary, expired medicine. That is the significance and value of the 18th Amendment. Its fate and effects will not be any different from past endeavours and adventures. Remember General Musharraf’s words with regards to the Balochistan situation: “This is not the 1970s. We will hit them so hard that they will not even know what hit them.” These are fascist tendencies based on the ignorance of history. And history tells us that when you ignore history, history ignores you.


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