Crisis of National Integration in Pakistan

Crisis of National Integration in Pakistan

Analyzing the Problems and Issues of Federalism

National Integration/Federalism

Federation is a form of government in which power is constitutionally divided among different federating units in such a way that each one exercises responsibility for a particular set of functions and maintains its own institutions to describe these functions. Federalism establishes two sets of government: federal or central authority, and the government of federating units on the basis of mutually-agreed formula of division of power or authority. The mode of political organization unites smaller polities with an overarching political system by distributing power among general and constituent governments on an equal footing. The essence of federalism lies in the coordinate status of both central and provincial/regional governments and in independence of both in their own spheres. The principle of distribution of power is the basic reality behind the structural composition of a federation.

Crisis of federalism in Pakistan

Crisis of federation is one of the major challenges confronted by Pakistan. Row over distribution of resources, delay in construction of dams, controversies surrounding NFC award, growing inter-provincial mistrust and insurgency in Balochistan, all are symptoms of a malaise that afflicts the body politic of Pakistan with the crisis of federalism. In the past, this crisis led to the secession of East Pakistan and now again this crisis has assumed horrific proportions, and resolution of this crisis is inevitable to secure the future of federation.

Here is a brief analysis on the problems that have plagued Pakistan with the crisis of national integration:

1. Overdeveloped state structure

This means the structural roots of dominance of non-political forces in the state system that is embedded in colonial legacy. The perpetuation of this overdeveloped state structure obstructed the civilian supremacy. Moreover, it has encouraged state authoritarianism which has further widened the gulf among federating units. It has also been responsible for a strong centre which was reinforced under the military regimes. It has been the main culprit in the case of East Pakistan’s separation and yet it is prevailing. The concept of strong centre has been due to the military interference. This trend was further reinforced by non-political forces. This has been common in Pakistan politics that the central government is often interfered with authoritarianism and over-centralization which has cause serious conflicts between the centre and the provinces.

2. Intermittent military coups

Dr Hassan Askari Rizvi argues that under direct military rule, Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA) is not restrained by the constitution; therefore, Pakistan loses its federal character at operational level. The provinces become subsidiary administrative units of government in which capital city is controlled by top brass of military and the provincial governors become quite active in governance, impinging on the authority of chief ministers. Another significant development under military rule is the enhanced powers of corps commanders, especially those based in provincial capitals. This is more common if the governor of a province happens to be a civilian. This continues even after the military rule ends. So, as a result of prolonged military rule, Pakistan’s political system has turned into a unitary one. Moreover, in the absence of representative governments, the role of centre becomes more overwhelming over the affairs of the units and the spirit of federalism is scarified. Therefore, martial laws further exacerbate or aggravate the crisis of federalism.

3. Absence of provincial autonomy

All of Pakistan’s constitutions have failed to provide and guarantee a substantial degree of provincial autonomy. It is quite unfortunate that the makers of our constitution found it convenient to proceed on the basis of Government of India Act, 1935, which may be good model for democracy, but is a poor design for a federation. For instance, there was a conspicuous absence of a bicameral legislature in the Constitution of 1956 – though it was touted as parliamentary in nature. It propagated strong the president; controversial One-Unit Policy was prominent example. The Constitution of 1962 was made for Ayub Khan and all authorities were tailored for the president. Although the Constitution envisaged a provincial form of government, yet a feature of provincial system was totally missing, that is, separation of powers and a system of checks and balances. Furthermore, the Constitution of 1973 provided substantial degree of provincial autonomy through its institutions like Council of Common Interests (CCI), National Finance Commission (NFC) Award and Senate reforms yet it only contained two lists: federal and concurrent – provincial was absent.

4. Highly-centralized fiscal authority

Fiscal authority is mostly in the hands of central government and this factor generates high degree of imbalance between the federation and the provinces. This vertical fiscal imbalance is so pronounced that in order to perform their duties and functions, the provinces depend upon the transfer of resources from federal government or foreign assistance. For example, Pakistan’s provinces are dependent upon central government for the distribution of funds. The extent of dependence varies between 70 percent and 90 percent. Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are highly dependent. From the very beginning of the NFC Award (previously Raisman Programme), the provinces have shown reservations on the distribution of resources from the national exchequer. Another example of this fiscal imbalance is that sales tax, which was provincial subject in Government of India Act, 1935, remained a federal subject in all constitutions.

5. Diverse structures of the federating units

Shahid Javed Burki opines that Pakistan’s problem of federalism stems from the arbitral way in which we tried to resolve it by ignoring the diversified structures of governance of our federating units. For instance, Punjab was created by British in 1849. NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) became province in 1901 but it was accorded provincial status in the real sense in 1937. Sindh was separated from Bombay in 1937. Balochistan province was formed in 1970. Punjab was more settled, educated and developed, and political institutions were already present there. On the other hand, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was divided in the settled areas and tribal belt. Sindh was part of Bombay till 1937; Balochistan was under Governor-General’s (and later President’s) rule till 1970. Therefore, there existed great diversity in the structures of governance of these provinces and growth of political culture. These conditions affected the psyche of the people as well as of political socialization and degrees of integration into federation.

Unfortunately, our policymakers ignored all these issues and tried to tackle this crisis through myopic approach.

6. Row over distribution of resources

These problems became more complicated under military rule as it further causes interprovincial mistrust. This varies from distribution of dams, issue of distribution of financial resources as well as row over issue of royalties.

7. Unplanned migration

Another reason is the unplanned migration which not only disturbs demographic balance of the regions but also creates numerous problems including urbanization, sanitation and growth of slums. And, when these problems are not addressed or resolved properly, tensions among the various segments of urban population rise. For example, rehabilitation of Urdu-speaking people in Sindh. At present, Urdu-speaking people have outnumbered the local Sindhis in Karachi, and in this metropolis, five ethnic communities are competing for control over economic resources. Another example of urban migration is Balochistan where Pashtuns outnumber the Baloch in three major cities of the province – Quetta, Pashin and Loralai. Therefore, the concerns of Balochistan regarding the division of resources in Gawadar Port are not unfounded at all. Here the Baloch people would be outnumbered by non-Baloch people. It causes crisis of law and order as well as ethnicity problems.

8. Absence of pluralistic traditions

Pluralism is an accommodationist and tolerant political culture that is capable of accommodating dissenting voices. It fosters the tradition of ‘unity in diversity’. But, unfortunately, this trait has been conspicuously absent in our political system as we failed to develop strong pluralist traditions.

9. Crisis of democracy

This crisis is described as a reason that is in multi-ethnic states like Pakistan, there is no other feasible alternative to involve the stakes of smaller provinces in the federation. Democracy is not only a system but it inculcates traditions such as decision-making through consensus, public opinion, public accountability through electoral exercises, a tolerant culture and a spirit of sacrifice for national interests. The absence of democracy leads to a negative growth of political culture which means people become indifferent when the political system is confronted with a systemic crisis.

10. Rigid criterion for NFC award

Another factor responsible for the crisis of federalism is very rigid or population-based criterion for NFC Award. Except Punjab, all other provinces have grievances over the formula of distribution of resources. For instance, Sindh demands allocation of resources according to revenue generation, Balochistan demands it on the basis of area and royalty. KP wants it to be devised keeping in view the factors such as relative backwardness or deprivation. Therefore this has also been an apple of discord among the provinces.

11. Politicization of ethnicity

Another factor usually ascribed to the crisis of federalism in the Third World countries is the politicization of ethnicity, and Pakistan also is no exception. If a political system guarantees amicable settlement of disputes and demands of ethnic groups, ethnicity no longer causes any challenges. Otherwise, it becomes a severe challenge of federalism.

12. Failure to address this issue

Another factor is our failure to address this issue in its true perspective which is to resolve it from bottom-up approach instead of top-down approach. Instead of accommodating genuine demands of provinces or federating units concerning lingual rights, provincial autonomy, decentralization and development of indigenous cultures, we tried to resolve this issue either through the use of force or through ad-hoc solutions e.g. One-Unit.


i. Provincial autonomy through constitutional measures which may include:

  • Revision of distribution of powers between the centre and the provinces through constitutional amendments;
  • Transfer of subjects from Federal List to the Concurrent List;
  • Adding Provincial List;
  • Empowering the Senate of Pakistan;
  • Fiscal autonomy to provinces in order to address the issue of vertical fiscal imbalance.

ii. Holistic solutions should be found to resolve the issue of provincial autonomy.

iii. Pakistan should opt for people’s federalism.

iv. Pluralistic solution to the problems of federalism.

v. Try to resolve problems keeping in view the historical diversities in the structure of governance of the federating units.

vi. Creation of more provinces on lingual and administrative basis.

vii. Allaying the fears of smaller provinces regarding the dominance of Punjab.

viii. Devising NFC formula giving equal weight to all factors, not the population only.

Analysis of the 18th Amendment

Passed in 2010, the 18th Amendment removed the most formidable obstacle in the way of provincial autonomy i.e. the Concurrent List. According to the Amendment, the provinces have been empowered in three prospects: constitutional, political and administrative. The constitutional role of several state institutions, such as legislature and judiciary, was minimized and the provincial executives were empowered in making their political and administrative decisions. At the political level, the amendment highlighted the sense of cooperation among the political elites from national and regional political parties on the critical issues. Among them was renaming the NWFP to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In the administrative realm, the provinces have acquired their unique position, unlike the earlier political reforms. It designated the enhancing role of the Council of Common Interests (CCI), the incorporated decision for the establishment of the local governance system under the provincial tier and the adaptation of the new provision for the establishment of a loose federalism with institutionalized structure in Pakistan. The Amendment has addressed the concerns of the smaller provinces so as to resolve their terms for the decades-long demand of the greater political decision-making at a transparent level under the provincial elites to meet their local interests.

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