Pakistan needs a new social contract


In 1973, Pakistani politicians agreed on a new social contract. The purpose of this social contract, or constitution, was to ensure that the federal units remain united and that there was an increase in mutual agreement and unity among them. Unfortunately, neither the provinces managed to unite, nor was there any possible agreement and unity among the different regions within the provinces. On one side, Sindhis, Pashtuns, and Baloch have complaints against Punjabis, and on the other, the people of South Punjab are discontented with North Punjab. Rural Sindh is complaining against urban Sindh, South Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is displeased with North Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the people of Hazara are unhappy with both.
The 1973 social contract failed to foster agreement, unity, and love among the provinces. In my opinion, there are two reasons for this lack of unity: first, the excessive interference of the federal government in regional affairs and its control over resource distribution; and second, the unnecessarily large size of the federal units. For instance, Sindhi speakers and Urdu speakers in Sindh have different cultures, and the Sindhi speakers are numerically greater. Naturally, this means that the elected Chief Minister of the province will be a Sindhi speaker, causing discontent among the Urdu-speaking population. Similarly, Punjab is a very large unit, with a population greater than 180 sovereign countries. If such a large political unit is controlled by one Chief Minister, naturally, the flow of resources will be more towards one area, creating conflicts between North and South Punjab. The same is true for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. Now, Kashmiris have also joined this struggle, complaining against Punjab, and Punjab is discontented with Kashmiris.
Punjab, being the largest federal unit, naturally holds the most power in the federation, causing it to face complaints from other federal units. Even within Punjab, the divide between South and North is growing. The demand for a separate South Punjab province is increasing, and in response, a separate secretariat for South Punjab has been established, yet complaints continue unabated.
Another issue is the federal government’s continued unnecessary interference in resource distribution. The natural resources produced in a region should be the priority of that region, but federal interference leads to resources being distributed in a strange manner. The gas pipeline starts from Sui and reaches Islamabad, but the local people of Sui do not have access to gas.
The federal government is responsible for purchasing and distributing electricity. The federal government buys electricity from thermal plants at the rate of 25 to 35 rupees per unit, while Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is paid only 1.5 rupees for the electricity it provides. Consequently, the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa complain that Punjab buys cheap electricity from them and sells it back at a very high price, while the people of Punjab complain that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa does not pay its electricity bills, placing the burden on the people of Punjab.
It is clear that the social contract under which Pakistan’s governance system is run has failed to foster love and unity. Federal units, which should be economic partners of each other, have become economic rivals.
Calls for the creation of new provinces emerge periodically, and there has been some progress in this direction. However, some people still have complaints about this proposed division. People refuse to accept it with slogans like “division of Sindh land.” Similarly, some people view Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as an indivisible entity, and the idea of its division offends their pride.
Large economies have numerous benefits. Consider this: except for oil-based economies, all billionaires live in large economies. Even a small business in a large economy, if successful, can change fortunes overnight. Therefore, from a purely economic perspective, a large economy is advantageous. However, the smaller units within the economy must also be economically strong; without this, the existence of the central government remains in jeopardy.
I believe there is another excellent solution to this issue: introducing a new social contract that establishes divisions, rather than provinces, as the basic federal units. Provinces should remain in their old positions, but the role of the Chief Minister should be transferred to the division level. Assemblies should be divisional instead of provincial, and financial powers should be assigned to 35 divisions rather than the four provinces. The local division’s right to natural resources should be recognized, and each division should be authorized to buy and sell its resources with any other division according to market mechanisms. If divisions are recognized as financial and political units, conflicts such as the Urdu-Sindhi dispute, Hindko-Pashto dispute, Pashto-Balochi dispute, and even the Multan-Bahawalpur issue can be resolved amicably.
The federal government should end its role as the old father who, despite being elderly, neither trusts his children nor allows them to develop self-confidence. The federal government should play the role of a father who has distributed all his property among his children, and due to his fair distribution, all the children are devoted to him. When provinces are financially autonomous, they will strive to generate financial resources for themselves, leading to the promotion of local industry and agriculture.
Small political units are not a unique concept to the world; in fact, most developed countries prefer smaller political units. The United States, with a population of 330 million, has 52 autonomous states, while Pakistan, with a population of 240 million, has only four provinces. Germany, with a population of 80 million, has 16 provinces, while Japan, with a population of 110 million, has 47 provinces. In our neighboring Afghanistan, with a population of 40 million, there are 34 provinces, while Iran, with a population of 90 million, has 31 provinces.
My proposal is that each division should have a separate assembly, Chief Minister, and cabinet. The four governors, according to the existing provinces, should act as representatives of the federal government, overseeing the governance system with the assistance of deputy governors. There should be a deputy governor appointed by the federal government in each division.
The federal government should completely cease its interference in resource distribution. Whatever resources a division has should be recognized as belonging to that division, and each division should allocate a portion of its income to the federation. The federation should manage defense and other essential services with its share of the funds and assist financially weaker units.
Understand that a child raised on spoon-feeding cannot eat on their own for years, whereas a child who learns to eat on their own becomes capable of eating within months. Similarly, as long as remote areas are not motivated to discover and work on their own resources, they will not become financially better. When a division realizes that it has to arrange resources to run its government, it will automatically try to make better use of local resources, which currently they only take pride in and use as a reason to complain against Punjab.