People and their identities ‘matter in federalism’
The Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CDPI), in collaboration with Friedrich-Nauman Stiftung für die Freiheit, organised a seminar on ‘Federalism and Provincial Autonomy’ here on Thursday.
Speaking in the conference, ANP Senator Haji Adeel said the provinces would have gotten more resources if the NFC Award had taken place after the 18th Amendment. He lamented that amendments introduced by successive regimes has been detrimental to the culture of federalism in the country.
He also said that the FATA members of National Assembly and Senate can play their role in making laws about Pakistan but they cannot make laws about FATA as these powers are vested in the president. He also demanded that the local languages should be declared as national languages and if it is not possible, these languages should be declared Pakistani languages as India has done in the case of its own local languages. He also said that ANP has been demanding imposition of tax on agriculture income but the major political parties as well smaller ones led by big feudals have resisted to this tax.
Zubair Faisal Abbasi, executive director of the Institute for Development Initiatives, said that share of provinces in the divisible pool had increased from 41% in 2004-05 to 57% in 2009. It is up to the provinces to utilise these extra resources in a manner to end inequalities that were present within different regions of the provinces. He also stressed on the need for debating trade agreements in the National Assembly and in the provincial assemblies so that people could know whether these trade agreements were in their interest. Friedrich-Nauman Stiftung für die Freiheit Country Representative Olaf Kellerhoff shared with participants how system of federalism operates in Germany. He said that there were 16 regions, provinces or city states in Germany and these different regions were not homogenous. Language is primarily the same though there different dialects and customs. German federation operates on the principle of subsidiarity and the decisions are taken at the lowest level. Since regions are independent, there is spirit of competitiveness amongst them as these regions want to attract companies to conduct their business ventures in their areas so that these areas could develop. As a result of this competitiveness, regions endeavour to establish good educational institutions so that people could live in those areas. German constitution guarantees equal rights and if a particular region lags behind, the centre intervenes and other developed regions contribute for its development.
Mazhar Arif, executive director of the Society for Alternative Media and Research, said that constitution was violated soon after it was framed, military action was launched in Balochistan and the military action is still taking place in some shape in the province of Balochistan. He said people and their identities matter in federalism and it is extremely important that their identities are articulated in the constitution. Conflicts will continue to intensify with the passage of time if cultural, linguistic and ethnic identities are not articulated in constitution. He also opined that we need to go beyond 18th Amendment in order to resolve conflicts and need to articulate issues of diversities through constitution. The centre is all powerful and all the issues are decided at the centre without incorporating the views of the people.
Gulmina Bilal, executive director of the Individual land, said that 18th Amendment had resolved some issues of identity as we have Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa according to the wishes of the people of the province. Powers of the Council of Common Interests have enhanced and right to education has been given constitutional protection through Article 25. She said that though local governments were given responsibilities but financial powers were not devolved. She said that different nationalities and languages add to the beauty and diversity.
Senator Shirala Malik of MQM said that her party had always stood for the rights of the provinces. She suggested that apart from defence, foreign policy and currency, all the powers should be devolved to the provincial level. She also said that the local government system has been very successful, especially in Sindh, and that is why there is need for devolving powers at the local level.
Tehrik-e-Insaf Provincial President Sadaqat Abbasi said that his party has always stood for devolution of powers at the provincial level. However, it is important that capacity of the provinces is built in a gradual manner so that they are able to handle the resources devolved through 18th Amendment.
Mukhtar Ahmed Ali, executive director of the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives, in his concluding remarks, said that well being of the people is dependant on the way state is structured. It is wrong to assume that that federalism has failed in Pakistan. There was time when there were successionist movements in Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa but these provinces are part of the mainstream now which shows that federalism experience has been successful in Pakistan which needs to be further strengthened. He stressed on the need for structuring the state in a manner that it brings benefit to the people. Participants were unanimous that 18th Amendment was a step in the right direction and stressed upon the political leadership to take steps to devolve powers at the provincial level so that the issues of the people could be solved.