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Decentralisation must for sustainable growth

The political forces have done a commendable job by decentralizing administrative and fiscal resources on to the provinces but the benefits have ultimately to be passed on to the regions lying far off the provincial capitals — Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta and Karachi. It is vital to invest powers in the hands of the people so that they can decide about the issues related with the socio-economic development of their specific regions.

By Riaz Missen

Political parties of Pakistan, after doing wonders like NFC Award, provincial autonomy and the restoration of Parliamentary supremacy through 18th amendment in the Constitution, seem to be in hurry to undertake another uphill task: redrawing boundaries of the four provinces, established through a decree of General Yahya Khan in 1969, with the effect that some new federal units are created. While this step is vital for the proper management of the state vis-à-vis law and order and sustainable economic development, the only issue to be settled is the criteria to form a province.

Since March 13 when Premier Gilani, in Jalalpur Pirwala, announced support of his party for Saraiki province, no solid opposition to the idea of  creating more provinces has come to the forth but public opinion stands sharply divided as to whether the new provinces should be carved out on linguistic / ethnic basis or not.

The PML-N has raised the question as to why only Punjab should be divided, that too on ethnic grounds. While its leadership says Punjab should be divided into five provinces, the other provinces should also undergo this change for the sake of good governance. Within the Saraiki belt, the leadership of Bahawalpur has unanimously drawn lines and has vowed to resist any move other than reviving the region’s provincial status. 

Pakistan has been embroiled too much in the international politics since its inception and has been serving the role of frontline state for the liberal world led by America. The complexity of relations between two of Pakistan’s giant neighbors, India and China, and the US interest in the region kept Pakistan’s decision-makers too much obsessed with international politics. While the country was made to serve the interest of everybody around, its own people kept on suffering from poverty, disease and injustice.

When the situation has eased on international front and Pakistan finds a space to maneuver, its economy is simply in tatters. Except few – telecommunication, banking, oil and gas — all sectors of economy are in dire straits. The worst damage has been done to the economy and environment as population has increased six fold and blind exploitation of natural resources has disturbed the desired balance in the nature. The mismanagement of natural resources turned streams, lakes and rivers polluted; the forest cover has become too thin to sustain a fast growing population.

The hydrological facts are changing fast making the country swing between floods and droughts. The worrisome monsoon trend, whereby it has started earlier than the time and hit new regions and abandoned the others, has grave vis-à-vis human settlements, health and food. The climate change can put humans and wildlife on flight either due to droughts or floods.

When agriculture, the main source of country’s livelihood, seems to be unsustainable, one can’t aspire for the growth of industry and, consequently, jobs. No government, no matter who is in charge, can guarantee peace and security, whether internal or external, when economy keeps on sinking down. The crime rate — name it militancy, robbery, black-marketing or whatever one may like —is bound to rise in this situation. Investors will be shy of developing stakes in the country and foreign direct investment is simply unimaginable.

The mismanagement of natural resources and their irrational use has dangerous implication for the integrity of the state. It is certainly a time to rethink security when the country, due to heavy spending on defense, can only manage to spare 3% of GDP for the provision of basic amenities of life.

The political forces have done a commendable job by decentralizing administrative and fiscal resources on to the provinces but the benefits have ultimately to be passed on to the regions lying far off the provincial capitals — Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta and Karachi. It is vital to invest powers in the hands of the people so that they can decide about the issues related with the socio-economic development of their specific regions.

Pakistan is a diverse region in terms of landscape and crop patterns. The hilly regions’ economy heavily depends on forests, deserts’ on livestock and flood planes’ on agriculture. Culture is simply about co-existence with climate and geographical realities.

Contrary to the past, when the politicians could play on ethnicity, the question right now is how to repair the ecosystem that has been destroyed due to the unsustainable growth strategies.  The dominance of agriculturalists in decision-making process has set the agenda of country’s politics so far. The inequalities have been sustained through unrestrained use of violence against the aggrieved groups.  Centralization has been used as tool to suppress the dissenting voices.

Last but not the least, dividing province from the viewpoint of good governance and economic development, not ethnicity, will result into the boosting of nationalism which has been missing till now but is prerequisite to rational decision-making vis-à-vis socio-economic development of the country.