Parochial ethnic interests fail to see the binding linkage between devolution and socioeconomic development
Mr. Asif Ali Zaradari is hopelessly trying to get back PPP’s share in Punjab, but luck does not seem to be smiling at him. Circumstantial evidences suggest that it will not be this province that will favor his party to take high seat in the federal capital, again. Why? It is a big question for him to answer.
The PPP, under Asif Ali Zaradari, owes the credit of changing the content of political discourse of Pakistan through ‘politics of reconciliation’ and the restoration of the Constitution, but has unfortunately become the victim of its own initiatives.
Mr. Zardari’s conduct, after the assassination of his spouse and the lifelong chairperson of PPP, Benazir Bhutto, was exemplary: he raised the slogan of ‘Long Live’ Pakistan when Sindh was high in rage and refused to accept the logic that general elections of 2008 for the reason, whatsoever.
During his tenure in presidency Mr. Zardari’s performance was miraculous, indeed. By taking along other parliamentary parties, through the ‘politics of reconciliation’, he not only got the constitution clipped off the anomalies introduced by wild and vile dictators but also delivered to the ethnonationalists the kind of provincial autonomy they had not even dreamed of.
Mr. Zardari’s politics of reconciliation strengthened the stakes of the likes of Jamat-e-Islami and the JUI-F given the fact that the constitution, after its para-wise revision, became more religious in character as sovereignty continued to be a heavenly concern.
Four years after the Constitutional reforms, the PPP has lost power in the Centre and confined to the hinterlands of rural Sindh. The party has been banished from Punjab wherefrom it had been getting strength to rule in the Centre.
In South Punjab, the PPP had raised the issue of ‘Saraiki province’ but after the ANP snubbed it fearing to lose two of KP’s southern districts to the proposed federal unit and Punjab Assembly passing resolution for restoring Bahawalpur province as well, the PPP turned to ‘South Punjab’ mantra, alienating both nationalists and the MPs of the region.
The constitutional reforms actually brought forth some complicated, if not intriguing questions, that required necessary legislation. Police massacred in Abbottabad a number of people demanding new province, for they did not adhere to the new identity of the province, which had been named Khyber-Pukhtoonkhawah on the demand of ANP, a coalition partner of the PPP.
Actually, the Constitutional reforms committee, headed by PPP’s Raza Rabbani, had closed the chapter of creating new federal units by retaining a Zia era provision, which sought the approval of the concerned province to redraw its boundaries.
Zardari’s unflinching belief in the founder of the PPP, which urged him to confine the process of constitutional reforms unto its restoration, must not be taken as unusual a trait, for loyalty means so in this part of the world, but it is also fact that he miserably failed to see Pakistan beyond the 1970s.
The PPP, under the pressure of the ethnonationalists had scrapped the district government system of General Musharraf era in Sindh, enthusiastically followed by other provinces, and has yet to fulfill the constitutional responsibility to devolve power to the grassroots level.
Needless to say, the devolution plan, despite all nobl intentions of its authors, has fallen victim to the parochialism of ethnic lots, who fail to see a binding linkage between devolution and development.
The 18th Constitutional Amendment was a major breakthrough as far as alleviating the sense of deprivation of the smaller provinces was concerned but the opportunity seems to be lost given the reluctance of the provinces to take the benefit of devolution to the grassroots level — the point where it is linked with the socio-economic growth.
Asif Zardari may ceaselessly talk about the party’s sacrifice for the sake of democracy to console the disgruntled souls within his party, particularly belonging to Punjab, but the fact of the matter is that he fails to understand the ‘spirit’ of devolution and foresee the consequences of not sticking to reason and rationality.
Mr. Zardari’s obsession with ‘political actors’ should not end up in becoming a political actor himself. The first test for him is that PPP should not stand for the status-quo. Politics of reconciliation should now be directed at efforts for further Constitutional reforms keeping in mind what Benazir Bhutto meant by suggesting ‘new social contract’.
Mr. Asif Ali Zaradari should come out of oblivion and speak his soul. Failing to justify his party’s stance on devolution makes his ‘reconciliatory’ politics as a deceitful move to serve the vested interests. Democracy, which he often talks about is meaningless if it does not empower people at the grassroots level; the people must be empowered to decide themselves how they will like their children to be taught and their hospitals be run.
December 17, 2014