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Building a Cohesive State Qazi Azmat Isa

Building a Cohesive State | Qazi Azmat Isa

DEVELOPMENT in Pakistan is marred by huge regional disparities across the provinces and regions. Pakistan has become polarised, a country where districts and communities have little in common with each other. Those segments that are marginalised suffer from feelings of alienation and exploitation, while the nexus between sectarian militancy and extremism is strengthened through conditions of deprivation and poverty.

The 18th Amendment, which redefined the structure of the state of Pakistan by shifting from a largely centralised to a predominantly decentralised federation, was intended to enhance federalism. In reality, however, the country is looking increasingly like a confederation.

The new paradigm was designed to create an efficient multi-tiered governance system which extended substantial autonomy to the provinces. Promoting federalism of provinces, with the assumption that local governments will be responsible for the delivery of services such as education and health, devolution under the 18th Amendment has had little or no impact. Instead, a situation has been created whereby the federal government has absolved itself of key responsibilities in planning, industry, agriculture and rural development, social services and welfare which need to be coordinated — and equitably and uniformly managed/resourced to keep the federation’s unity intact.

Devolution does not mean the state can absolve itself of responsibility.

The seventh National Finance Commission award gave the provinces access to three times more money than they had before. The NFC, in theory, provides a means for the amicable distribution of resources between the federal and provincial governments on the basis of a multi-factor formula taking into account poverty, underdevelopment and inverse population density.

Given that most social sectors now fall under the provincial domain, the continuation of the NFC award is highly contentious. The provinces want a greater share of divisible resources while the centre has claimed the need for jointly managing the war against terrorism, natural disasters and the needs of special areas like Azad Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan and Fata. Meanwhile, Balochistan, lagging behind in infrastructure and human and social capital investments, has proposed increasing the weight of inverse population density by reducing the population factor for distributing taxes among the provinces. Despite being the poorest province, Balochistan received only 9.1pc of the divisible pool.

Prior to the 18th Amendment, the federal government was allocating significant financial resources for national-level programmes and interventions in social sectors. Besides, the productive sector, eg agriculture, was also being supported with federal funds.  Post-devolution, federal support has been curtailed. Unfortunately, the provincial governments have not filled this gap despite the allocation of additional resources under the seventh NFC award. The situation now calls for the centre to take the lead and negotiate a framework with the provinces which inter alia can provide minimum thresholds for financial allocation to these sectors in the provincial budgets.

Currently, the role of interprovincial coordination falls on the shoulders of the Council of Common Interests which is meant to “conform to the spirit of federalism”. Provincial engagement with the CCI has been limited in the past but must expand as the federal government emerges as a coordinating super-structure that facilitates and monitors the provincial governments.

Growing militancy in Balochistan, KP and Fata, the regions most lacking in infrastructure and the least developed socio-economically, can be attributed in part to the sense of deprivation and inequity experienced by the communities living there.

A comparison of two neighbouring districts — Rajanpur, the poorest district of Punjab, and Dera Bugti in Balochistan — highlights the development crisis faced by Pakistan’s largest province. Dera Bugti has an approximate population of 320,000 while Rajanpur has almost two million people. The food security index for the former stands at 0.23 and the incidence of caloric poverty is at 73pc, while the latter has a food security index of 0.58 and a 55.3pc incidence of caloric poverty. Only 5pc of girls in rural Dera Bugti were able to enrol in primary school as compared to 62pc in Rajanpur. The literacy rate for the 10-plus age group is 16pc in Dera Bugti and 39pc in Rajanpur, while the female literacy rate for the same age is 1pc in the former and 27pc in the latter. Dera Bugti is rich in natural gas but the gas extracted from there is transported to other parts of Pakistan. Dera Bugti is deprived of it. In Balochistan, the maternal mortality rate is 785 while the national average is 275.

Devolution does not mean the state can absolve itself of responsibility. At the very least effective coordination and a stringent oversight mechanism are essential. The federal government must ensure the NFC commitments are spent and targets achieved and that appropriate capacity building of the provincial governments takes place.

The report of the Task Force on Strengthening Social Safety Net Institutions in Pakistan, states, “it must also be recognised that Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan, Fata and Fana as well as Islamabad Capital Territory are special areas and are not devolved provinces. Hence, service delivery responsibilities for these areas with regard to social safety nets rest with the federal government”.

It is hardly surprising that violence and extremism abound in those parts of Pakistan that are poorer than others. The need to bring conflict-affected and insecure areas into the economic and social mainstream is becoming more and more urgent particularly as grand infrastructure projects, such as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, are planned. The mega project will expand economic prospects but unless local communities are included in the benefits that accrue, economic exclusion will be costly.

A federation requires a strong centre, one that is seen to be impartial and strives to bring equity and unity to relatively unequal, disparate and autonomous places. To progress, our provinces, territories and frontier regions need to be aligned behind a common agenda, owned by all. The federal government must become the centre that ensures that the ground realities of regions within Pakistan are accounted for, that fund transfers are tied to needs and performance, that national markers for quality of social services are uniform, that all levels of governance and service delivery are accountable and transparent and that Pakistan moves towards becoming a cohesive state.

The writer is the CEO of the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund.

Published in Dawn, August 22nd, 2015

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