By Behzad Taimur:
The 72nd anniversary of passage of the historic Lahore Resolution of 1940, which is widely credited with formalization of the idea of a “Pakistan”, as a separate state for Muslims of the Indian subcontinent, passed recently, and one must draw attention to its relevance today.
Contrary to popular belief, the Lahore Resolution proposed formation of not one but several states for the Muslims, saying: “That the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in majority, as in the North-Western and Eastern zones of India should be grouped to constitute independent states in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign.”
Today, when calls for more provinces are growing louder, it should be of pertinence to us to note that our founding fathers had proposed a number of states, and not a singular state entity. They understood that the Indian subcontinent was a land of divided, localized sovereignties.
For thousands of years, the concept of a territorial state did not exist in the subcontinent, and the central state ruled through a system of patronage. The center established a system of patronage of regional power structures, which would then, in turn, afford patronage to the traditional – and tribal – structures such as panchayats and jirgas, which would deal with local-level power brokers, such as the village Maliks or Sardars. The central state, then, never had an overarching grass-roots-level reach, affording regional and local power structures extensive, internal autonomy from central rule.
It, thus, may be said that granting regional and local-level autonomy by devolving power to smaller, more localized federating units would be closer to the nature of the peoples of this land, and their historical tradition.
Our own history bears testament to the autonomy-oriented aspirations of the people. The Bengalis of East Pakistan struggled for autonomy for quarter of a century, before splintering off and forming an entirely separate country. The Balochis, similarly, have for long fought for autonomy in a string of insurgencies, the latest of which is still ongoing. Other ethnic groups such as the Pakhtuns and the Sindhis have been calling for autonomy for themselves, as well.
Today, smaller ethnic groups such as Seraikis and Hazarwals are increasingly exerting their identity demanding that they be allowed to form their separate provinces, with autonomy from the center, and freedom from dominance of larger ethnic groups – the Punjabis and Pakhtuns, respectively – which they view as exercising undermining influence, and preventing adequate exertion, promotion and blooming of their cultural identities.
The lack of regional and local-level autonomy has heightened the sense of alienation and disempowerment felt by various ethnic groups of Pakistan, amplifying manifold their feeling of exploitation and deprivation, leading to disenchantment with the federation of Pakistan. This general disillusionment and dissatisfaction felt by several ethnicities has reached a point where calls for a cessation from Pakistan are gaining unprecedented steam, and the reluctance of the central state to give autonomy has only served to strengthen cessationist elements, and driving an increasing number of people to their folds, thereby severely straining the federation.
The present times, then, demand that something substantial be done about the sorry state of affairs. One recommends that the central state go back “to the roots” and heed what our founding fathers understood, foresaw and indicated in such foundational documents of Pakistan as the Lahore Resolution of 1940, make a clear break from its six-decade-old policy of highly centralized rule, and only limited provincial and regional autonomy.
The state must now swiftly break the unreasonably large provinces which compartmentalize a smaller ethnic group with a larger, thereby allowing for dominance of one group and, for the lack of a better term, subordination for the other, and create smaller provinces which should enjoy total autonomy, as espoused by not only our constitution, but also the very concept of a federation.
The Pakistani federation in its present state is, in any case, far too cumbersome to allow good governance, since people live hundreds of kilometers away from centers of power, which contributes to a growing sense of alienation, and the distance between the political leadership in distant provincial centers is enhancing a disconnect between the rulers and the ruled. Resentment in the masses is, therefore, growing at an unprecedented pace, straining the fabric of Pakistani federation.
The state must break up the present large and unmanageable provinces into smaller ones, thereby assuaging the concerns of smaller ethnicities, and preserving the federation of Pakistan, before one or another of the embittered ethnic groups manages to have its way – and chances of staying together are lost once and for all.”