Provincial Polls Before National Ones: A Rebirth Of 'One Unit'?

Provincial Polls Before National Ones: A Rebirth Of 'One Unit'?
One Unit (1955) was imposed under the garb of national cohesion and provincial harmony. In essence, it was a divisive doctrine. It was a two-pronged strategy seeking to check East Pakistan, and to bring western provinces under the sway of the government that was unwilling to allow democratic environment in all wings of Islamic Republic of Pakistan. One Unit had created miseries for small provinces.

Today, the possibility of holding provincial polls in Punjab and KP – which, it is claimed, is mandated by the Constitution – and later in other provinces, will prove to be a replica of the old One Unit.

Lawrence Ziring, the distinguished writer of the book Pakistan in the Twentieth Century – A Poilitical History has thrown light on the One Unit, saying: "In point of fact, there was precious little debate on the One Unit scheme, because the West Pakistani provincial assemblies had been pressurised to declare their support for the plan months earlier” (Callard, 1957).

On 30 September 1955, therefore, the vast expanse of West Pakistan, i.e. the several provinces and princely states, were merged into the single province of West Pakistan. Unlike when Lord Curzon sought to improve and rationalise the administration of Bengal and authorised splitting the province into two parts, in this instance Pakistan's chief mentors believed that they were simplifying complicated issues, calming provincial passions, and generally ensuring the unity of the country by fusing the many disparate territories into One Unit.

The fusing of provinces of of West Pakistan, however, was hardly a peaceful process, nor was it celebrated in the several regions that comprised the new administrative province. Done mainly to balance the power of East Pakistan, to deny it representation commensurate with its population, it was a divisive action, hardly one geared to promote national unity.

While merging the provinces and territories of West Pakistan into One Unit, the decision of its capital and secretariat at Lahore was taken and implemented. The draconian scheme called One Unit had brought in its wake administrative dictatorship. Now, separate polls for Punjab and KP will usher in Pakitan’s political capture at the hands of Punjab. Holding polls within 90 days after the dissolution of the assemblies in the provinces in question is a constitutional commitment, but a fair representation of political parties in terms of level playing is one of the basic ingredients of democracy.

Multiple polls will prove to be a modified One Unit, as it stands to shake the balance of political representation. The PML-N's Ahsan Iqbal has conveyed his concerns, saying that holding multiple polls posed long-term ramifications for the political representation of small provinces. PPP’s Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is on record having said that battle for political power in Punjab will prove to be disastrous for the country. Institutional coerciveness with regard to holding provincial polls in Punjab and KP six months before the holding of the national elections is akin to One Unit –ensuring Pakistan's political capture by Punjab elections.

There is no second opinion that holding elections within 90 days is a constitutional commitment. But, the logical question that arises is: was the dissolution of the two provincial assemblies in question justified? The answer is: no.

The mother of crises was the disqualification of members of parliament whose votes were not counted under the redefined Article 63A. Various legal experts and opinion-makers had raised their eyebrows on this judicial overreach.

We have a democratic political framework, and a written constitution. But, the ruling elites and their powerful backers patently believe in the primitive power of the rule of arbitrary justice and colonial culture, which leads to a discriminatory distribution of the fruits of democracy. Thus, powerful figures posing as divinity incarnate in Pakistan have been believing practically – and not just theoretically – that subjects and their land belong to the ruler. We see the established political order loosening the straps of its purse in terms of distributing lands, plots, hundreds of units of electricity and gas, and hundreds of litres of petrol among the already privileged sections of society, leaving the lesser children of God to be stuck in stampedes for flour – with some even losing their limbs for a free bag of flour. The citizens of a resource-rich country have been reduced to beggary.

Despite this, we have not seen courts taking a suo motu notice on the crisis culminating in catastrophe for those living below the breadline. Optics such as these are only witnessed in war torn states. According to a recent UN survey, one-third of young people suffer from moderate acute malnutrition, while 14% of infants are exposed to acute severe malnutrition, which can be deadly. Around 22.5 million children are out of school. Children are said to be the future of both individual families and that of the nation. Have we heard different political parties ever talking about these pressing problems in Pakistan? Certainly, not.

Why should the ruling elites be bothered about the issues being highlighted as their children are not only well-fed but are also getting education in elite schools in the country, or abroad? Let children of the ordinary perish in poverty. After having been ousted from power through a no-confidence move, IK refused to sit on the floor of the National Assembly as the opposition leader, and subsequently put decisive pressure on the incumbent government in terms of formulating pro-people policies and implementing the same.

After all, political parties are least concerned with public service delivery. Not only this: after IK’s exit from the federal government, he got two provincial governments of Punjab and KP dissolved. Sacrificing two provincial assemblies on the altar of arrogance does demonstrate utter disregard for the supremacy of the parliamentary framework.

On the heels of the SC verdict in the suo motu case of poll delays and subsequent defiance by parliamentarians based on reservations, an Indian retired judge and columnist spewed venom against the PDM politicians, declaring them a gang of thieves. And Justice Qazi Faez Issa's participation in a parliamentary convention commemorating the making of the Constitution of1973 provided ammunition to the same judge who had jumped to conclusion with a tweet declaring Qazi unfit to be the next Chief Justice of Pakistan.

Some international players have put their weight behind Imran Khan and are singing from song book of PTI’s base of support. The failure of politicians to carve out a common national strategy to come out of the current quagmire will leave space for extra-constitutional acts.

For its part, the PDM-led government has presided over abysmal economic performance. The Shehbaz Sharif-led government’s poor economic delivery has buried its vote bank in Punjab. The house of Sharifs is divided over political succession issues. This wrangling in the family for political patrimony has left the PML-N adrift in its only stronghold – Punjab.The Senior Sharif never bothered to cultivate his political crop outside Punjab, and consequently, the PML-N remained fragmented in small provinces.

Parliamentarians have upped the ante in the existing crisis, touting it as a matter of the supremacy of the Parliament. However, it is nothing but aiming for a political harvest. Recently, Federal Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar apologised to the nation for having given the nod, under pressure, for the elevation of junior judges to the apex court. Why do certain quarters need junior adjudicators? It is because those planted juniors can be easily influenced in politically-motivated cases.

Now, there is resentment within the judiciary against the formation of like-minded benches.

Various bar associations have raised their voice over benches being formed without including the senior justices. Political capture at the centre is the objective that is prioritised by the gods of political arrangement. This is the reason why holding of elections in the KP is not on lips of those who are demanding polls in Punjab.

Some political commentators see it as a rebirth of Imran Khan Project that the PDM-led alliance had interrupted through a vote of no confidence. The political party which wins Punjab will rule over Pakistan. One of the drawbacks of multiple polls is that elections for the National Assembly will be under the supervision of a political party that will hold the provincial government in the province. This will not only give a political edge to the party in power, but it will also use the provincial government’s resources for federal-level electoral outcomes. Pakistani political lords and powerful institutions must stop playing these "Games of Thrones.”

The common people are leading a miserable life following the financial difficulties unleashed by political instability. The clock is ticking. A sinking economy, institutional gridlock, tsunami of inflation coupled with weekly record high of 47.23%, rising wave of terrorism and street crime do suggest the scale of the crises that the country is facing these days.

Pakistan can’t afford the repercussions of a modified One Unit.

The writer is a freelance contributor. He may reached at Nazeer tweets at @nazeerarijo.