Addressing the Quetta Municipality on June 15, 1948, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah made the following remarks:
“While, however, one must love one’s town and work for its welfare–indeed because of it–one must love better one’s country and work more devotedly for it. Local attachments have their value but what is the value and strength of a “part” except within the “whole”. Yet this is a truth people so easily seem to forget and begin to prize local, sectional or provincial interests above and regardless of the national interests. It naturally pains me to find the curse of provincialism holding sway over any section of Pakistan. Pakistan must be rid of this evil. It is relic of the old administration when you clung to provincial autonomy and local liberty of action to avoid control–which meant–British control. But with your own Central Government and its power, is a folly to continue to think in the same terms, especially at a time when your State is so new and faces such tremendous problems internal and external. At this juncture any subordination of the larger interest of the State to the provincial or local or personal interest would be suicidal.”
The above-mentioned words are very relevant even to this day. Or perhaps, more than ever before in the country’s 68-year history. The Quaid-e-Azam, blessed with strategic vision and foresight, warned his countrymen about what he called “the curse of provincialism”, the very next year after Pakistan’s independence. A step-by-step analysis of these statements will help us understand what the Father of the Nation wanted his countrymen to be mindful of.
Quaid-e-Azam questioned the value and security of a specific portion of the country when the whole of its existence and stability was at stake. True, there are different provinces with their respective history and politico-socio-economic situations; it is also a fact that no single party today enjoys nationwide support; instead, major parties enjoy pocketed, compartmentalized support in certain provinces, districts or even cities.
For example, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has a predominant following/support base in Sindh; the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML N) enjoys massive support in Punjab; Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) has popular following in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province whereas certain left-leaning leftist parties hold sway over the masses in Balochistan. The situation is “mixed” also in Gilgit-Baltistan.
There are also cases where certain political parties rule the roost in certain towns and districts only. The most notable example in this regard is the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) which has its core base in Karachi, besides a moderately strong presence in nearby Hyderabad.
What we have been witnessing since the dawn of the second millennium is a growing trend towards adopting a ‘provincialist’ bias/attitude towards national affairs. Major political forces in Pakistan who are known to be regularly vocal in the media point-score against each other by employing the ‘province card’. Some regrettable examples in this context include the following:
• PML N requesting the Taliban to spare Punjab (instead of the whole country) from terror attacks
• Awami National Party (ANP) which formerly ruled KP province, raising hue and cry over the purported changing of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)
• PPP government in Sindh absolving itself of gross negligence and mismanagement during the deadly heat-wave in Karachi and instead pinning the blame on the federal government
• Certain Baloch political parties and separatist movements accusing the State of Pakistan of occupying and unjustly exploiting their province’s natural resources
The Quaid lamented prioritizing petty provincial interests over the complete well-being of the state at large. Abraham Lincoln had once remarked that “A house divided against itself will not stand”. It is true that today, Pakistan faces a severe internal security crisis directly linked to the mismanagement, incompetence, negligence, ignorance and corruption of federal/provincial rulers. What is even more tragic is that the federal government, which is supposed to foster continuous inter-provincial harmony, remains oblivious or criminally passive as Pakistan’s very existence gets challenged by terrorists and extremists. This is perhaps also the main reason for the absence of a permanent, firm national consensus on implementing the National Action Plan (NAP). The military alone cannot keep pressuring provinces to ‘get serious’. It is shameful to note that the military was forced to create an Apex Committee in Sindh and Balochistan because there was zero political willpower in the former and lack of cohesive unity and agreement in the latter.
Quaid-e-Azam said these elements prized local, sectional and provincial interests above national interests. Are we not familiar with the example of Kalabagh Dam, a long-forgotten dream smothered in controversy and dispute by the sub-nationalist ANP? Does India not benefit from the opposition to Kalabagh Dam’s construction? Or let us put it this way: two provinces (KP and Sindh) claims they will be ‘adversely affected’. Studies have shown otherwise. Highlighting the significance of Kalabagh Dam, Mariam Khan concluded her article in the following words:
“Despite the Punjab government which is in full support to initiate the construction of the dam, major impediments have surfaced time and again. Awami National Party (ANP), the former ruling body of KP put forward grave concerns which KP would face if the KBD plan materializes. The Sindh and KP provincial governments each has its own bag of fear against Punjab, the province where the hydroelectric dam has to be built (if there is ever a consensus) in the Mianwali district. Only if the discrepancies are kept aside and the general good of the people of the nation be focused upon, then only can the Kalabagh Dam be erected which can effectively put to rest a great number of problems faced by the citizens of Pakistan. But for all this to be put into effect, the ‘what-if’ ideology has to be sidelined.”
Khan rightly says that the Kalabagh Dam can be built if the general good of all Pakistanis, not just a certain geographical area or ethnicity, in kept in view. The failure of the project to materialize since its proposition in 2004 (more than a decade) reflects a pitiful state of inter-provincial distrust.
In his speech above, Quaid-e-Azam said, “It is relic of the old administration when you clung to provincial autonomy and local liberty of action to avoid control–which meant–British control. But with your own Central Government and its power, is a folly to continue to think in the same terms, especially at a time when your State is so new and faces such tremendous problems internal and external.”
Summary: Provincial autonomy and local bodies etc were useful in maintaining a degree of independence under the colonialist British Raj. However, he said now that an independent, separate homeland for Muslims came into being and the exploitative British establishment had left the Subcontinent, there was no need to keep such systems functioning. In fact, he scoffed at this by saying it is “a folly” to continue with the over-protective mindset which prevailed during the British Raj. He pointed out that the State of Pakistan faced tremendous internal and external challenges and hence such a provincialist attitude will, in the long run, cause nothing but damage to the state and its people.
He concluded his specific remarks on the curse of provincialism by saying, “At this juncture any subordination of the larger interest of the State to the provincial or local or personal interest would be suicidal”.
Alas, if only Quaid-e-Azam were alive and among us today, he would have been struck with tremendous grief. His words “At this juncture” seem to have morphed into the present continuous sense, because the country he founded still reeks of politicians who have their personal and, sometimes, provincial interests in mind; they do not think or operate with a nationalistic, ‘whole-of-country’ approach.
Mind you, while it is true a certain lot of politicians give preference to a certain province, this does not mean it exhibits official state policy. Pakistan’s Armed Forces have proven time and again by disaster relief and rehabilitation efforts across Pakistan that they consider the entire country a collective responsibility. Complaining about lack of funds for development projects, purported injustices during the NFC Award, etc are easy excuses. The real issue is that our politicians’ mindset focuses only on their Area of Responsibility rather than the whole of Pakistan. Ironic, then, how these parties claim concerns for Pakistan and having ‘nationwide recognition’ during fiery speeches.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif commented not too long ago that inter-provincial harmony is necessary to rid the country of terrorism. As always, such statements sound very inspiring and motivating, but mere sugar-coated talks will not get things done. The Inter-Provincial Coordination Division will need to make concerted efforts to generate inter-provincial harmony and understanding. On the outset, it seems this government body is dormant. But then again, how can there be harmony between ruling parties in a province when two of them (PTI in KP and PPP-MQM in Sindh) have locked horns with the federation because of anti-corruption, anti-criminal and anti-terrorism measures against them?
The dilemma is two-pronged. In a pitiful state of affairs, we expect corrupt, selfish ruling parties to focus on the country and not their vested interests.
Another excerpt from the Quaid-e-Azam’s complete address to the Quetta Municipality (June 15, 1948) comes to mind:
“Representative government and representative institutions are no doubt good and desirable, but when people want to reduce them merely to channels of personal aggrandizement, they not only lose their value but earn a bad name. Let us avoid that and it is possible only if, as I have said, we subject our actions to perpetual scrutiny and test them with the touchstone not of personal or sectional interest but of the good of the State.”
We should fear the day when the curse of this poisonous provincialism will lead us to suicide. This isn’t my fear alone, this is what the Father of the Nation feared long before any of the present political parties even existed.