Who wins if Punjab is divided?
There has been a lot of talk recently regarding the impending division of Punjab. From the viewpoint of many analysts and politicians, it is simply a matter of time before Punjab is divided into, at least, two provinces.
The question, however, remains; does division, whatever form it eventually takes on, make sense?
There is one line of argument that focuses on how large countries, like China and India, are able to experience substantial economic growth side-by-side with a substantial number of provinces. This argument makes the false assumption that the provincialism is somehow driving the economic growth. The truth is that the economies of these countries may be growing despite the provincialism as opposed to growing because of the provincialism.
In the case of China, there is a national history of a strong central state that has always ensured unity despite the many provinces. There is also the presence of a clear ethnic Han majority. Both of these factors ensure a stable and united political climate which helps economic growth.
In Pakistan, we do not have a history of a strong central state, nor do we have a clear ethnic majority.
Regarding provincialism in India, there are worrying signs that regional parties are beginning to make inroads into the vote banks of the national parties. This may result in a more unstable political climate, which may affect Indian economic growth. A similar increase in regional parties and political instability can occur if Pakistan begins creating new provinces. As such, the economic benefits of further provinces are not clear-cut.
Besides economic benefits, supporters of devolution argue that there are political benefits such as enhanced government administration. The basic argument revolves around how Lahore and its neighbouring regions make maximum use of provincial funds and leave barely anything for the other regions of Punjab. There is some merit to this argument. It is a proven fact that provincial capitals have a natural monopoly on provincial resources. Generally speaking, the further a locality is from the provincial capital the tougher it is for provincial resources to arrive there.
However, there are many factors that help make a government’s administration more efficient.
One of these is a sincere group of administrators and bureaucrats. Even if a massive amount of funds are present as a result of creating a new province, there is a possibility that the funds will be captured by political groups that are not intent on sharing the new-found resources with the rest of the province. Who is to say that such a group will not exist in future provinces? In fact, the creation of provinces and the sudden granting of large provincial funds may cement the power base of corrupt groups that already exist in the region.
Supporters of Punjab’s division regularly argue that the creation of further provinces provides another political benefit because it is a legitimate assertion of the democratic rights of the residents of Punjab.
On what basis do they make this claim?
Do they make it on the basis of the resolutions that were recently passed by the National Assembly and the Punjab Assembly supporting the creation of further provinces?
Such resolutions may represent the will of elected politicians but they do not represent the will of the people of Punjab. It is one thing to elect someone as your representative and have that person represent you in day-to-day political matters. It is quite another to have that person make a momentous decision on your behalf regarding the political status of the territory you live in. That is exactly what the National Assembly and Punjab Assembly have done.
The division of an entire province requires a referendum across the province. Only then can one make the claim that the creation of further provinces represents the true democratic aspirations of the majority of Punjab.
In short, the economic and political benefits of new provinces is not clear-cut. The speed with which the resolutions have been passed on such a momentous issue illustrates that the motives behind the resolutions are more for political power than they are for any serious solution to government inefficiency or disenfranchisement of the people of Punjab.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.