By M. Ziauddin
It has been three days since the ‘Bajwa doctrine’ was made public. But so far none of the mainstream political parties has come up with a response, one way or the other. The ‘doctrine’ reads more like a policy statement of our Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa on almost every aspect of governance – from defence to foreign affairs to economic policy to health and education.
It would not be too off the mark to assume that the ‘doctrine’ is backed by proper research and thorough study of our history and all the relevant forces at work and has also been tested for relevance and realism by the well-endowed think-tanks of the armed forces.
There are a number of gems of wisdom in the ‘doctrine’ that would need a thorough, in-depth analysis to find out the relevance and validity of each one of the multifarious parts of the ‘doctrine’.
Still, one had expected at least a quick response on the Chief’s thoughts on the 18th amendment in his ‘doctrine’ from those political parties that had joined hands to get this amendment passed unanimously from Parliament in 2010 after an almost year-long debate on each and every clause by a truly representative Parliamentary Committee headed by PPP’s Senator Raza Rabbani.
But so far there has been only a ringing silence on the part of political parties except for a couple of newspaper columns and a few brief but caustic comments in the social media by some decidedly partisan parties.
Here is what the ‘doctrine’ says about the 18th amendment (paraphrased): ‘It is being seen to have caused an imbalance between the federation and the provinces. The provinces do not have the capacity to shoulder all the responsibilities that the amendment has transferred to the federating units. It is being seen as more dangerous than Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s six points because following its passage the federation has turned into confederation.’
Of course, there is no way the ‘doctrine’ just by saying so can undo the amendment. You need to have a two-third majority in Parliament to amend the constitutional amendment in question. But then an active Supreme Court which has been super active lately and has been trying to set right everything that in its opinion is not right in this country could one fine morning agreeing in its infinite wisdom with this particular part in the ‘Bajwa doctrine’ rule the 18th amendment out of the Constitution!
Instead of trying to turn a federation into a confederation the 6-points of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, it is believed had, to a point, attempted to turn Pakistan with some give-and-take into a genuine federation from the unitary state it had been turned into by 1960.
In fact had General Yahya Khan while dismantling the One Unit conceded to the revived provinces the quantum of provincial autonomy envisioned some 40 years later in the 18th amendment perhaps Bangladesh would never have happened. For a detailed account of how our Eastern Wing was forced to secede from the federation please read my friend Babar Ayaz’ Op-Ed (24 years of exploitation created Bangladesh) published in these columns on January 17, 2018.
Come to think of it, how could a man who had remained in the forefront of Pakistan movement in the United Bengal would even think of seceding from an independent Pakistan? Indeed, none of his Muslim contemporaries in the United Punjab could match the zeal, the passion and dedication with which Sheikh Mujibur Rehman had struggled for Pakistan in the ten years leading to partition.
That no imbalance has been caused between the federation and the provinces by the 18th amendment has been explained in some detail by one of our eminent economists, Dr Hafeez Pasha in one of his recent articles (Attack on the NFC award – published in the Business Recorder on March 20, 2018).
Dr Pasha’s credentials for speaking on the subject are far superior to any in this country. Academically super-sound he has published over 150 books and articles in the fields of governance, public finance, urban and regional economics, poverty and social development, industry, energy economics, etc. For want of space it is not possible to mention here his mile-long list of achievements inside the country and internationally.
In the opinion of Dr. Pasha following the abolition of the Concurrent List greater fiscal equalization has been achieved between the federation and the federating units on the one hand and among the federating units on the other. “Overall, the new Constitutional provisions have strengthened the Federation of Pakistan,” maintains Dr Pasha.
Continuing his argument he points out that the total revenues of the Federal Government consist not only of tax revenues net of transfers, but also of non-tax revenues.
“The latter are retained, more or less, completely by the Federal Government, excluding some small straight transfers,” he observes. Consequently, according to Dr Pasha, total revenues of the Federal Government are adequate not only to finance the cost of debt servicing but also defence expenditure and a part of other costs of running the affairs at the Federal level. “For example, in 2016-17 the net revenue receipts of the Federal Government were Rs 2583 billion. The combined outlay on debt servicing and defence was Rs 2237 billion. This left a surplus of Rs 347 billion to meet other expenditures,” he argues tellingly. According to Dr Pasha currently, there are as many as 41 divisions in the Federal Government, many of which are in his opinion, contrary to the spirit of the 18th Amendment.
He says, development programs in the domain of health, population planning, higher education, etc., should ideally have been handed over to the provinces after the Constitutional amendment.
While concluding his article Dr Pasha insists, “…there is a strong case for agreement on transfer of functions and financial responsibility to the Provincial Governments in line with the 18th Amendment. This will not only imply a larger role and more autonomy to provincial governments but also lead to some downsizing of the Federal Government.”
(The writer is a senior journalist based in Islamabad. He served as the Executive Editor of Express Tribune until 2014.)
By M. Ziauddin