Dichotomy between federal and provincial governance



February 19, 2022

Noor Israr describes Dichotomy between federal and provincial governance

In its seventy-year existence, Dichotomy between federal and provincial governance in Pakistan has meandered from a parliamentary to a presidential system of governance and unfortunately, both approaches failed to deliver desired results. The problem perhaps lies in wrongly mixing the role and functions of the federal and provincial governance that has created tremendous confusion with the result of overlapping in the functional performance of both the federal and provincial governance. This is precisely the reason that in Pakistan the nature of federal governance is quite different than the structure and functionality of its subsidiary provincial counterparts. It is not considered imperative to delve deeply into the notions of both these governance patterns and discern that the federal governance is consensual corporate in nature whereas the provincial governance is executive municipal in orientation and this difference is crucial to the malgovernance in the country.
Conceptually overriding territorial considerations, the federal governance is an umbrella authority with hardly any territory under its direct suzerainty. It is ironical to see a fully fledged Interior Minister installed in Federal government with the puny federal capital territory under his physical control. The para-military forces are not under his direct command and the FIA is widely known for publicising punitive actions instead of eradicating crime. The notional authority of federal governance embraces aspirations of federating units who aspire to gel with each other in a federal milieu. It is a difficult equation to maintain keeping in view massive variation in their physical sizes and demographic realities. Moreover the regional issues may not be in conformity with federal thought process that creates crises of adjustment.
The Dichotomy between federal and provincial governance federal entity derives its strength primarily from it being the symbolic representation of unity and crucially the fountainhead of financial resources of a nation state and, in case of Pakistan, being the repository of its ultimate coercive force whose harboring of political ambitions has been part of history. The financial muscle of the federation keeps provinces dependent on federal fiscal and monetary policies, financial divisible pool acquired through taxation as well on provision of transportation, utility facilities, foreign relations and currency. Keeping in view the nature of its functions the federation relies on widespread national consensus. In addition it also resorts to corporate strategies to keep itself financially liquid. Federal activity is centrifugal in context and outward looking in operation. It is, however, required to absorb diverse pulls and pushes of federating units that outwardly encourage deeper centralisation potentially harmful to its very concept.
The provincial structure and functionality is predominantly based upon ensuring safety of citizenry, provision of municipal services, primary/secondary healthcare, agriculture and education. Its core context is centripetal and its operational characteristic is inward looking. The advent of artificial sources of production and their value addition has considerably reduced the potential of agriculture sector to be the main revenue earner of provincial administration. The rest of its areas of activity are expenditure oriented putting considerable strain on its financial resources. These Dichotomy between federal and provincial governance factors constrain provincial governments to look up to federal government for financial succor.
Despite fundamental difference in their nature, the governance process in Pakistan has consistently been found to adhere to incongruent practice of managing both entities in the same vein. This practice has blurred the distinction between grappling with wide ranging national issues and closed end provincial matters. Federal activity is usually hands off consensus driven exercise reflecting often contradictory regional concerns. It is dependent assimilation of cross currents of potentially long ranging issues requiring large spans of gestation period. In federal politics issues are exposed to ever present potential of going haywire till realities of federal pull gather them to a united premise. The recent convergence of disparate political standpoints of left leaning party represented by Mahmood Khan Achakzai and extreme right representation headed by Maulana Fazlur Rahman to support middle of the road PMLN amply demonstrate the shifting axis of opinion developed over many decades about jointly facing totalitarian policies. On the other hand Punjab was subjected to an internal implosion to deny gradually emerging axis that is middle class based and delivery oriented. The crisis threatened federalism considerably although there was a minimal impact upon functioning of provinces. Islamabad, despite its aloof existence and regulated staid regime, became the proverbial focal point of federal aspirations of all regional components although the core struggle was for domination of Punjab.
In public policy parlance, province is administered whereas federation is governed. Provincial concerns are often predatory because administering could well be regressive. Federation pays heavy price of unilateral administrative policies as Pakistan witnessed in secession of East Pakistan. The high handed centralising policies adhered to in Baluchistan are a recent example of treating an issue through provincial administrative tactics that, in fact, requires mutually accommodating federal consensus. Similarly FATA were kept under the shackles of outdated British-formulated regulations that were the result of isolated frenzied reaction to a problem British colonial mind set found no answer to.
Handing over administrative control to Maulana Mufti Mahmood and Attaullah Mengal’s regional parties was a master stroke that unfortunately fell prey to gradually paranoid political perceptions of Z.A. Bhutto. After more than four decades, PM Nawaz Sharif has shown the same political sagacity with the difference that he is too mature a politician to fall back on provincial type of administrative actions taken by PM Bhutto who held the federal helm of affairs for the first time as political chief executive. PM Bhutto regretted reversal of his earlier federal oriented policies and, just before 1977 National Elections, was on record stating that he will exercise his authority benevolently in future. Benevolence therefore is the essence of federal politics which stands in direct contrast to provincial realities where a democratic government can take stern action against non-political agitation-oriented Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) and get away with it but federal government could not resort to such action despite manifestly available threatening causes.
The shrinking options of arbitrary forces will put further pressure on federal structure in the days to come. As was evident recently, the corporate consensual element of federal structure was questioned despite the fact that this factor is vital to contribute to national development. Bringing in much needed direct foreign investment was widely castigated and was made bone of contention. Managing foreign affairs, exclusive preserve of federation, was debased by questioning foreign interactions involving frequent travel. Federation is deliberately constrained to retreat into provincial mode by challenging its writ in all aspects of national activity. But for the first time federation is seen acting benevolently by accommodating demands of all federating units and political parties representing them. It will be ideal if the current attitude of federal government is extended to the entire machinery under its control.
The primary requirement is to bring to fore political operatives who represent federal governance in a notional capacity with no territorial unit to influence in federal matrix. Governance is not a technocratic exercise because it is an entirely political process where the accountability of results rests on the politicians instead of civil servants and it is conducted taking into account the prevailing power relationships in the federal polity. Suffice to mention that the federal arena is much wider than limited provincial spectrum. TW

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Noor Israr has a discerning taste in music and is currently studying development economics at UCF


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