Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Division of Punjab

There has been a lot of recent talk 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, 2 provinces.

Does division, whatever form it eventually takes, 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 votebanks 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 is 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 newfound 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.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Should Gilani Resign?

The question of whether or not Gilani should resign is a legal one but it can also be considered a moral one.

Leaving aside the whole issue of parliamentary procedure and the various legal mechanisms that are present to disqualify a Prime Minister, there is the simple argument that the Prime Minister is a convicted criminal. At a purely personal level, then, he is not fit to lead a country. He doesn't have the moral foundation to do so whatever the eventual legal outcome is.

Of course, politics is about more than one person. The Prime Minister is no ordinary person and his resignation has all kinds of ramifications. The biggest one, from a national standpoint, is the issue of stability. So, the question that needs to be asked is whether or not Pakistan will become unstable as a result of Gilani's resignation.

The short answer is no.

Instability in a regime is felt when a political actor with substantial weight is abruptly thrown out of the mix. It is felt when someone irreplaceable leaves the scene. Gilani does not fit that bill. The PPP has no end of replacements for someone to fit the mould of an established party stalwart who will do the PPP leadership's every bidding.

The other factor to consider is that the PPP's present term in office is nearing an end. The election season has already begun and all of the political players are positioning themselves in anticipation of the next term in office. As such, a resignation by Gilani who is already on the way out would do little to affect political stability from the point of view of the democratic political process.

What about political stability as viewed by the army? Once again, Gilani's departure will probably do little to affect this. From the army's standpoint, the PPP is the institution of power while Gilani is simply one among many PPP politicians. The army is more concerned with the public's appetite for democracy versus army rule and are not so much concerned with a single political personality like Gilani. A Gilani departure followed by nomination of a like-minded replacement will not be significant enough to change the public's view of democracy and that is what the army cares about most.

On his own end, Gilani has confronted all the talk of his resignation head-on. He has repeatedly pointed out that the public, through the support of his parliamentary allies, have given him reason not to resign. This is a fiendish rhetorical trick because it plays on the public's sympathy for a government that is ruled by the people. Gilani knows that he can count on his parliamentary allies to not call for his resignation because these allies - like any rational politician - would much rather bring about his disqualification through the legal constitutional mechanisms that are already in place as opposed to abruptly ending his appointment by a vote of no-confidence.

Taken together, these points highlight a political leader who has no personal moral legitimacy and whose resignation would not affect political stability from any angle. To top it off, he is forcing his parliamentary allies to support his morally bankrupt position.

He should resign.