Capital cities, in federally organized countries, are often viewed as symbols of a nation’s pride and epitomize national diversity. They serve as seat of national government and hosts to a variety of national institutions and foreign embassies. In this way, capital cities take on special political, administrative and symbolic cultural roles that differ from other cities in the country. At the same time, capitals are cities in which people live, consume local services, and participate in political activities.
There are two Islamabad. One, that is often viewed as the ‘centralized and controlling’ capital of the federation. The second ‘a callous and un-caring’ city towards its two million plus inhabitants. People living outside Islamabad know only the first one and regard it as a highly developed island of prosperity at the expense of hard earned resources of the federating units. What they fail to acknowledge is that this part of Islamabad has only temporary residents- a few thousand graded bureaucrats and time bound elected rulers and representatives with a mindset of control from the top. Some call it a virus for which the only cure is ‘cooperative federalism.’ If you want to go a step further to treat pathology of centralism, ‘federalize’ each and every institution that exists to serve the federation of Pakistan. The controlling DNA of Islamabad will gradually be mutated.
The real crisis exists in the second, less discussed, Islamabad. A city without accountable local government, no share in the National Finance Commission, no representation in the Council of Common Interests, unable to get a drop under Water Accord. A city having no right over GST (General Sales Tax) on Services-a locale bound revenue source. In this way, the ordinary residents are no more than ‘de-graded’ citizens whose legitimate rights are deliberately denied to protect and perpetuate the controlling character of colonial Islamabad.
As the federal capital, Islamabad is the seat of Pakistani democracy, but its own governance is marred by many anomalies. It has three executive streams, either with duplicating or overlapping mandate. The Capital Development Authority (CDA) and Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) Administration work on urban and rural basis respectively to develop the city. Capital Administration and Development Division (CADD) was created for taking care of devolved subjects for the residents of Islamabad during the implementation phase of the 18th Amendment. Now the CAAD has been made part of the Cabinet Division. There is Capital Territory Police working under the Interior Ministry.
Interestingly, both the CDA and the CADD work under the Cabinet Division headed by the Prime Minister, while the ICT administration and Capital Territory Police are operationally linked to the Interior Ministry. Many of these institutions, instead of cooperating and communicating with each other to provide better services to 2 million residents of the federal capital, often indulge in a war over turf and territory. The CDA has the land while the ICT Administration enjoys unique executive authority. Unfortunately, there is no political or executive effort to harmonize the role and responsibilities of these multiple duty bearers.
The federal capital has its own courts since 1981 when it was given the status of a district.. After the 18th Amendment, it has a full-fledged, Islamabad High Court. While the 18th Amendment has strengthened the Judicial and Executive branches in the federal capital, the legislative branch is totally missing.
There are two members elected from Islamabad to the National Assembly and four Senators to the Senate of Pakistan. Many of those elected are not the permanent residents of Islamabad. Over a dozen other Senators and MNAs elected on reserved seats also permanently live and work in Islamabad. In this way, Islamabad has the highest per capita parliamentary population.
The Constitution is silent on who will implement Article 140-A in Islamabad. Article 140- A empowers the provinces to create local government. It appears that the nations’ seat of democracy will always remain without representative local governance which is touted as the best governance structure for effective service delivery. A new hope has emerged after the Islamabad High Court and the Supreme Courts’ directions to hold local government elections in Islamabad. The ‘colonial’ part of Islamabad is resisting to allow the local tier where most of the citizens consume governance. It goes against the spirit of equality of citizenship.
Presently, the federal Parliament legislates for Islamabad. Is this representative or a prudent way. Perhaps not. Firstly, it is expensive to consume the time and energy of 446 federal legislators. Secondly, it appears to be undemocratic, because even if all six legislators from Islamabad (2-MNAs and 4-Senators) oppose a piece of legislation about the city, it can still be passed. According to latest estimates, Islamabad has a population of 2 million while population of Gilgit-Baltistan is just one million and they have their own autonomous legislative assembly. Similarly Azad Jammu and Kashmir with a population of 4.5 million has its own assembly. . Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) has more than 3 million people and sends 12 MNAs and 8 Senators. Islamabad also deserves its own autonomous Legislative Assembly and a representative local government system.
In the present governance arrangement, there is no body to plead the case of Islamabad in theCCI, National Economic Council and for share in the National Finance Commission. The city also does not have a share of water, in Water Accord of 1991. In one of the meetings of the CCI, none of the provinces was willing to consider the demand of a share in water for Islamabad. Therefore, the city has to buy water from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (Khanpur Dam) to meet its water needs in future and not to become modern Fatehpur Seakri due to water scarcity. Similarly, the current arrangement is silent about control and share in natural resources. For instance, if oil and gas is discovered in the Margala Hills, the status of ownership would remain unclear. Similarly, the Federal Board of Revenue has no separate account for the GST on services collected in Islamabad. Therefore, much of the GST earned here is not used here.
In absence of representative and accountable governance, Islamabad the sole planned city in Pakistan is experiencing unprecedented growth of slums and fake housing societies. The CDA has opted for zero compliance to Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency bylaws and Environmental Impact Assessment obligations. There is no proper waste disposal management for this rapidly growing city. Many of its residential sectors have been sandwiched between the industrial zones posing risk to the health of citizens. Education is the only sector of Islamabad that boasts better standards than rest of the country. But here again, problem of multiple education systems exist. The colleges of Islamabad were affiliated with the Quaid-i-Azam University only in 2011. Earlier, the students or their parents had to travel to Lahore for their minor problems.
People have described Islamabad as a city “10 Kms from Pakistan” referring to the inequalities between the capital and the rest of the country. However, the rural areas of Islamabad present a reality much different from its urban areas. Good sports facilities exist in every part of the city but remain nonexistence in the rural areas. Similar inequality exists in terms of the provision of services, like education and healthcare.
Perhaps the time has arrived to rethink and democratize the governance of the federal capital to offer all fundamental rights to its 2 million residents, including the right to be governed democratically. At the same time, efforts should be made to federalize the outlook of the nation’s capital and make it truly reflective of regional diversities. Presently, there is only one Pakistan Monument whose architecture represents the four provinces (federating units) and three territories.
Islamabad will certainly prosper as a vibrant city but this is only possible if both souls of this capital city are represented.
[Zafarullah Khan is Islamabad based researcher and civic educator and work as Executive Director of Centre for Civic Education Pakistan]