The demand for a genuine federal democratic republic of Pakistan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is as old as Pakistan itself and in some cases is even older than Pakistan. Initially, it was the Khudai Khidmatgar Movement and its various offshoots that struggled hard in the colonial era to win the status of a separate province with the right of adult franchise. The struggle that started for an autonomous province in the early 1920s culminated in the 1930s and as a result of which NWFP was made a separate province under the colonial constitutional framework of 1935. A separate NWFP assembly was formed after the elections held in 1937 in united India.
After the inception of Pakistan, democratic secular nationalist entities from the then NWFP like Khudai Khidmatgars, and Balochistan, Sindh, the then Bengal and some leftists from Punjab formed People’s Party and later National Awami Party in the 1950s. The National Awami Party initiated its struggle in all parts of Pakistan on a three point agenda—separation of state and religion, provincial autonomy and an independent foreign policy. The National Awami Party started a mass movement across Pakistan, especially in NWFP, after General Ayub imposed martial law in the country and formed the notorious One Unit for the so-called parity between the Eastern and Western wings of Pakistan. The movement was later joined by the provincial chapters of Pakistan People’s Party, Jamiat-e-Ulamai Islam and Jamiat-e-Ulamai Pakistan.
In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the movement for autonomy of the provincial units of the federation for the political development of a genuine federal parliamentary democracy in Pakistan historically revolved around three major sets of grievances.
Besides long lasting struggle for identity, the first and the foremast on the agenda of the movement for autonomy and genuine federal democracy remained in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to be the issue of ownership and distribution of natural resources. Though not limited to water only, the grievance over water gained prominence after hydroelectric power generation and irrigation channels from the water owned by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa legally, technically and traditionally were used by the centre for Punjab without the consent of and due compensation to the province. Other resources that the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa historically agitated and protested for include natural gas, cess on tobacco grown in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, precious stones, minerals and forestry besides tourism.
The second set of grievances pertains to the economy including unequal development and investment in trade and commerce, infrastructure for trade and commerce, unequal development of industry and market, agriculture, fishery and poultry. The third set of issues that became the source of long lasting demands in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa includes public policy and governance. This set of grievances was assumed to be the direct consequence of the deprivations mentioned in the first and second sets of grievances. This was thought to be the result of the centrist mindset of state institutions. Denial of justice, lack of the Rule of Law, bureaucratic hegemony, non-responsiveness of state institutions, and lack of basic facilities like sewerage, clean drinking water, due share in taxes and revenues continue to breed negative attitude for political, institutional and capitalist elite of Pakistan in the common masses of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The landmark 18th Amendment passed and enacted in April 2010 not only resolved the issue of identity but also mitigated the grievance of resource distribution in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to some extent. Abolition of concurrent list altogether and bringing of Federal Legislative List II in the purview of the Council of Common Interests might have resolved most of the outstanding issues between Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the centre. There are still three irritants that continue agitating the governments and people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa persistently.
Firstly, the issue of centralization of governance and distribution of power by the centre has continuously put the relations between Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the centre in jeopardy. Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) based in Lahore and managed by Islamabad is considered not only hegemonic but also a stumbling block in fulfilling the energy needs of the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Secondly, there is a fear that devolution of certain institutions is being resisted by sections of the political, military and bureaucratic elite with lame excuses and invalid arguments. Resistance to allow devolution of Higher Education Commission to provinces is just one example to nourish the fear of the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The resurrection of the ministry of education and health with pseudonyms after the PML-N government was elected to power in Islamabad strengthens the fear of the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that powerful sections of political, military and bureaucratic elite in Islamabad and Punjab are not sincere in realizing the dream of a genuine federal parliamentary democracy in Pakistan. As if this were not enough, the statement of the Federal Minister for Petroleum indicating review of the Article 158 of the constitution of Pakistan is akin to putting salt to injuries. Article 158 of the constitution of Pakistan had established the first right on the use of the natural gas and petroleum by the province where it is produced.
Thirdly, there is a strong demand by the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that 50% ownership of resources ensured in the 18th Amendment must be constitutionally converted to the full ownership of resources while share of the cost for administration of state and distribution of resources may be worked out in the Council of Common Interests and National Finance Commission.
The third set of grievances mentioned above may be considered as domain of provincial governments exclusively after the 18th Amendment and 7th NFC Award. Responsibility for governance, law and order, education, health, socio-cultural development, women development, youth affairs, agriculture, tourism and local government must be taken up by the provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Abdication of this responsibility by the provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will be deemed as complicity in revoking autonomy and decentralization. The civil society, academia, professional organizations, media and research organizations have to form networking for taking ahead the true spirit of federal parliamentary democracy in Pakistan.
(The writer is a political analyst based in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Email: email@example.com twitter/@khadimhussain4 )