Zafarullah Khan

Ideally the constitution provides vision and direction, population census accurate data to feed in evidence based futuristic planning and the National Finance Commission (NFC) constitutionally determines equitable federal-provincial share in resources.

Having heard popular maxim ‘first things first’, what will be an effective order of these things to develop a coherent development model?  Going by history we embarked on first five year development plan designed on Soviet pattern in 1948-55, whereas the first population census was held in the new state in 1951 and short-lived constitutional vision came in 1956. The Raisman Award- the then surrogate for the contemporary NFC was announced in 1951.

Even simplistic logic will first ask for political direction of the nation to determine the nature of the state followed by facts about demographic realities and a fair idea about available economic resources to develop a comprehensive development plan. Unfortunately we opted for exactly the reverse since the start. We failed to take into account creation of centralized One Unit in 1954 that later resulted in development disparities between the East and West Pakistan and cost us unity of the state in 1971.

Similar pattern was repeated in the 1960s. The second five-year economic plan came in 1960, whereas the population census was conducted in 1961, the 2nd Raisman award was announced in 1961 and the second constitution was bestowed in 1962. It was once again a classical mismatch between the planning, population projections, purse and the political priorities.

Old habits die hard, 1970s were no different. The so-called economic plan came in 1970, the country dismembered in 1971 on question of provincial autonomy but the 5-year economic plan completed its full life till 1975, the population census was conducted in 1972 in the remaining Pakistan, new federalist Constitution was crafted in 1973 and the NFC was negotiated only in 1974. Despite efforts one hardly finds any evidence of some functional communicative link among these important aspects of polity. 1980s were devoid of any constitutional umbrella and mutually agreed NFC. The story of 1990s is only of gradual reclamation here and there.

Jumping to 21st century, has anything changed? In 2009 we had a first-ever multi-factor negotiated 7th NFC and in 2010 the historic 18th Amendment that is not less than a ‘negotiated federalist legislative revolution’ to introduce new constitutional software with provinces at the heart of it. The population census is pending since 2008. In terms of economic planning we had much touted Vision-2025 in 2014. The Vision 2025 was never placed before the appropriate forum i.e. the Council of common Interests (CCI), rather it was endorsed in a brief meeting of National Economic Council that is ostensibly mandated only to plan according to the Principles of Policy enlisted in the constitution. The scope, size and scale of Vision-2025 is more than that. This vision has been authored by the centralized Planning Commission (PC). To be honest at the time of putting together this vision the PC was incomplete even in terms of its secrtoral members what to talk about incorporating any federalized spirit in it. One wonders how this contemporary mismatch will be different from sad stories of the past.

Fear is that it will give birth to new federal-provincial conflicts. Skepticism about proposed Gawader-Kashgar Economic corridor has given birth to new provincial doubts.  Through its obsolete instruments the PC also wants to usurp what has been given to the provinces. Attempts to re-federalize curriculum and higher education and other social sectors are some odd examples.

The post 18th Amendment Constitution makes planning a shared responsibility of the federation and the federating units via the CCI. In March-2015 the CCI met for less than three hours after delay of 292 days. The constitution commands that the CCI must meet every quarter to take stock of subjects in the Federal Legislative List-Part II. In this 180 minutes meeting the CCI decided about 13 important issues.  Simple mathematics explains on average each issue was able to arrest the maximum 14 minutes of decision-makers.  An important decision taken at the CCI meeting was to hold long awaited 6th population census in March 2016. Why we had to wait for another year when homework was already complete since 2011 when we had an aborted attempt to hold housing census as a prelude to the population census. The only new aspect of this decision is that now the provinces will foot the bill through their share in the divisible pool. More shockingly the conversations on the 8th NFC that was due on July 1, 2015 have yet to start.  Therefore the original critical question remains unanswered. Will we ever be able to synchronize the constitutional spirit, census data, and the available resources via the NFC with our futuristic economic planning? The situation on ground is hardly inspiring.

[Zafarullah Khan is Islamabad based political commentator and researcher]