Volume 6, No. 2, February 2024
Editor: Rashed Rahman
The state is an apparatus that consists of various departments, institutions and organisations that work together. The nature of their relationship with one another, their collective responsibility towards the state, the responsibility of the state towards its citizens and its relationship with them are all determined by the Constitution of a country. It is also acknowledged that it is the citizens/people who are sovereign. In order to make collective, organised and civilised life possible, people forego part of their sovereignty and natural rights in favour of the state. Only then does the state acquire authority. However, it is also a political principle that the exercise of rights is inextricably related to the dispensation of duties. It implies that people and state are both endowed with duties and rights and their nature is determined by the Constitution. It would not be far from the truth to state that the rights of the people become duties for the state and the rights of the state become duties for its people. It is the basic duty and prime responsibility of the state to protect the life and property of its citizens and in the event of a national calamity or crisis/disaster, to exercise the power bestowed upon it as a sacred trust to ensure this protection.
The coronavirus has been termed as the ‘pandemic of the century’, which has shaken the entire globe. The most powerful states of the world have laid aside all other priorities and placed the fundamental obligation of protecting the life and property of their citizens above everything else. In this regard, the role of the Pakistani state in our history has been more negative than positive, which has been more exposed by the Covid-19 crisis, particularly when seen in the context of Sindh. An analogy between this pandemic and WWII is being drawn. Normally, the people of a country, in times of crisis, put contentious issues and differences aside and face it together. In this Herculean task, the representatives of the state institutions are expected to lead from the front. The state in this context means the central government and its allied institutions.
In this crisis, the situation relating to Sindh has been absolutely dismal. The people of Sindh opted to forget all the oppression, injustices and cruelties perpetrated on them during the last three quarters of a century and stood by the government to tackle the crisis of the coronavirus pandemic. Sindh’s PPP government (with whom we have serious differences) also gave unconditional support to the Central government. The Central government, however, had other intentions. They decided to turn this time of pandemic into an opportunity. First of all, they created an atmosphere of uncertainty and endangered people’s lives with their half-hearted, imprecise and muddled decisions regarding how to tackle the pandemic. Later, they tried to make the most of it by pouncing on long-coveted financial interests. On the one hand, they started a campaign to put an end to the meagre provisions of the 18th Amendment and National Finance Commission (NFC) Award, and on the other, announced to start the construction of the Bhasha Dam.
Governments of developed countries across the globe are pondering over devising new strategies to cope with the danger posed by terrorists who might want to exploit the pandemic to carry on their bloody trade. However, the Pakistan government itself is acting on a plan of economic terrorism against Sindh. Government ministers (including Prime Minister Imran Khan) are running a campaign that decries the fact that according to the NFC Award, the provinces take away the bulk of the financial resources in the divisible pool, leaving the Centre weak and vulnerable, and that the 18th Amendment is not sacred or immutable.
Insofar as the provinces get some concessions through the NFC Award, the first and foremost question to be posed is, to whom does this wealth belong that is being distributed? On what grounds does the Centre have the right to make a proprietary claim to it? This wealth does not fall from the sky. Wealth is generated from the land that belongs to Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The Centre only directly controls the territory of Islamabad. Natural resources such as oil, gas, coal, fertile lands, rivers, seas and ports have emerged as a result of thousands and thousands of years of nature’s evolutionary process and people (nations) have inhabited these particular lands for at least thousands of years, if not hundreds of thousands of years. This wealth cannot be snatched away from the sons of the soil by merely some paperwork/proclamation made by the kind of people who have sat in the corridors of power since as long as memory serves.
Even if it is conceded that the Constitution reflects the social contract between the state and the people, it could be argued that it is the 1940 Lahore Resolution on which this country is based and this foundational document ensures the autonomy and sovereignty of the federating units. According to the Resolution, it is for the provinces to mutually decide as to which part of their resources they concede to the Centre should the need arise.
The President of the country is said to be beyond politics and a symbol of the federation. But this very President (Dr Arif Alvi), behaving as a representative of the federal government, has incorporated wartime affairs, foreign loans, and a fund to be allocated for Gilgit-Baltistan and Kashmir in the Terms of Reference of the new NFC Award. Perhaps the President, Prime Minister or some other government official would care to inform us whether the provinces are ever consulted before going to war within or beyond the state borders; whether the provinces are ever taken into confidence before obtaining loans, accepting their conditionalities or deciding how they are to be spent; whether the provinces have the authority to determine the status and governance of Jammu and Kashmir? The answer would most certainly be: well, these are federal issues, why consult the provinces? But the share of wealth that the Centre receives from the distribution of finances of the divisible pool is solely for tackling these issues of a federal nature. Let the provincial affairs as per the NFC Award be dealt with by the provinces. They will then manage these finances themselves.
The decision to start construction of the Bhasha Dam and its timing tell us that this present dispensation is far from being friendly towards Sindh or at least it is not functioning as a consensual federation. Sindh’s interests are blatantly violated and it is proclaimed that this serves the country’s interests. The Lahore Resolution that forms the basis of the country intended that the federating units would share their sovereignty with the state so that their interests would be best served, interests that were not safeguarded in the era of British imperialism. Whilst settling water disputes in the region, the British would give preference to the rights of Sindh over others, being the lower riparian. It is ironic that whilst dealing with its water disputes with India, Pakistan relies on the same principle of lower riparian at international forums, but when Sindh refers to it, it is outright denounced as provincial narrow-mindedness and provincial prejudice. A few state intellectuals tell us that this principle does not apply within a country.
In the face of the Sindhi people’s resistance/ire against the construction of Kalabagh Dam, it was declared in the feasibility report of the Bhasha Dam that it would serve as a carry over dam used only for generating electricity, and no canals would be constructed thereon. Now a unilateral decision has been taken that canals will also be constructed that will render 1,200,000 acres of land cultivable. The damage caused by previously constructed canals and dams to Sindh is already a spectacle for the whole world to see. Construction of new canals and dams would imply that the lands of Punjab will be made arable at the cost of turning the lands of Sindh barren.
Under these circumstances, the Sindhi people would be quite right in assuming and stating that this is not a Sindh-friendly state. This is not the state for which we had voted. These decisions also make it abundantly clear that the 150-year-old plans of Punjab to control the waters of the Indus, which did not materialise during the British administration, are now being blatantly acted upon by the current rulers of Pakistan.