Pakistan has a unique federation where the largest federating unit, Punjab, has a greater share in federation as compared to all other units combined. This sort of arrangement results in distrust for obvious reasons. To settle issues relating to federation a Council of Common Interests (CCI) was constituted under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister. CCI is the apex body of solving Inter-provincial issues in Pakistan.
After coming to power, Prime Minister (PM) ShahidKhaqanAbbasi, made several changes and appointments. One such surprising change was reconstitution of CCI in favor of Punjab. During the Premiership of Nawaz Sharif CCI had four? members each from all four provinces of Pakistan. After the reconstitution by PM Abbasi now CCI has four members from Punjab, two from Sindh and one each from Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
Previously, CCI comprised of Prime Minister, Chief Ministers of all four provinces, Federal Minister for Religious Affairs (KP), Federal Minister for Saffron (Balochistan) and Federal Minister for Overseas Pakistanis (Sindh). Now PM Abbasi replaced all the three Federal Ministers with Federal Minister for Finance (Punjab), Federal Minister for Inter Provincial Coordination (Punjab) and Federal Minister for Industries and Production (Sindh).
Technically speaking, the PM has not done anything wrong. Article 153(2) of constitution empowers PM to nominate any three federal ministers to CCI.However, the practice has always been to choose federal Ministers in such a way to maintain provincial balance in CCI. PM Abbasi has departed from this practice and the move is not a good sign for strengthening the federating units of Pakistan.
The significance of the CCI is ascertained from the fact that it has to deal with different issues which are always the bone of contention in center-province relations. These include subjects such as mineral resources, Oil and Gas, electricity, ports, regulatory authorities and census amongst others.
In this context, the provincial balance in the CCI composition matters a lot. Clause 4 of Article 154 of the constitution states that CCI will make decisions based on majority. Therefore, after the reconstitution of CCI, Balochistan and KP will be in a disadvantaged position in terms of protecting their interests in federation.
PM Abbasi is known to be anti-18th Amendment. When he was Federal Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources, he shocked everyone by claiming that the PML-N government would reverse parts of the 18th amendment
Since the abolition of One-unit in July 1970, there has always been distrust between provinces and the federal government. Punjabhas always faced criticism from the smaller provinces. Kalabagh Dam is one example which is still a matter of controversy due to this distrust. The 18th amendment and the formation of CCI addressed the concerns of smaller provinces to some extent. That’s why the unwise move by PM Abbasi to reconstitute CCI is now tantamount to losing gains in terms of provincial autonomy.
An interesting thing to mention here is that PM Abbasi is known to be anti-18th Amendment. Back in August 2013, when he was Federal Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources, he shocked everyone by claiming that PML-N government would reverse parts of 18th amendment. He argued that natural gas related clauses in 18th amendment prevent the preferential supply of gas to industries in Punjab which is industrial base of the country. As a result, he wanted to amend the constitution so that smaller provinces don’t get the preferential supply of gas produced from those provinces.
This statement of Mr. Abbasi resulted in severe criticism especially from the PPP in Sindh. Opposition parties declared the planned move of Mr. Abbasi a conspiracy to roll back 18th amendment.
After facing the backlash from different quarters, Mr. Abbasi was left with no choice but to backtrack on his statement. He gave the much used excuse that he was quoted out of context. After that he did not make any overtures against the 18th amendment. However, after assuming the office of Prime Minister he once again provided the smaller provinces an opportunity to criticize him by reconstituting CCI in an unfair manner.
In a democratic society, every person is entitled to have an opinion. Mr. Abbasi is no exception and he can have opinions. He can disagree with certain points on the 18th amendment and he can voice these disagreements as a politician. But when he is in the office of Prime Minister then he is the chief executive of the country and it’s not about his opinion. Now, he has to take account of the sensitives of all stakeholders in the federation of Pakistan. This is something he’s failed to do as he excluded members of Balochistan and KP.
One can’t expect the government of Balochistan to oppose the CCI reconstitution because that government largely stands on the blessings of Nawaz Sharif or PML-N for that matter. The KP government will raise its voice against this but PTI leadership is not interested in the issues of smaller provinces.
In this context, PM Abbasi must reconsider his decision to remove members from Balochistan and KP from the CCI. He can pick any of his Party’s Federal Ministers from Balochistan and KP. If he doesn’t reconsider this decision then centre-province relations can take a bumpy ride in the coming months.
Writer is a freelance journalist and columnist based in Quetta, Balochistan. He is also the Founder and Editor of Balochistan Voices, a community based English-language online newspaper. He can be reached on twitter @iAdnanAamir
Published in Daily Times, September 1st 2017.