The PML-N loses no opportunity to indicate gaps in the 18th constitutional amendment that was unanimously passed by the parliament in 2010. Criticism by the responsible government leaders including the federal ministers is not restricted to its political evaluation on theoretical basis but apparently expresses their desire to justify the violation of the amendment, if possible. They also keep hinting at the need for partially if not totally rolling it back. The revival of the Health Ministry and Education Ministry, despite the fact these ministries have already been devolved to the provinces is a proof of their hidden wishes. It is obvious that such revival at the federal level is unconstitutional. It is common knowledge that holding the meeting of Council of Common Interests (CCI) within ninety days is mandatory but the present government has violated this provision more than once. Federal authorities also conveniently overlook the fact that the 18th amendment has brought a paradigm shift with an approach to empower the federating units .The conduct of the Planning Commission is a case in point. The provinces, having been given the key ministries, are required to prepare their own developments plans but the Planning Commission of the federal government is still playing the role of the final decision maker. It was observed during the debate over Pak China Economic Corridor (PCEC) that the Planning Commission had prepared its own plan without taking provinces into confidence at all. After listening the demeaning comments of some honorable ministers about the devolution of power to the provinces, I got the impression as if the 18th amendment was some kind of a bolt from the blue that the parliament had to pass with. The struggle and sacrifices of the people of smaller provinces against One Unit and for achieving provincial autonomy seem to have been forgotten. As a matter fact the issue is that the overlords of our colonial type of ruling system in Islamabad are not yet ready to part with the system of a dominating strong federation and are unwilling to devolve the powers to the provinces even after the 18th amendment.

The colonial state structure that we had inherited from British Raj was neither democratic nor federal. It was designed to impose the rule of the masters over the enslaved subjects. It was not meant to giving opportunity to a free citizenry or freedom to the grassroots levels to take part in the decision making process. We continued to apply the colonial mode of ruling even after independence and up till 1971. That system however failed and led to the disintegration of the country. The framers of the 1973 constitution had this experience in mind when they opted for a federal, democratic and parliamentary system. In the backdrop of the trauma of the dismemberment of the country a concurrent list of legislative powers was introduced, giving simultaneous powers to both the federation and the provinces over a number of subjects, apart from the federal list. The residuary powers were supposed to be with the provinces. There was an agreement that the concurrent list of legislative powers would be abolished after ten years. But the whole process of constitutional development was disrupted by Zia’s military coup in 1977 and the abolition of concurrent list never took place. It forced the nationalist political parties from the smaller provinces to launch political struggle for the achievement of provincial autonomy. The Punjabi political elite basked under the status quo and was in no hurry for doing away with the concurrent list because the federation was never a neutral third party. The federal ruling elite has been by and large the extension of Punjabi elite and any reduction in its power was considered to be a setback for the otherwise mainly powerful Punjabi rulers of Pakistan.

 After facing repression at the hands of the military government of General Musharaf, the PML-N had to sign the Charter of Democracy with the Benazir Bhutto led PPP in 2006. PPP being conscious of the sense of deprivation among the smaller provinces insisted on including the demand for abolition of the concurrent list from the constitution. The struggle of Pashtun, Baloch and Sindhi nationalists coupled with the strength of the Charter of Democracy culminated in the passage of the 18th constitutional amendment in 2010. But there is a small but very important detail. Since the 17th amendment under General Musharraf had denied the third term to the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif could never become prime minister of the country without the abolition of the 17th amendment. So the PML-N had to go with other political parties in supporting the abolition of the concurrent list of legislative powers leading to the devolution of seventeen federal ministries to the provinces.

Federalism as the most modern form of horizontal democracy is getting popular in the countries of the world with socio-cultural diversities. Twenty-eight countries home to over 40 per cent of the world’s people, either call themselves federal or are generally considered to be federal. More and more countries are turning to this system. But transitions are not easy. Powerful bureaucracies accustomed to running the unitary state systems like personal fiefdoms find it hard to unlearn their past practices. This is the situation that we are facing in Pakistan as well. The PML-N should not forget that if federalism fails in Pakistan it will give strength and legitimacy to centrifugal forces. Even the federating units that do not stand for secession, in the absence of a federal system, may demand the revival of parity (equal representation in the National Assembly irrespective of the population size), a wand used by the Punjabi political elite to counter the population strength of the former East Pakistan (Bengal) in 1950s. How can we forget that the Indo-Pak sub continent was twice divided on the question of provincial autonomy i.e. once in 1947 and again in 1971? Can we really afford to forget the lessons from history?