Monthly Archives: August 2011

online interview on Pakistan’s Punjab in Viewpoint


 August 22, 2011 7:15 AM Dear All, Online magazine, Viewpoint, did an interview with me on Punjab. They also interviewed people from Pakistan’s other three provinces, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh. I am giving my interview below and you can access other interview on the following: Comments are welcome. Best regards, Ishtiaq The writer has a PhD from Stockholm University. He is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University. He is also Honorary Senior Fellow of the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. He can be reached at Viewpoint, online edition, 19 August 2011 breakup of the current Pakistani Punjab into smaller provinces can be justified on both linguistic and administrative basis. Three provinces can be established with Multan, Lahore and Rawalpindi as the capitals of three provinces This week, on the eve of Aug. 14, Viewpoint’s theme is: What freedom means for your province after 65 years of independence? In case of the Punjab, Viewpoint talks to Ishtiaq Ahmed to get his angle on birth of Pakistan and the Punjab. Ishtiaq Ahmed is an expert on the division of the Punjab in 1947 which incidentally is also topic of his forthcoming book. He has extensively written and researched on different aspects of Punjabi culture. He is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University. He is also Honorary Senior Fellow of the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. Author of several books and research papers, Ishtiaq Ahmed has also been contributing op-ed columns for The News, Daily Times and Dawn. Read on: What do you think about the new devolution mechanisms provided under the 18th amendment to the constitution of Pakistan in 2010? What is your definition of devolution especially in the context of your province?I shall begin with the term devolution and then make some remarks about the devolution envisaged through the 18th amendment to the 2010 Pakistan constitution. Devolution means primarily a sovereign government granting powers to a regional or local government to raise taxes as well as legislate on subjects ceded to it. Devolution is conceptually to be differentiated from federalism. In the former a division of powers already exists constitutionally whereas under devolution some powers and functions can be transferred temporarily by a unitary government to other levels of government. During the Sri Lanka civil war that raged for years, devolution was discussed as a midway solution between the Sinhalese government’s insistence on the state remaining unitary and the Tigers wanting to have a separate state or a confederation.In the case of Pakistan, I believe it means more powers being transferred to the provinces and local governments within the already formally federal form of government – which the smaller provinces allege has in practice always been a unitary government.I am in favour of “devolution” if it strengthens grass-roots democracy and a proper mechanism is put in place to impose taxes, collect them and use them for development and welfare of the people. There is a pending bill in National Assembly to declare Punjabi, Sindhi, Balochi, Pushto and Seraiki as national languages and there are also premature discussions on creating more provinces in Pakistan. How would these major structural changes affect your province?This is a development in the right direction. Languages are the embodiment of the cultural heritage of a people and it is always important that they are given proper recognition and provided patronage to evolve and develop. In all schools, the provincial national language/languages, Urdu as the main link language and English as the language of connecting with the wider world should be taught. In other words three or more languages should be taught to pupils. Children have amazing capacity to learn languages and the more languages one knows the more doors are opened for relating to the world around us. Creation of new provinces is also an important mechanism for providing effective government. As far as the Punjab is concerned, if we take the Mughal period as the starting point, then it was confined to the province of Lahore while Multan was a separate province. Under the British, the former Multan province as well as the Hindi-speaking areas up to the Yamuna River were added on to Punjab. Also, Peshawar, Bannu and Kohat were added to Punjab. However, Peshawar, Bannu and Kohat were separated in 1901 and Delhi separated in 1910. However , non-Punjabi speaking areas continued to be part of the British Punjab. These included the Hindi-speaking areas of Ambala division and the Saraiki-speaking areas of Multan division as well. However, the real Punjabi speaking districts were the central districts belonging to the former Lahore and Jullundhar divisions. Additionally Gujrat and Jhelum in the Rawalpindi division were also definitely Punjabi-speaking. A breakup of the current Pakistani Punjab into smaller provinces can be justified on both linguistic and administrative basis. Three provinces can be established with Multan, Lahore and Rawalpindi as the capitals of three provinces. This will ease the pressure on Lahore as well as create new job opportunities in the new capitals as well as bring the corridors of power nearer to them. On the other hand, when it comes to Sindh it is important that a separate Karachi province is not created without taking into consideration the interests of the Sindhis. A Karachi province separated from Hyderabad and other parts of Sindh should not mean rewarding those who have for a long time being championing Jinnahpur and other divisive projects. Only Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa and Balochistan are visible in the mainstream media these days most of the time because of the ongoing terrorism. When it comes to other provinces the news coverage is also not positive: a bomb explosion in Karachi or Lahore, for example. Do you think news coverage of all provinces is fair these days?I don’t understand what you mean by news coverage being fair. If you mean adequate then perhaps you are right but news reporting is usually about sensational events and terrorism will continue to draw attention more than normal events taking place anywhere in Pakistan. Since independence, military and civil administrations in Pakistan have been focusing on national politics and ignoring local bodies as a democratic base of the national political system. The current PPP government is no different. They have appointed official administrators locally and dismissed elected administrators. Your views on the situation?I can only agree with you. It is part of the overall malaise of the Pakistani political system. Local government is the most important avenue for building grass-roots democracy and empowering the people. It is however important that such empowerment does not mean that the existing social hierarchies are reproduced. Somehow, the poorer and socially-disadvantaged groups should be empowered. With education becoming the provincial issue under the new provisions of the constitution do you think your province would be able to improve quality of education and provide at least free school education to all? Higher education is the backbone of economy, research and technology in other countries. Do you think our institutions of higher education would be able to reach that status?On this point I am very skeptical. If we look at the way Indian democracy and federalism were constitutionally structured education and land reforms were made part of state or provincial lists or included in the concurrent list as well. As a result the spread of education was uneven and land reforms were also uneven. Progressive Indian states did well – Punjab, Kerala and so on did well while Bihar and Orissa did badly. Consequently it is important that both the central or federal government and the provincial governments implement the same educational policy and plan with the same targets in mind. It is perhaps worthwhile establishing higher centres and institutions of excellence with all the provinces having quotas for students and faculty while middle and lower levels of education should devolve on the provinces and local governments.Muslim nations at large have failed to define the status of women in the 21st century as equal members of their societies. In Pakistan surprisingly it is the elected representatives who have opposed draconian traditions and practices against women in their social structures. What’s the situation in your province and how do you analyze the ongoing violence and maltreatment of women in the name of religion and social traditions?Muslim nations have to come to grips with two realities which cannot be wished away. One, that the modern world has little or no sympathy for cultural and religious prejudices that disenfranchise citizens either on the basis of sex or religion or sect. In fact the Muslim world will cross the threshold into the democratic world only when these two egregious bases of discrimination are discarded. I heard a Punjabi female legislator advocating a man having more than one wife, so I don’t think your observation that ‘elected representatives have opposed draconian traditions and practices against women’ is true without evidence to the contrary. Punjab is still infinitely better than Khyber Pakthunkhawa, Sindh and Balochistan. The reason is that big landholdings or the system of tribal chiefs and maliks is not prevalent in most of Punjab. Pakistan is divided into two separate worlds. A small group of highly privileged class that enjoys all benefits of life and a large group of unemployed, low paid, uneducated, and poverty-stricken population. How would you bridge this gap?The whole of South Asia is like this. It must have something to do with the deeply ingrained psycho-sociological belief that those who are poor and deprived did something wrong in their previous birth so it serves them right – a prejudice that has continued to thrive despite conversions to Islam, Sikhism and Christianity. In the Islamic tradition I have heard people quote some Quranic verses suggesting that Allah favours those he wants and not all. It is a variant of the argument that assumes inequality and hierarchy as something divinely ordained. Needless to say, all these cultural and social problems have been compounded by years of neo-liberal economic policies that have meant unbridled capitalism. It has created a vast pool of those who have been knocked out. Poverty, social disadvantage, injustice – all are man-made conditions and can therefore be rectified. I am in favour of a break up of big landholdings, a free market, and strong labour and peasant unions that can protect the basic rights of workers. In other words, a social democracy that has enough scope for initiative and freedom as well as a basic network to protect the rights of human beings needs to be advanced. Women in particular have to be empowered. Micro-finance is a good scheme. The recent attacks on Dr Mohammad Younas have proven to be baseless. What is the most important social, political, cultural or economic challenge in your province these days? How do you see its solution?Unemployment, extremism, corruption, police brutality are salient in Punjab. I was once told by a senior Indian police officer, Kirpal Dhillon, that the Punjab police is notorious in India for its rough methods. I suppose that is true of our Punjab as well. The main challenge is how to weed out corruption, unemployment and terrorismWith your deep understanding of cultural and political history of your area, who is your favorite folk singer, poet, scholar, Sufi and political leader of your province and why?Folk Singer: Reshma (a rustic voice, sensuous and haunting like the sand dunes where she grew up); poet: Bulleh Shah (probably the most enlightened poet who dared to speak the truth); scholar: Waris Shah (encyclopedic in his learning); Sufi: Shah Inayat Qadri Kasur-Lahori (the master and guide who inspired Bulleh Shah to excel him in the pursuit of non-conformist ideas ); political leader: the late Mian Iftikharuddin (Pakistan’s best parliamentarian; also main owner and inspiration for the Progressive Papers Limited that launched two outstanding newspapers – the English-language, Pakistan Times and the Urdu-language Imroze; both now defunct). Reply to: Reply to: Visho Sharma All Reply to Visho Sharma Send