The provincial stake in Pakistan

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Politicians from Pakistan’s smaller parties, mainly nationalists, have been calling for a new social contract between the federating units and the federation of Pakistan. Most of these demands call for the implementation of the Lahore Resolution (also known as the Pakistan Resolution) of March 23, 1940, which laid down the foundation for the creation of the country.

Pakistan’s various constitutions were not drafted on the basis of the Lahore Resolution, causing mistrust among the federating units and paving the way for highly a centralised federal government.

Among the core issues of discontent between the centre and the provinces has been the ownership of natural resources. Though the 18th Amendment resolved the issue of ownership to the provinces, the management of these resources remains with the centre. This makes little sense. When the provinces own these resources, why does the control have to remain with the centre?

The basis for Balochistan’s nationalist uprising was to gain control of wasail aur sahil (the ownership of mineral resources and the Gwadar Port). They believed that their resource-rich province had been robbed of its wealth and natives were being deprived of these resources. Sui in Dera Bugti is a glaring example of this.

Politically, it made no sense to young, educated Baloch students and senior activists why people from other provinces – who controlled the central bureaucracy and state machinery – had a right to their resources when they were the owners of their historic homeland.

For years, Article 158 of the constitution has been violated and the federal government has not heeded to its constitutional obligation. If the natural resources are a provincial subject – which they are – they belong to the provinces. What sense does it make for a federal ministry to intervene? Natural resources must be managed and owned by the provinces and the federal government’s intervention must end. One of the reasons why so many towns – and even district headquarters like Umerkot in Sindh – are without adequate supply of natural gas is because gas is supplied to up-country areas while the natives are deprived.

On September 19, the Inter-Provincial Coordination Committee (IPCC) recommended through a majority vote that the rights over all future oil and gas findings should be given to the respective producer provinces so that Article 158 of the constitution is implemented in its true spirit. This decision was long overdue following the 18th Amendment that was passed several years back. It is the single most important achievement of the ruling PML-N government in strengthening the federation of Pakistan.

Following this welcome development, the bigger question lies with decentralising the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources as the centrist bureaucratic structure does not take into account the provincial interests and concerns. Stronger provinces do not necessarily weaken the centre while a stable and developed province will solidify the federation.

The PPP-led Sindh government is putting up a just fight for constitutional rights by demanding that, in the pursuance of Article 158, the gas produced in Sindh should initially be allocated to Sindh to meet its immediate, short-term and long-term requirements. As a result, only the surplus gas can, with the approval of the provincial government, be supplied to other parts of the country. Thus, the centre should not force Sindh to consume imported LNG as Sindh has its own gas resources that are sufficient to meet its needs.

Sindh is the largest producer of oil and gas in Pakistan and yet it faces the worst levels of poverty in Asia. It produces 71 percent of gas and 61 percent of oil in Pakistan. The daily production of oil and gas in Sindh is about 67,140 barrels and 3.99 billion cubic feet, respectively.

Pakistan will be a far better country if all constitutional rights are given to provinces and citizens. Sindh is Pakistan’s energy hub and the province has seven gas fields. In 2017, there were eight new sites where gas and oil were discovered in the country. Seven of these were situated in Sindh.

Sindh’s oil and gas resources should not be turned into a curse on the people – as has been the case in many African countries with regard to mineral resources. Though Sindh produces natural resources worth billions of rupees per year, it is still far behind in terms of human development indicators. In fact, the major gas-producing districts of Sindh are in the worst state of human development.

The wealth generated by the natural resources could change the future of our people if it is shared with the people. From the Kirthar Range to the plains of Sanghar, Tando Allahyar, Badin, Khairpur and Gotki districts, our province is blessed with billions of dollars worth of wealth. These resources belong to the people and not just governments and large private companies.

Is the Sindh government not aware of this wealth? What studies has it funded to conduct a resource profile of the province? It needs planning and a concrete vision to use these resources to lift people out of the backwardness, poverty and misery in which they have been living for a long time. It is possible. It only requires will and a vision. We can’t let profit-seeking companies decide the fate of the people. The state must play the role of an equaliser in society. All models of development and modernisation – from Europe to the Far East – tell us that the state, and not the market forces, has played a leadership role in setting the development direction.

 

Email: mush.rajpar@gmail.com

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