Thursday, April 03, 2008

Intra-State Conflict Management In India And Pakistan

Now I have absolutely no idea what the hell the Hogenakkal project is, except that it's become the cause of a water dispute between the governments of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Apparently, the state government of Tamil Nadu is building something or the other within its territory, a development that seems to be pissing off Karnataka no end. Anyway, this post is not about the details of the dispute - there are few things I care about less in the world than hydraulics - but instead, it is to point out the different ways in which state disputes are managed.

Pakistanis are no strangers themselves to intra-state water disputes. The Kalabagh Dam has been the hot-button issue for close to ten years now, but it is hardly the first in Punjab and Sindh's tumultuous history. It's interesting to note that these disputes in general tend to be taken up at the national level as a first resort, reflecting our relatively centralized governing structure. They are, in general, dealt with by the highest echelons of the state - Prime Ministers and Presidents - and are, in general, national issues.

Compare that to what's happening in India, where the state governments tried to hammer out a solution, and only because that effort failed did they approach Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Now, of course, this difference in treatments might well be a result of the relative importance of the issue at hand - maybe this whole Hogenakkal thing is simply not that big a deal; I don't know. But I do follow Indian politics around election time and I can't recall intra-state disputes ever being an election issue. Government subsidies to farmers? Yes. Pakistan? Definitely. Nuclear agreements with the U.S.? Yup. Religion? Uh-huh. Ethnic politics? Oui. But rarely, if ever, are inter-provincial issues salient enough to sway voters.

My suspicion is that this has much to do with two factors. First, India has a decentralized and federalist state, whereby politicians and parties are reasonably confident they will have the autonomy and authority to figure out solutions to their own problems, without interference from the center. Second, India has no state like our Punjab, which has traditionally dominated the state to the point where the line between national and provincial politics is considerably blurred.

It is next to impossible to make the provinces - as they stand today - the loci of political power in the country. The existing imbalance would mean that Punjab would run roughshod even more so than it already has throughout our history. One possible pathway to greater regional autonomy - something I greatly support - would be to break up the provinces into smaller districts, like those in Western Europe, for instance. But I'm at a loss to explain how such a pathway might present itself.


AKS said...

Excellent post Ahsan.

I've always felt that Pakistan should be divided into more than four provinces.

I feel that not only will this help in curbing intra-state conflict, as you pointed out, but will empower inter-state minorities.

As a Karachite I certainly like the idea of an independent Karachi province/state. I'm sure so will the Makranis in Baluchistan; the Baltis, Kailash and urban Pathans in NWFP; people from the Kashmiri speaking region of the Punjab; and the Seraiki region in Northern Sindh / Southern Punjab.

I've just read the above paragraph and it seems as though I've just laid the plans for the Balkanisation of Pakistan. But that's not what I'd intended.

Even though I've givenexamples of ethnic division, I'm more interested in a better distribution of power and more regional autonomy. Hey, it works in India and most regions there are divided along ethnic lines.

Anonymous said...

I know Imran Khan doesn’t get a lot of respect on this blog but I do remember hearing him somewhere saying exactly the same thing. He mentioned a model based on Switzerland which is roughly 1/20 the size of Pakistan (both in terms of land and population), yet is extremely diverse and functions very well. If a country of 8 million people can have 26 cantons and live happily ever after then they must obviously be doing something right and we should at least look into it. I’m sure there are a million reasons why it works for them and might not work for us but it definitely is something that needs to be debated.

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