ISLAMABAD: Any attempt to reverse any provision of the 18th Constitutional Amendment would be resisted by all political parties representing the interests of smaller provinces, minorities and marginalized communities. A parliamentary committee or commission with representation from all political parties should be established preferably under the chairmanship of Raza Rabbani to have oversight and watchdog role for the compliance of the 18th Amendment in letter and spirit.

This was the crux of the ideas shared by various speakers on the occasion Dialogue with Political Parties on the “Future of Federalism and Democratic Devolution in Pakistan” by Centre for Civic Education Pakistan (CCEP) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The dialogue was held in order to understand the standpoints of political parties at the driving seat and to explore the areas of policy convergence on federalism and devolved governance.

During the proceeding, federal government was criticized for showing centralizing tendencies by establishing new ministries on subjects devolved already to the provinces. Health, education, National Heritage as well as climate change are some of those ministries created in violation of the 18th Amendment. A centralist mindset prevalent in politics, civil society, media and donors is the biggest threat to the federalism, provincial autonomy and devolution in the country.

The speakers also highlighted that the mechanism to implement article 172 related to the joint ownership on natural resources is missing which disables provinces to make use of the rights given to them through 18th amendment.

Senator Raza Rabbani, leader of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) said that Pakistan is multi-cultural society and 18th amendment has acknowledged its rich diversity besides ensuring the much needed provincial autonomy and a strong federation based on strong federating units. He said that18th amendment has reclaimed the real Pakistan and has given a clear expression that Pakistan is not a garrison or security state. He said that efforts, at various levels, being made to undone 18th amendment and we need to come forward to make this historic process irreversible.

Senator Haji Adeel of Awami National Party (ANP) and member of the former 18th amendment committee said that through this landmark amendment, the Constitution of Pakistan 1973 has been revived as original besides giving the federating units provincial autonomy. He said that a lot still has to be done to make Pakistan a true participatory federation and inclusive democracy but 18th amendment has paved the ways to move forward. He said that there are various lacunas that still need to be addressed including the rights of minorities of Pakistan. He said that the control on natitral resources, as promised in the various constitutional provisions, must be ensured. MS Bushra Gohar of ANP said that the efforts to reverse the 18th amendment must be resisted by our collective efforts and all political parties ought to remain vigilant about it.

Senator Taj Haider of PPP said that though 18th amendment has not achieved 100 % of what was intended through it but still it would remain a significant milestone in the political history of Pakistan. He said that we are still lacking the mechanism that may enable provinces to exert control on their natural resources as prescribed by the constitution. He added further that the Sindh Government is working on the new draft of Local Bodies Act to hold local bodies election as soon as possible. Ms Anisa Zeb Tahirkheli said that Khyber Pakhtunkhaw being a prime victim of terrorism and the fallout of situation in neighboring country Afghanistan, it was promised to give special one percent incentive from Federal Divisible Pool but this promised has not been fulfilled.

Dr. Farooq Sattar, leader of Muthida Quami Movement (MQM) said that passage of 18th amendment was a good development but last 5 years have been wasted by not implementing it in true sense. He said that the nothing has been done regarding vital issues of federation including devolution of political power, decentralization and to bring changes in existing civil military relations. Besides, he said, the fundamental right of the people has been denied by not giving them local body governments.

Jan Achakzai, while representing Jameet Ulma-e-Islam (F), said that the distribution of natural resources is still a bone of contention between the provinces and federation. He said that the process of devolution must be enhanced to grassroots level. Usman Kakar, leader of Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (MAP) said that Pakistan needs a new social contract and this could be achieved to work on the issues that were left out in the 18th amendment.

Shaukat Yousafzai, leader of Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) and provincial minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa said that it is highly unfortunate that his province his being denied the rights on its natural resources. He said that the province has also to bear additional financial burden as a result of law and order situation and terrorism in the province. Ajmal Khan Wazir, leader of PML (Q) said that by holding various key ministries of devolved subjects including education, the spirit of 18th amendment is being violated. Dr. Ishaq Baloch, leader of National Party said that it’s unfortunate that a particular mindset wants to eliminate element of diversity and local cultures and Ministries like National Heritage of depiction of such tendencies.

Earlier, Zafarullah Khan, Executive Director Centre for Civic Education Pakistan welcomed the participants and said that we are taking this opportunity to invite all mainstream political parties that earned mandate during Election-2013. Marc-Andre Franche, Country Director UNDP also spoke on the occasion and assured the participants that UNDP would keep facilitating such dialogues in future as well while engaging political party leaders, mandate bearers, government functionaries, civil society representatives, academia, technical experts, development partners and other relevant stakeholders in the process.