Imperceptibly but certainly, a debate under the rubric of ‘Provincial Autonomy vs. Federalism’ is developing in Pakistan much to the relish of our enemies from across the national borders.
And the debate stems not from any misunderstanding over constitutionalism and legal implications about the things as they stand today, but from politics. The PTI-headed government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has declined a prince from Qatar’s request to hunt houbara bustard. Last week also the same prince was refused permission to pursue and kill this “rare and precious” migratory bird. The reason given for refusal is two-fold: not only do the visiting hunters damage crops and carry out excessive killings, their actions also run afoul of the international treaties that Pakistan has signed from time to time.
But the same party was allowed hunting of houbara bustard anywhere in rest of the country. Last year, there was also some debate over the hunting of this migratory bird, but a court upheld the Foreign Office’s right to grant this permission to visitors. So, rightly or wrongly, as of today the federal government has the right to allow houbara hunting anywhere in Pakistan as it happens to be a federal subject. As to what prompts the rulers in Islamabad to grant permissions to our ‘friends’ from the Gulf for hunting of the bird does smack of favouritism, but that issue is for another day. But today the refusal by the KP government is essentially a byproduct of its political mismatch with the PML (N)-led federal government – nothing less nothing more.
If the provincial government is set about undermining federalism, the federal government’s approach to issues of concern to the provincial government in Peshawar is not positive either. To immense annoyance of KP provincial assembly, the federal government has refused a no-objection certificate (NOC) to a British high commission team that was to visit the province to discuss development initiatives with relevant authorities. The assembly, therefore, has unanimously passed a resolution accusing the federal government of discriminating against the province by repeatedly denying NOCs to foreign dignitaries.
“We are requesting other countries to help us with the execution of our development agenda but unfortunately the federal government is creating hurdles by not allowing their delegations to come here,” said a member. This particular team to visit KP was to be led by the political counsellor of the British embassy. There are two plausible questions: Why has the federal government declined a request for an NOC when the province is relatively peaceful? Why didn’t it decline any request for NOC when the province was in the throes of a law and order crisis?
Certainly then the ban on houbara bustard hunting by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government and the federal government’s refusal to issue NOCs to foreign visitors of the province is an outcome of the ongoing political tussle between the PML (N)-led federal government and PTI-led KP government. Should this tit-for-tat tussle persist it would certainly weaken the writ of the state and thus undermine federalism in Pakistan. This is all the more an unwanted situation because in both the cases the issues are not internal but external having repercussions on the country’s image abroad.
This is a dangerous development and should not have taken place. Both the provincial and federal governments must reconsider their positions and help shun their political mismatches without any further loss of time.