Treaty cells in provinces

Published November 3, 2014
The writer is an advocate of the Supreme Court and was federal law minister in the last caretaker set-up.
The writer is an advocate of the Supreme Court and was federal law minister in the last caretaker set-up.

TREATIES and other international agreements creating binding state obligations are formally entered into by the federal government. The direct treaty enforcement powers of the federal government, however, are restricted to the territory of Islamabad. Since treaties bind the entire state including all its federating units as well as the citizens within Pakistan, their practical implementation hinges mostly on the provinces.

Notwithstanding the issue of the state’s constitutional title to them, treaties also bind territories on which the state exercises effective control such as Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. The federation assumes responsibility to enforce and implement the provisions of any treaty with respect to the people of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan.

Following the 18th Amendment in 2010, several areas and subjects involving treaty commitments, such as human rights and ILO conventions and counterterrorism obligations, have devolved to the provincial governments. Crucially, the responsibility to fulfil treaty obligations has thus shifted directly to the provinces. But the provincial governments remain unaware of their modified role in treaty compliance.

It is wrong to assume that Pakistan can implement its treaty commitments in isolation. In fact, these commitments are intrinsically linked to our domestic law. Although difficult to put an exact number on it, it is estimated that out of approximately 12,000 federal and provincial statutes in Pakistan at least 60pc to 70pc are associated with provisions of hundreds of treaties ratified by Pakistan. This linkage certainly needs greater understanding and appreciation at the provincial levels.


The provincial governments remain unaware of their role in treaty compliance.


The federal law ministry during my tenure had issued specific instructions to the provincial governments to set up treaty cells in all the four provinces, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. It is heartening to learn that the Prime Minister’s Secretariat is enhancing the scope further and the provincial governments are taking an interest. Women parliamentarians from the PPP, PTI and PML recently pledged strong support to strengthen the treaty cells further.

In plain terms, the idea is that the chief minister of every province who is also the leader of the house of his respective provincial assembly, must include in his secretariat a treaty cell comprised of a designated officer along with three to four young law graduates who could be co-opted from any reputed law school in the respective province. The primary purpose of the cell will be to update the leader of the house about the state’s treaty commitments and suggesting ideas for their effective implementation and compliance by updating existing legislation or introducing new provincial laws. It will serve as a hands-on think tank for the chief minister and his cabinet.

It will be useful if the provincial treaty cells are directly coordinated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Mofa) and the Prime Minister’s Secretariat. For example, Mofa as the depository of all international agreements, can forward the copies of these agreements to the provincial treaty cells to enable the provincial governments to evaluate the context and understand their responsibilities. The cells will also directly facilitate Mofa in the compilation and preparation of state compliance reports under various human rights treaties that are to be submitted under a time-bound mechanism.

The treaty cells can act as vehicles for providing valuable provincial perspective to the Prime Minister’s Secretariat or the cabinet or Mofa. Several treaties and other international agreements impacting a province involve subjects falling under the purview of the National Economic Council, the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council, and the Council of Common Interests. The substantive input from the provinces in these areas will indeed be of immense value.

The treaty cells can also play a vital role in synthesising the officials and people of their respective provinces with the usefulness and benefits of complying with various treaty regimes. Certain agreements, particularly in relation to counterterrorism, money laundering, and terrorist financing, can help self-discipline, and internalise the thought process and decision-making of all the relevant provincial stakeholders.

Significantly, the treaty cells can potentially create micro-level awareness about trade-related conventions and the concomitant business opportunities that they generate for local entrepreneurs. At the moment, there is scarce if any realisation of the existence and benefits of the WTO level-playing-field rules and the market access rules to an entrepreneur in, say, Shikarpur or Malakand or Khuzdar districts. In this regard, the cells can partner with respective provincial trade bodies and chambers of commerce to facilitate entrepreneurship that could turn around the local economies.

The treaty cells can provide a bonding opportunity to the provincial governments with each other and with the federal government. The provincial governments need to work in tandem with the PML-N in the centre to coordinate common strategies of implementation of international treaties in the provinces. Treaty compliance forces a common agenda for all governments and political parties.

The expanded role of the treaty cells should include translation of international agreements into local languages so that the commitments binding the provinces and their people are easily understood by them. These translated texts can be disseminated to local madressahs, thereby educating religious scholars and their students about the state’s treaty commitments that bind the state and all its subjects.

As a responsible state, we must understand that when we refer to the rule of law it is not confined to the rule of domestic law but includes the rule of international law. In fact, it is adherence to our international obligations that enables us to, in the words of the preamble to our Constitution, “attain [our] rightful and honoured place amongst the nations of the world and make full contribution towards international peace and progress and happiness of humanity”.

The writer is an advocate of the Supreme Court and was federal law minister in the last caretaker set-up.

Published in Dawn, November 3rd, 2014

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