IDEALLY, the 1973 Constitution provides national vision and direction. It requires a population census to get accurate data for futuristic planning and the National Finance Commission to determine equitable share in resources between the federation and the provinces.

Putting ‘first things first’ will be an effective order to develop a coherent development model. Going by history we embarked on first five-year development plan in 1948-55, whereas the first population census was held in 1951 and the short-lived constitutional vision came in 1956. The Raisman Award — the then surrogate for the NFC — was announced in 1951.

Even simplistic logic will first seek the nation’s political direction to determine the nature of the state followed by facts about demographic realities and a fair idea about available economic resources to prepare a comprehensive development plan. Unfortunately, we opted for exactly the reverse since the start. We created a centralised One Unit administration in 1954 which resulted in development disparities between the East and West Pakistan and cost us unity of the state in 1971.

A similar pattern was repeated in the 1960s. The second five-year development plan came in 1960, whereas the population census was conducted in 1961, the 2nd Raisman award was announced in 1961 and the second constitution was bestowed in 1962. It was once again a classical mismatch between the planning, population projections, purse and the political priorities.

As old habits die hard, the 1970s were no different. The so-called development plan came in 1970, the country dismembered in 1971 on the question of provincial autonomy, but the five-year development plan completed its full life in 1975. The population census was conducted in 1972 in the remaining Pakistan, a new Federal Constitution was crafted in 1973 and the NFC was negotiated only in 1974. Despite much-efforts one hardly finds any evidence of some functional link among these important aspects of polity. The 1980s were devoid of any constitutional umbrella and mutually agreed NFC. The story of 1990s is only of gradual reclamation here and there.

Will we ever be able to synchronise the constitutional spirit, census data and the available resources via the NFC with our futuristic economic planning?

Updating to 21st century, has anything changed? In 2009, the first-ever multi-factor negotiated 7th NFC and in 2010 the historic 18th amendment — a ‘negotiated federalist legislative revolution’ — introduced new constitutional software with provinces at the heart of it. The population census is pending since 2008 while economic planners came out with much-touted Vision-2025 in 2014.

The Vision 2025 was never placed before an appropriate forum i.e. the Council of Common Interests (CCI), rather it was endorsed in a brief meeting of National Economic Council that is ostensibly mandated only to plan according to the Principles of Policy enlisted in the constitution.

The scope, size and scale of Vision-2025 is more than that. It was authored by the centralised Planning Commission (PC). At the time of putting together this vision the PC was incomplete even in terms of its sectoral members what to talk about incorporating any federalised spirit in it. One wonders how this contemporary mismatch will be different from sad stories of the past.

Fear is that it will give birth to federal-provincial conflicts. Scepticism about the proposed Gwadar-Kashgar economic corridor has already created provincial doubts. Through its obsolete instruments, the PC also wants to usurp what has been given to the provinces. Attempts to re-federalise curriculum and higher education and other social sectors are some odd examples.

The18th amendment makes planning a shared responsibility of the federation and the federating units via the CCI. In March 2015, the CCI met for less than three hours after a delay of 292 days. The constitution requires the CCI must meet every quarter to take stock of subjects in the Federal Legislative List-Part II.

In its 180-minute meeting, the CCI decided about 13 important issues that work out to a maximum 14 minutes of decision-makers for each issue. An important decision taken was to hold a long-awaited 6th population census in March 2016.

Why to wait for another year when homework was already completed in 2011 when an aborted attempt was made to hold a housing census as a prelude to the population census. The only new aspect of this decision is that now the provinces will foot the bill through their share in the divisible pool.

More shockingly, the conversations on the 8th NFC award that was due on July 1, 2015 have yet to start. Therefore the original critical question remains unanswered. Will we ever be able to synchronise the constitutional spirit, census data and the available resources via the NFC with our futuristic economic planning? The situation on ground is hardly inspiring.

The writer is Islamabad-based political commentator and researcher

Published in Dawn, Business & Finance weekly, February 22nd, 2016