Pakistan suffer from conspicuous regional disparities in incomes, that has created North-South divide. In Punjab and NWFP poverty is below 30 per cent and in Balochistan and rural Sindh, it is in the range of 40-50 per cent.
This disparity is the outcome of inequitable allocation for development funds among the federating units over a long period of time.
According to one estimate, 89 per cent of rural Balochistan and 49 per cent of Sindh's rural population is in high deprivation areas. The entire urban population in Balochistan resides in high deprivation districts and the province's share in low as well as medium deprivation districts is zero. The provincial capital, Quetta does not even qualify for a medium deprivation status.
On the other hand, in Punjab nearly half per cent of its rural population resides in low deprivation areas. In urban Punjab, 23 per cent of the population resides in low deprivation districts. Over a quarter of NWFP's rural population resides in low deprivation districts and almost half of its residents in medium deprivation districts.
Balochistan is continually falling behind the rest of the provinces for the last two decades. In Sindh, all districts except Karachi and Hyderabad are at low or middle levels of development.
The districts in Punjab have generally moved up and improved their position in development ranking. Out of 12 districts in the high development category in the country, eight are from Punjab. The situation in NWFP seems encouraging with one district at high and eight at middle levels of development.
The north-south divide has been growing over past five decades giving birth to a plethora of issues and problems of national importance like, inter-provincial disharmony, feeling of deprivation, alienation and frequent tussles between centre and the smaller provinces over distribution of national resources.
Scarce financial resources are the root-cause of underdevelopment in the South. It lacks the investment opportunities for having a very small size of market. Lack of capital, low investment, and low productivity has led to the low income of the region, and hence it is caught up in the vicious circle of poverty.
The mineral resources, sea wealth and energy resources of the South contribute immensely to the national economy but it gets nominal share in terms of development resources from the centre for being least populous region.
The socio-economic indicators rightly place south in the category of least developed and most backward region as having no infrastructure, no industry, no viable road network, no agriculture extension services and no technical training centres, no quality education institutions in the entire region. The recent spell of drought has worsened the conditions in the south destroying its key sectors of economy.
South's human and material resources remain unutilized and its people technologically backward. The illiteracy is high and the people lack the entrepreneurial ability. The region has no skilled and trained labour to utilize its natural resources. Its resource potential remain untapped.
The economic and social backwardness has retarded the growth of its middle classes. And the absence of a middle class and urbanized leadership has confined its politics to a few big guns in the region, who have proved ineffective in getting funds from the federal government for the economic development and education, health and better housing for the people.
Various factors have contributed to the emergence of this North-South divide which include the unfair federal contributions to the provincial development programmes. In the FY 2004, the federal contribution to the provincial development programmes was 56 per cent for NWFP, 28 per cent for Punjab, 19 per cent for Sindh and eight per cent for Balochistan. The share allocated in foreign project assistance (FPA) to Punjab was 53 per cent, NWFP 29 per cent, Sindh 12 per cent and Balochistan only six per cent.
The over-centralism, unitary type of governance and arbitrary nature of decision-making are also the causes behind this North-South divide. The centre like a 'mega magnet' has attracted all the powers which the Constitution has given to provinces. This power grabbing by the centre has weakened the provinces and strengthened the central authorities.
In fact, the existing criterion for distribution of national resources is based on political indicators. Stronger the region politically, the bigger its share in the resources. This dominance finds its full manifestation in economic planning, policy and decision-making processes at Islamabad.
South almost has no say in the decision-making process at the centre. In fact, people from this region were kept away from decision-making process deliberately.
The vested interests have also been involved in creating North-South gap. The people in South lack access to basic needs such as education, health, clean drinking water and proper sanitation, which undermine their capabilities and limit their opportunities to secure employment.
South is also the poorly represented region which has been denied its due share in the federal services. According to an estimate, ex-servicemen from Balochistan for the period from 1995-2003 numbered 3,753 men only while the numbers for the North- Punjab and the NWFP- for the same period were 1,335,339 and 229,856, respectively.
However, the FY 2004-05 witnessed some shift in federal spending and financing.The share of federal financing of the provincial development programme has been enhanced significantly for Balochistan from eight to 58 per cent.
The share in the Foreign Project Assistance (FPA) for FY 2005 has also increased for Balochistan from 6 to 21 per cent. This paradigm shift in Islamabad's policy-a step in the right direction- is an effort to arrest the growing disparity between the provinces.
The recent crippling drought severely affected agriculture and livestock. The poverty level, particularly in rural areas jumped from 50 to more than 70 per cent. The apple orchards were badly hit by water scarcity.
Growers of apple suffered huge financial losses and are caught up in debt trap because of their heavy borrowings in order to save orchards. Livestock farmers suffered the most. There were reports of sale for goat and sheep by farmers for only Rs100 in rural areas during the critical period of water famine.
The province has no development infrastructure and industrial base and hence no employment opportunities for its people. Government remains the biggest and the only provider of employment's. Fewer fortunate people have gone to various countries in the Gulf. Following are the suggestions to bridge this ever-widening gap of disparity:
The present criterion based on the strength of population for the distribution of resources among the provinces be replaced by a new criterion which should be based on socio-economic indicators and which would allow more funds to less developed regions.
This would also be in consonance with the real spirit of the 1973 Constitution that provides for bringing the underdeveloped or least developed regions at par with the developed regions.
The federating unit should be made autonomous enough to achieve goal of self-reliance at least in financial matters.
The present shift in federal financing from North to South must continue till the end of regional disparities.
Real issues of political economy need to be addressed and resolved within the ambit of ongoing development process.
Participation of the real representatives from the south in the economic planning and decision-making bodies like National Finance Commission must be ensured. A mechanism must be evolved to identify the shortfalls with regard to south's share in the federal services and to fill up the gap.