It was an impeccably-planned offensive, replete with flourish and hyperbole.
The president and the premier thundered across southern Punjab on Saturday, lending support to each other and turning up the volume on the chorus of demands for a separate Seraiki province.
President Asif Ali Zardari called upon Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to immediately start a consultative process with all political parties, “with a view to make a Seraiki province in south Punjab,” said a statement on Saturday.
The president insisted this is not politics, and is meant “to respect and honour the aspiration of the people of south Punjab who have been feeling deprived for the last 60 years.”
He was speaking to a delegation of Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) lawyers’ forum at the Prime Minister House in Multan.
The PPP promised to give an identity to the people of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and fulfilled that promise, presidential spokesperson Senator Farhatullah Babar quoted Zardari as saying.
“Similarly, we gave rights to our Baloch brothers and the people of Gilgit-Baltistan,” the president said, adding that the party has now promised the people of this [Seraiki] belt to honour their aspirations.
“If giving rights to the people is a crime, we will continue to commit such crimes,” Senator Babar quoted the president as saying. Sources said all political leaders of PPP southern Punjab were called to Multan for the final decision on the Seraiki province. The party has completed the constitutional framework and paperwork for the creation of a Seraiki province, they added.
Supporting Gilani, sons
It was the president’s first visit to Multan and he used the opportunity to lend support to his premier.
“I am here to show my solidarity to the prime minister and his sons,” the president said, adding that Gilani was being targeted for his support to a Seraiki province and to the party’s leadership.
The president said he had been targeted likewise in the past and people were forced to become witnesses against him.
The prime minister is brave and will face the character assassination with courage and honour, Zardari said. “I respect his services for the people of Pakistan and I am proud of him,” he added.
The president also took a jibe at the Punjab government and said that the “rulers of Lahore do not understand the verdict of the people [in favour of a Seraiki province.]”
Gilani returns favour
The premier returned the favour with equal flourish.
Talking to lawmakers from Dera Ghazi Khan, Gilani said the future of democracy is ‘immortal’ under the leadership of President Zardari.
Chairing a meeting at the DG Khan airport, Gilani said democracy was the ‘fruit’ of the lessons PPP learnt from the past.
Later, while addressing a public gathering in the Alipur district of Muzaffargarh, Gilani said that while he was in jail, he was invited to join former dictator Pervez Musharraf. “But I turned down all offers against democracy and all designations.”
Gilani added that a Seraiki province is the solution to all problems of the region.
“The chief minister of a Seraiki province will be the one hearing the grievances of the people of the region, and the courts in the region will give them quick justice … I’m surprised how leaders sitting in Lahore can empathise with the people of Seraiki region,” he stated.
The prime minister promised that there will be no power outages after the upcoming budget and the party has planned the energy policy of the country. “In this budget, 100,000 jobs have been planned to resolve the unemployment crisis in Pakistan.”
Published in The Express Tribune, April 15th, 2012.