LAHORE: While the demand for a separate South Punjab province has been making the rounds at discussions, editorials, and other forums for decades, it gained political traction in February 2011 after the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) parted ways with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) provincial government in the Punjab.
Between 2008 and 2011, when the PPP sat on treasury benches in the Punjab Assembly, it sided with the PML-N on knocking out resolutions pertaining to South Punjab province. PML-Q’s MPA Mohsin Leghari submitted tens of resolutions, in almost every session, but none were supported by the PPP.
After the fallout, PPP’s Co-Chairman, President Asif Ali Zardari, asked the party’s manifesto committee to prepare recommendations for a new province. The committee has held only one meeting since 2011, but never discussed the issue of South Punjab.
Before being taken up by the leading parties, the PPP and the PML-N, the issue also lacked electoral support.
Leaders, like the Pakistan Seraiki Party’s President Barrister Taj Muhammad Langah, who have been most vocal about a Seraiki or South Punjab province, have never been elected to parliament or provincial assemblies.
The tide, however, turned around after the PML-N wrapped up the local government system in 2008, introduced by former president Pervez Musharraf under his regime.
As authority centered back in Lahore, the demand for South Punjab went from drawing rooms to the street.
At the 2010 budget speech in the Punjab Assembly, lawmakers from South Punjab protested on the floor of the house over the allocation of “Rs5 billion” for South Punjab.
Terming the amount “equivalent to Zakat,” the lawmakers lashed out at Rs21 billion spent on Raiwind road that leads to the Sharifs’ residence outside Lahore.
Chairman Planning Department of Punjab, however, refuted the claim.
Giving official figures to The Express Tribune, the chairman said the PML-N government increased the allocation of development budget to South Punjab from Rs22 billion in 2007-08, or 15% of total development allocation in the Punjab, to Rs70 billion in 2011-12, or 32% of total allocation.
The allocation, however, does not necessarily translate into disbursements which may be far lower.
Rhetoric versus action
The PML-N says the resolution in National Assembly is an attempt to deflect pressure on the government following conviction of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani in a contempt case.
Analysts second that, saying the resolution is merely a political gimmick that attempts to cash in on public support on the issue in , what is widely perceived to be, an election year.
Caving out a new province will require a bill, not a resolution, they say, adding that a resolution has no legal weight and does not make South Punjab imperative. Since a new province would require amending the Constitution, the PPP, if it is serious about South Punjab, should have moved a bill.
What is the process?
The process for amendment to the Constitution, which is essentially what a new province would entail, is laid out in Article 239 of the Constitution.
A bill has to be moved in either houses of parliament, National Assembly or Senate, and has to pass with a two-thirds majority in both. Any regular bill would then be sent to the president for endorsement but sub article 4 adds an extra provision for this case, which states: A bill to amend the Constitution which would have the effect of altering the limits of a province shall not be presented to the president for assent unless it has been passed by the provincial assembly of that province by the votes of not less than two-thirds of its total membership.
Few months ago, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement submitted a bill to remove the aforementioned clause. The bill, however, is pending in National Assembly secretariat and has not been entertained.
South Punjab, therefore, needs the assent of both – the PPP and the PML-N – if it has to become a reality under the current Constitution, and before the next election.
The PML-N does not disagree on the creation of new provinces, but demands that they should be created on an “administrative basis” only.
The party, in its policy presented last year, has called for a commission, like the States Reorganisation Commission constituted in India in 1953, which should form new provinces after detailed study.
According to the PML-N’s manifesto committee, the party has plans for 13 new provinces in Pakistan; and while not much progress was seen on that front, the party was jolted into action on Friday.
Hours after PPP’s resolution was passed by the National Assembly, the PML-N submitted a counter resolution to the NA secretariat, calling for the creation of not one but four provinces – South Punjab, Bahawalpur, Fata and Hazara.
Sources in the party, however, say the PML-N’s stance on a prospective ‘Bahawalpur’ province is a political attempt to counter PPP’s demand of a ‘South Punjab’ province.
Bahawalpur versus South Punjab
While the debate on southern Punjab, until recently, focused on South Punjab versus Bahawalpur, PML-N’s resolution submitted on Friday now calls for creation of both.
The party is not the only one calling for a Bahawalpur province though.
Former information minister Senator Muhammad Ali Durrani, a leading figure in the movement for a separate Bahawalpur province, has demanded that the former princely state be given a provincial status.
It is the constitutional right of the people of Bahawalpur to have their own province, just like it is the right of the people of DI Khan and Multan to have their own province, Durrani said in a statement on Thursday.
Any effort to pitch the people of Bahawalpur against the people of DI Khan and Multan will fail, he added.
PML-Functional Punjab President Makhdoom Ahmad Mehmood has also demanded that Bahawalpur should be restored as a separate province, instead of inducting it into a Seraiki or South Punjab province.
Following through on its counter-proposal submitted to the NA secretariat on Friday, the PML-N submitted a resolution in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Assembly Secretariat, calling for forming the Hazara division a separate province. The resolution, filed on Friday, is signed by six lawmakers .
“Once it is carved into a new province, the revenue generated [through its resources] will be used on this region,” Muhammad Javed Abbasi told reporters. “It is very difficult to administer this division from Peshawar.”
The resolution states that the Hazara division is gifted with natural resources but unjust treatment by successive governments have led to feelings of depravation amongst the people.
“This provincial assembly asks the provincial government to recommend to the federal government to amend the Constitution of Pakistan to make Hazara a separate province,” the resolution reads.
Meanwhile, pro-Hazara province activists have called for a protest and sit-in in Islamabad on May 14, against the ignoring of their demands. Members of the Suba Hazara Tehrik criticised the PPP for ignoring the demand of Hazarawals at a meeting in Abbottabad on Friday, saying their demand is an administrative one in nature.
The road to Seraiki province
Pakistan Seraiki Party’s President Barrister Taj Muhammad Langah believes that creation of a Seraiki province is imperative, and a boundary commission should therefore be established immediately.
If the process is delayed, however, he has several short-term proposals to offer.
The Punjab Assembly could be divided informally into Punjab and Seraiki region, he said, while talking to The Express Tribune.
Members from the Seraiki regions in the Punjab Assembly should prepare budget proposals for their areas separately and allocation of funds to the Siraiki area should be based on population and the area’s contribution to the national economy, he said.
Similarly, the federation should have separate financial allocation in the budget, as well as in the NFC award, for a future Seraiki province, he added.
He proposed that until a separate province is created, the Punjab Assembly should, on temporary basis, be divided into two houses for legislation and development allocation purposes.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 5th, 2012.