A week after the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party blindsided the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz on the issue of South Punjab province, the PML-N outsmarted the latter with a jugglery of words.
On Wednesday, the PML-N hurried two resolutions through the Punjab Assembly calling for the creation of a South Punjab province and restoration of Bahawalpur’s old status, but through a ‘national commission.’
The opposition benches, led by the PPP, could not understand the resolutions, carefully crafted by provincial Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, until they were unanimously passed by the house.
While treasury members believed they had passed the resolution calling for new provinces, the resolutions in fact called for formation of a national commission which would deliberate over the new provinces.
The PPP had sought provincial nod for only one new province, South Punjab – a trump card they wanted to cash in on during the upcoming parliamentary elections.
However, by passing a unanimous resolution in favour of a national commission, the PML-N has thrown the ball back in the court of the PPP-led government at the centre.
One of the resolutions demanded the federal government constitute a national commission in order to execute the formation of a new South Punjab province.
The commission should decide issues regarding new provinces – like fair distribution of water and other resources and geographical boundaries – immediately. The commission should also be empowered to fulfil the process of formation of new provinces.
With regard to Bahawalpur, the second resolution called for restoring its old status of a province, because it is viable from historical, administrative, geographical, legal, and political viewpoints. Here too the resolution demanded that the province be restored through a national commission.
The opposition and treasury benches, before the start of the session, held a business advisory meeting in the speaker’s chamber where it was decided to table the resolutions.
Earlier, when Sanaullah submitted the two resolutions in the provincial assembly’s secretariat, they only stated a demand that the federal government take action under Article 239 of the Constitution.
It was only during the advisory meeting that the demand for a national commission was suddenly inserted in the resolution.
A triumphant Sanaullah, while talking to the media after the session, said that over 100 PPP MPAs now supported PML-N’s resolutions. He added that it was now for the federal government to form the commission, and that his party’s policy called for the immediate formation of new provinces.
Meanwhile, PML-Q’s Parliamentary Leader in the Punjab Assembly Chaudhry Zahiruddin Khan, while trying to perform damage control, said that the house has actually passed resolutions for the formation of new provinces. He added that the demand for a national commission was a ‘play of words’ which should be ignored.
“The demand for a commission to look into the matter will put (the issue) on hold indefinitely,” added Senator Mohsin Khan Leghari who hailed from South Punjab. He said that commissions and commission reports in Pakistan have a dubious history.
PPP’s Raja Riaz, on the other hand, contradicted his ally, saying that a commission is mandatory for the formation of any new province.
The PML-N often demands the formation of new provinces, but on an administrative basis only. The party, in its policy presented last year, had called for a commission, like the States Reorganisation Commission constituted in India in 1953, which should form new provinces after detailed study. PML-N’s manifesto committee has already suggested the formation of 13 new provinces countrywide.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Mohsin Khan Leghari’s designation as Pakistan Muslim League’s leader instead of a Senator. The correction has been made.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 10th, 2012.