Bahawalpur, Multan and more

Published: June 10, 2012

The writer is professor of political science at LUMS

President Asif Ali Zardari has done the right thing in sending a reference to the Speaker of the National Assembly for establishing a commission to create two new provinces — Bahawalpur and Multan. It is also the first serious move to get the ball rolling on these two proposed provinces that goes beyond point-scoring politics. It is for real and will see the move gathering a lot of political support from within the region and in other provinces.

Actually, credit goes to the president for bringing the issue of a province in southern Punjab to national discourse. The activists for Bahawalpur and Multan provinces are likely to find new energy for their old dream with the support of the major political parties.

It is one of the positive spin-off effects of competitive democratic politics that the idea of the Bahawalpur and Multan provinces appears to be gaining bipartisan support as both parties, the PML-N and the PPP, saw political benefits in supporting the move and feared loss of popular support in the region if they resisted. The first declaration of support for a new province came from President Zardari which many commentators rejected cynically as a political ploy to compensate for declining support of the PPP in central Punjab. Whatever the motive, it was indeed a smart move to win the hearts and minds of the Seraiki population that has long felt cheated and dominated by the rulers of Lahore.

Feeling that President Zardari had struck the right popular chord in southern Punjab, the PML-N made a counter move by supporting the revival of the Bahawalpur province and indicating that it would also help create the south Punjab province. If that was not enough to match the PPP initiative, it moved a resolution in the Punjab Assembly in support of its ideas. In yet another counter move, the National Assembly also passed a resolution in support of the southern Punjab province.

Besides the positive gains of competitive democratic politics — that forces political parties to adopt popular issues or popularise issues that they hope will win them public support — is the issue of elite interaction, negotiation and compromise. This aspect of our politics was quite remarkably demonstrated in the consensus that developed on the Eighteenth Amendment that has restructured our federalism and appears to be a catalyst to the demand of new provinces. It is the same process that appears to be working behind the move for the Bahawalpur and Multan provinces.

Elite competition, as is quite apparent in the Bahawalpur-Multan provinces move, is what may lead to their establishment. It is likely that the dormant, passive and, so far, ineffective political forces of the region will put their collective strength behind this move that no party will be likely to resist.

It makes better sense that the names of the provinces reflect the history, heritage, culture and the traditional identity that both Bahawalpur and Multan reflect. Heritage names for states and provinces should be inclusive of all ethnicities and send a positive political message to minority language groups of common ownership; linguistic labels alienate such groups.

One important note of caution: the move for new provinces is not going to end with the carving up of Punjab even with bipartisan support. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Sindh, even with loud vows of ‘indivisibility’, may not remain unaffected in the face of strong minority ethnic movements.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 11th, 2012.

Reader Comments (13)

  • Max
    Jun 11, 2012 - 4:24AM

    If the purpose is not settling political dispute, I will favor it. It will certainly have a domino effect in KP, Baluchistan, Sindh and perhaps in Punjab as well (may be Pothowar region).
    Rasul Bukhsh! you should start working to become the Governor of Multan province. If not ask for a separate province for DG Khan and Muzaffargarh. Then your chances will be more bright.

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  • Ordinary Villager
    Jun 11, 2012 - 7:07AM

    What a hypocrisy by PPP that they support Seraiki Sooba but they oppose Kalabagh dam which is like a life line for South Punjab regions. So South Punjab population should ask PPP that if you are sincere of South Punjab then why you are Opposing the Kalabagh Dam which is vital for the Uplift for the South Punjab as without this dam much of the South Punjab regions will remain barren???.

    @Max: I belong from Potohar and people of Potohar never differentiate themselves from the rest of Punjabis and we always consider our self as cultural Punjabis. So atleast in Potohar there will not be any domino effect. Only people from other provinces sometimes try to create hatred here to have their own dreams of division to be fulfilled otherwise Potoharis are as much Punjabis as any other despite Potohari definition is geographical not cultural and it includes Attock, Jhelum, Murree, Pindi, Mianwali, Chakwal, Khusab and Gujar Khan regions which makes Potohari an inhabitant of region of Potohar plateau.

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  • Qasim
    Jun 11, 2012 - 9:35AM

    we need smaller provinces purely on administrative basis. Bigger cities like Multan, Bahawalpur ( already has high court ), Faisalabad, Sialkot, Sahiwal etc should get High Courts. There is too much pressure on Lahore High Court

    Speedy justice, swifter processes ( from car registering to land transfer/registering ). All these things should be focussed on once provinces are broken up on administrative basis. Everyone will be happy.

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  • Max
    Jun 11, 2012 - 12:20PM

    @Ordinary Villager:
    I agree Sir. Mianwali and Khushab are actually not part of the Pothowar region. The rest of the districts are. Some draw line between rivers Jhelum and Indus and others between Chennab and Indus. If we go by the second, then Gujrat also becomes part of Pothowar. Anyway that is not the issue. Again I agree that there never was any demand/movement for separation in the Pothowar region.

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  • kdm
    Jun 11, 2012 - 2:08PM

    every division should become province!

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  • Reza Ali
    Jun 11, 2012 - 2:36PM

    @Ordinary Villager:
    Kalabagh dam is technically and economically both feasible and desirable. However since three provincial assemblies and all political leaders of these provinces are on record over the past 28 years in their opposition to the dam, building the dam may well be the final straw that breaks Pakistan.
    Military dictator Zia through his cheeky minister Mahbub ul Haq dealt a blow to Kalabagh dam when they moved Kalabagh project from being a water project to a power project – they chose Left Bank Outfall Drain over the dam in the water sector and thermal power plants over dam in the power sector. Since then, the dam is all but politically dead.

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  • Jun 11, 2012 - 2:36PM

    The only solution is to convert the present 27 administrative divisions into provinces. Each of these 27 provinces should have its own High Court, and each should contribute equally to the federal government. And each unit should have its own police and law enforcing personnel. The Centre should deal only in defence and foreign affairs.

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  • Jun 11, 2012 - 6:44PM

    Provinces should be created on ethnic considerations, and in accordance with the provisions of the constitution. Provinces on the basis of administrative divisions are not viable financially.

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  • Nazir Ahmed
    Jun 11, 2012 - 7:49PM

    Forming more provinces on present pattern will increase the number of law makers, the parasites devouring resources, manifold. There is need to replace the present unequal provinces with small provinces almost equal in geographical expanse named after principal cities. This will eliminate the divisive linguistic and ethnic concerns. These provinces are without any assemblies and ministers. A governor heading the province is assigned with a limited, well defined role of supporting the district governments in maintaining law and order and provision of justice. Local governments under the 2001 Ordinance must be made functional. Union Councils should become hub of developmental activity and a common man’s need met at the local level. Anything else is playing politics and against the interests of citizens.

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  • A S
    Jun 11, 2012 - 9:45PM

    Nothing will change for the people with such cosmetic changes. What change did the people of Bunladaysh achieve by seperation? Nothing. Did we achieve Pakistan at all? No. So where does the change need to come? In the system. Unjust system. System of Ruler and the Ruled.For that to happen the first thing people need to do is to bring about changes in themselves en-masse. No change in the attitude of people, no change in the conditions of people.
    For example, we all want justice. Do we not? But how can justice become common when the masses do not practice it in their everyday life?
    To bring about changes we need to organise ourselves. Organise to work to bring changes and be able to keep a vigil on how our tax money is being used or abused.
    If we do not organise ourselves, we will not get anything. There is indeed no one else to blame than ourselves, for the dire situation everyone of us find themselves in.
    We must take the blame for not organising ourselves. Not organising to bring the changes we need direly.

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  • Nazir Ahmed
    Jun 11, 2012 - 10:36PM

    @A.Bajwa:

    You cannot create provinces on ethnic considerations otherwise it will result in lot of ‘ethnic cleansing’ putting peoples lives, properties and honour at stake.

    The financial viability is lame excuse. Take current year’s budget. Out of about three triilions ruppees if you give about three and a half billions ruppees distributed equally to each union council, to be spent according to ‘community development’ methodology, there will be immediate improvement in the lives of common man. And if the next government is not led by Zardari-Gilani or some other US appointed team, you may find overall improvement in our economic conditions. So don’t go on what the finance junkies tell you.

    If you read my comments you will find the answer to the question of provinces in Pakistan.

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  • Uza Syed
    Jun 12, 2012 - 2:38AM

    Stay far away from this professor’s brand of ‘truth’—there’s no room for any discussion or debate. He confesses in his own words that he wishes to avpid any discussions or debates on what his point of view, nay his political sermons are.

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  • Raja
    Jun 12, 2012 - 8:30PM

    @Ordinary Villager;
    Sir, Potohar is not just a geographical term as you pointed out. Potohari language is quite different from Majhi, the one that is spoken in plains. People from plains have trouble understanding the more hardcore Potohari like the one that is spoken in Gujar Khan for instance. Even the history of Potohar is quite different and isolated from that of the rest of Punjab. The region Potohar is designated by Jhelum, Chakwal, Attock, and Rawalpindi districts. And you are right Potoharis consider themselves Punjabi, but they also consider themselves potohari as well. All in all, we are happy living in Punjab, as the people of Potohar haven’t been hit by the politics of hate initiated by MQM and PPP yet.

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