Small provinces have big dreams
Will Pakistan's map be changing as ethnic and political divides continue to grow?
Over the past few years people across the country have joined the debate on establishing smaller provinces. But there are constitutional, economic, ethnic and political problems with turning these dreams into realities.
The ideas came to the fore after the renaming of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa started the debate about the creation of smaller provinces.
The Hazara province
The basis for this demand was purely ethnic as people claimed they were happy with the old name NWFP. Protests on the streets for a new Hazara province claimed seven lives. But a deep look into the social, ethnic and political set up of the Hazara Division reveals that the reality is different from what it appears to be.
As Hazara attempts to splinter away from what has been interpreted as a Pakhtun province, a desire for cessation has been expressed in the districts of Batagram, Tor Ghar, Kohistan and Shangla (now in Malakand Division) from Hazara Division into a new division. This division is to have the name Abasin and will predominantly be a Pakhtun division.
Sooner or later, the formation of the Abasin Division will likely take place. It will become one of the largest divisions in KPK consisting of five districts, whereas the now Hazara Division will only retain two and a half of its present five districts.
So, these protests have proved self-destructive as it will become almost impossible to make a separate province with two and a half districts. If at any point in the future, a province would have to be made in this region it will be with the name of anything but Hazara.
The leaders of the protest and of all the political parties who have some stake in it are well aware of all these realities. They know the creation of the Hazara province is a dream which cannot be converted into reality, but the situation is exploited cleverly for political interests only.
The Saraiki province
A totally different but equally interesting and complicated background surrounds the demand of the Saraiki province in Southern Punjab.
It has also come at a very crucial time. The people of the Southern Punjab region have a strong desire for a separate province as they have suffered a very long political and economic deprivation.
Exploiting the slogan for the Saraiki province promises large political dividends for some political parties like the PPP and the PML-Q. For others like PML-N, it would be politically disadvantageous in this region particularly at a time when all the political parties are about to start their campaigns before the next elections.
This is why just a few days ago, Prime Minister Gilani expressed his party’s strong support for the creation of the Saraiki province in unequivocal terms at a public gathering in Southern Punjab. He announced that they would include it in their party manifesto for the next election.
Southern Punjab has remained a stronghold of the PPP and supporting the slogan of a separate province for the region would seal it for them politically. For the same reason, the PML- Q is also dying to get some political mileage out of the slogan. To achieve this, Chaudhry Pervez Elahi also decided to announce his party’s clear support in a public gathering in DG Khan.
But the political elite in Bahawalpur have outrightly rejected the idea of the Saraiki province. Instead, they have demanded the restoration of the old Bahawalpur Province which was merged into one unit by Ayub Khan but was not restored to its original status after the dissolution of the one unit.
The argument they give for the rejection of the Saraiki province is that their economic, political and administrative interests will be grabbed by the other districts, particularly Multan, and it would only be a change of masters for them and nothing else.
The Potohar province
As if all this was not enough, another slogan for the Potohar province, the exponent of which is the federal law minister Babar Awan, has now started resounding in the North Punjab region.
By throwing all these slogans into the political arena, the PPP and the PML-Q want to tighten the noose on the PML-N in Punjab and to squeeze them to central Punjab. On the other hand, the PML-N would never allow their opponents to push them down as easily, since their opponents’ success would mean surrendering their hold on 65 per cent of Pakistan and being satisfied with about 25 per cent only.
The PML-N will try to do everything possible to foil the tricks of their opponents, and them opposing it would render it impossible create new provinces. All this means that the creation of the Saraiki and Potohar provinces or the restoration of the Bahawalpur Province have no hopes of success in the near future and these slogans are only used to gain political.
If any of these dreams come true, there are movements in North-West Balochistan and the Malakand province in Upper KPK to make claim for separate provinces for the same reasons.
But keeping in mind the constitutional complexity and the present economic, social and political conditions of Pakistan, the making of new provinces seems too far-fetched an idea.
Above all, the military establishment strongly discourages the concept of smaller provinces because that will loosen the centralisation of command which does not favour the military.
The military may watch as politicians exploit these slogans for political benefits, but will not allow them to become a reality.