DERA GHAZI KHAN/ LAHORE:
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif on Monday said that he had not demanded that Karachi be made a separate province and that his statement had been misinterpreted.
Sharif, who was speaking to the media after the inauguration of the newly constructed Ittefaq Cricket ground in Lahore, said that he was not against the formation of new provinces and that these matters were always resolved with consensus.
Updated from print version (below)
Shahbaz sparks new controversy: If you divide Punjab, then divide Sindh
The PML-N seems to have been patiently biding its time to play its ace in the face of growing calls for a Punjab carve-up. On Sunday Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif thought the time was right to launch a counter-attack.
He said he was not opposed to the idea of creating more provinces in the country for better administration … but at same time he said that Karachi should also be made a separate province. Shahbaz Sharif, however, hastened to add that his elder brother, who is the founder of his own faction of Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), would make a final statement to this effect. By this, he wanted to stress that it was his personal opinion and not the party’s stand.
Shahbaz’s comment came amid comments that their party’s arch rival, the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), was demanding the creation of a separate province in southern Punjab in return for a possible political alliance with the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
There has been much talk in the air to bifurcate Punjab – the bastion of the PML-N – for administrative purposes. PML-N’s rivals have been pushing this demand in an effort to weaken its vote-bank.
Speaking to journalists after laying the foundation stone of Daanish schools in DG Khan, Sharif said that if Punjab was to be bifurcated for ‘better administration’, then Sindh should also be divided and Karachi, the largest metropolitan city of the country with over six million population, should be made a separate province.
Sources told The Express Tribune that Sharif on Saturday convened an informal meeting of his party where the country’s changing political landscape and demands for new provinces were discussed. Attendees at the meeting included leader of opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Senator Ishaq Dar.
Sources said that the PML-N looks at the growing demands from the PPP and MQM for Punjab’s bifurcation as a ploy to divide its vote-bank. And that is why it has decided to counter this ploy by putting up a counter demand for the division of Sindh.
Sources said that Shahbaz’s statement about division of Sindh was just a feeler. The Sindh people would never allow division of their province along urban and rural lines nor would they allow creation of Hyderabad and Karachi as separate provinces because they would render the rest of Sindh as landlocked.
Punjab government’s spokesman Senator Pervaiz Rashid defended Shahbaz’ statement, saying that during the regime of Pervez Musharraf the MQM had divided the historical district of Hyderabad and united all districts of Karachi in one district for political reasons.
Shahbaz’s statement, however, invited the ire of all political parties.
Raja Riaz Ahmed, the opposition leader in the Punjab Assembly, rejected the ‘demand’ for a new province in Sindh and instead advised Shahbaz to heed the calls from southern Punjab for the creation of a Seraiki province. He told the media at his residence in Faisalabad that it was for the people of Sindh to decide whether or not there was a need for dividing the province.
Ahmed said that the PPP has decided to include the calls for the creation of a Seraiki province in its manifesto.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) has also rejected the idea of dividing Sindh. In a press release issued here on Sunday, MQM Coordination Committee member Qasim Ali Raza was quoted as saying that his party believes in the ‘oneness of Sindh’ and it will not accept division of Sindh under any condition.
Raza said that nobody has demanded the creation of Karachi as a separate province. On the other hand, there are demands for the creation of Hazara province in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Seraiki province in Punjab.
The Awami National Party (ANP), Sindh chapter, said that Shahbaz Sharif’s statement has hurt the feelings of Sindh’s people. In a statement issued from the Bacha Khan Markaz, ANP spokesperson Qadir Khan said that his party was opposed to the idea of dividing provinces on ethnic and linguistic basis.
Reacting to Shahbaz’ statement, Sindhi nationalist parties said that they would resist any move to divide Sindh province.
Dr Qadir Magsi, President of the Sindh Tarraqi Passand Party, told The Express Tribune that the people in southern Punjab have a distinct culture and traditions and they have every right to demand the creation of a Seraiki province. “But the situation in Sindh is different. Here all the people are Sindhis having same culture,” he added.
Mumtaz Bhutto, Chairman of the Sindh National Front (SNF), said that the Seraiki belt was “forcibly annexed” to Punjab. “It is the right of the Seraiki people to have a separate province. On the other hand there is no movement for a separate province in Sindh,” Bhutto told The Express Tribune.
With additional reporting by Shamsul Islam in Faisalabad and Hafeez Tunio, Irfan Aligi and Sohail Khattak in Karachi
Published in The Express Tribune, April 25th, 2011.