In what comes as a dreaded scenario for ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the Junoobi Punjab Sooba Mahaaz (JPSM) – a recently formed group mostly comprising former PML-N MPs from south Punjab – has declared its merger with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
The merger, announced on Wednesday at a press briefing addressed both by PTI Chairman Imran Khan and JPSM chief Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar, took place on condition that the PTI will ‘take practical and tangible steps for creation of south Punjab as a separate province’ within 100 days after coming into power.
On April 9, nearly two dozen incumbent and former members of the National Assembly and Punjab Assembly announced forming a new political front, the JPSM, after resigning from their respective seats.
The sole agenda of this new political front was stated to be the creation of a new province consisting of south Punjab region – a longstanding demand of the residents of the most deprived region of Punjab.
The PTI leadership was in close contact with the JPSM and on Wednesday it formally announced the decision. Before the press conference, both the sides signed a six-point charter that primarily revolves around steps to be taken for creation of the new province and betterment of area residents.
Those who announced joining the PTI include five PML-N MNAs – Khusro Bakhtiar, Tahir Bashir Cheema, Tahir Iqbal Chaudhry, Rana Muhammad Qasim Noon and Makhdumzada Basit Bokhari. All of them quit their National Assembly seats last month.
They also include six PML-N MPAs from Punjab Assembly, one from Bahawalpur National Awami Party, and eight former MNAs and MPAs. All of them had remained part of the PML-N, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid and even the PTI.
Addressing on the occasion, the PTI chairman said if his party came into power, he would expedite the process of creation of south Punjab province as well as the merger the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) with Khyber Pakhtunkwa (K-P).
“We commit that… even though it won’t be easy. This will be our cause and we will expedite this. Agreeing to the formation of a new province is not a political decision but his conviction,” he said.
“Others before me may have made the same promise but I strongly believe that a federation gets stronger only when the federating units are happy to be a part of the nation. I believe that administering big units is very difficult,” he added.
Khan said the PTI wanted devolution of power in real terms by creating new federating units, adding that the 18th constitutional amendment devolved powers to provinces but “the powers are grabbed by chief ministers of the provinces and not given to local government representatives”.
Concentration of power in Lahore had generated a deep sense of deprivation in south Punjab, he said, adding that erstwhile East Pakistan was separated due to such policies and “it’s necessary to devolve power in real term”.
He continued, “The PTI commits that it’s our cause from now onward and for the purpose the party will form a committee that will prepare a complete plan to undertake this task.”
Commenting on the deposed premier Nawaz Sharif’s statements regarding the role of ‘aliens’ in the country’s politics, the PTI chief suggested reopening the Asghar Khan case to identify these ‘aliens’. “In fact, aliens were those who gave money to Nawaz Sharif, Shehbaz Sharif and Javed Hashmi,” he quipped.
The apex court has recently ordered the government to take action on its 2012 verdict in Asghar Khan case about alleged funding of some politicians, including Sharif, by the country’s establishment ahead of the 1990 general elections.
Bakhtiar, the JPSM president, said the issue they raised on April 9 for creation of a new province was made part of the PTI’s election manifesto as announced during its Lahore rally.
“There is a need to develop a deep internal cohesion among all federating units. It will be the first time a new province will be created and this move will create balance among federating units,” he said.
He criticised the PML-N, saying it ruled south Punjab but never granted its people their due rights. He called the PTI chief “the only ray of hope for Pakistanis, especially the people of south Punjab”.
“Joining PTI was the only option for us as rest of the political parties [like] the PPP and the PML-N have remained in power but never showed seriousness to address south Punjab miseries,” he added.