The Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) has formed a committee to consider creating a new province in southern Punjab and given it a broad mandate to discuss all possibilities – provided it comes up with a recommendation ‘in line’ with the party’s current opposition to the idea and considers every aspect of the move in just five days.
A majority of the 15-member committee, constituted by PML-N president Nawaz Sharif on August 1, feel conflicted between supporting the creation of new provinces, which would be popular within southern Punjab, and toeing the party line, according to sources familiar with the situation.
Sharif constituted the committee largely in response to a move by the Pakistan Peoples Party, which says it has been studying the issue carefully for some time now. But while Sharif wants to give the impression that he is considering the creation of new provinces, he does not appear to actually want to do so.
The committee members, most of whom are not from southern Punjab, have been asked to ‘keep the party’s stance in mind’ when formulating a proposal. Privately, sources say, committee members have been told to seek refuge in complexity: they have been asked to identify so many problems with a bifurcation of provinces as to render the idea infeasible in the minds of the public.
The committee is headed by party veteran Raja Zafarul Haq and consists of most of the PML-N’s senior leadership, including Makhdoom Javed Hashmi, Iqbal Zafar Jhagra, Zulfiqar Khosa, Sardar Mehtab Ahmad Khan, Ishaq Dar, Ahsan Iqbal, Mamnoon Hussain, Yaqoob Khan Nasir, Abdul Qadir Baloch, Salahuddin Tirmizi, Tehmina Daultana, Arshad Khan Leghari and Chaudhry Jaffar Iqbal
At the first meeting of the committee, held in Islamabad on Tuesday, many party members from south Punjab expressed their frustration at having been given just five days to consider a multi-faceted question. They also bristled at the suggestion of being told in advance what their recommendation should be.
“It is an uphill task and five days is too short a time for it,” said Sardar Muhammad Arshad Khan Leghari, a committee member and an MNA from the Rahimyar Khan, in southern Punjab. Leghari said that the committee needed to consider boundaries, administrative structure and financial matters, in addition to making the all-important decision about whether to support a restoration of the smaller Bahawalpur province or for a broader Seraiki province.
The PML-N has vociferously opposed both ideas for new provinces in Punjab.
Two members of the committee – both MNAs from south Punjab – have openly refused to take dictation from the party leadership, according to sources, and have demanded more time and more independence to consider the question.
Others have been more cautious and have stuck to identifying broad principles. “The PML-N will never support any new provinces on the basis of ethnicity,” said Jhagra, a Senator from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
Meanwhile, Punjab Governor Sardar Abdul Latif Khosa claims that the PPP is ready to announce a plan for a new province in southern Punjab. Shaukat Basra, the PPP deputy parliamentary leader in the Punjab Assembly, has already filed a request to begin debate on the matter in the provincial legislature.
According to officials, the Punjab governor is set to propose a new province comprising three divisions – Multan, Dera Ghazi Khan and Bahawalpur – in south Punjab. All told, the new province would have seven of Punjab’s current 36 districts and would have 20% of the province’s population of close to 90 million.
Sources say that a large number of PML-N legislators want the party not to oppose the PPP’s moves to create a new province but rather debate it in the assemblies.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 3rd, 2011.