The move towards the creation of a Seraiki province gained momentum on Friday as the PML-Q leader in the Punjab Assembly submitted a bill seeking the establishment of a South Punjab province, even as the PML-N – the party most bitterly opposed to the idea – hinted that it might be open to more provinces in the country.
Chaudhry Zahiruddin Khan, a Punjab Assembly member from Faisalabad, submitted a resolution to the provincial legislature’s secretariat seeking the creation of a new province called South Punjab. Khan said that, given the fact that Punjab is the most populous province in the country, it should be divided for administrative purposes to improve governance.
Punjab Assembly Secretary Maqsood Ahmad Malik, however, told The Express Tribune that the resolution is unconstitutional since new provinces are a matter that must be debated in the federal legislature first.
According the Malik, in order to create a new province, a constitutional amendment must be proposed in the National Assembly and must clear both houses of Parliament by a two-thirds majority. The proposal for a new province must then be sent to the legislature of the province whose territory is being affected, where it must again pass with a two-thirds majority.
Malik called Khan’s resolution political point-scoring, saying that he should know better than to introduce a resolution on a federal subject in the provincial legislature.
Yet the momentum for the South Punjab province seems to have affected even the PML-N, the party that had hitherto been vociferously opposed to the division of Punjab.
According to sources familiar with the matter, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif is expected to chair a meeting on Monday of a 15-member committee constituted to study the issue of new provinces. The sources said that the committee’s recommendations do not reject the creation of new federating units, but instead would propose that the matter be taken up by a commission at the federal level that would judge the proposal for any new province.
Crucially, however, sources within the committee say that they are expected to endorse the creation of two new provinces: South Punjab to be carved out of Punjab and a Hazara province to be separated from territory that now falls under the jurisdiction of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
The idea for a permanent committee at the federal level that would judge the need for new provinces is borrowed from a similar commission that exists in India. In 1947, India started out with nine states and currently has 28.
PML-N sources, however, were keen to emphasise that they would support more provinces for ‘administrative reasons’ even as the proposals they consider are for provinces based on ethnic lines.
Sharif had constituted the commission on August 1 largely in response to a move by the Pakistan Peoples Party, which says it has been studying the issue carefully for some time now. It has met three times since it was formed.
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.
On Tuesday, PML-N leader Javed Hashmi broke once again with his party’s leadership and said that he would support any legislation to create a new province in south Punjab, saying that the creation of new provinces would help improve the quality of governance in the country.
However, Punjab Law Minister and PML-N leader Rana Sanaullah Khan said on Friday that the PPP is just playing political cards by asking its coalition partner the PML-Q to take the lead on the issue. He said that the PPP was responsible for the break-up of the country 40 years ago – a reference to the independence of Bangladesh in 1971 – and seemed to be aiming to do the same once again.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 6th, 2011.