In what appears to be a partial endorsement of his party’s new stance, Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz leader Javed Hashmi said that he supported the creation of new provinces on the basis of administrative need, not ethnic cohesion, a position that was also taken by the pro-PML-N breakaway faction of the Pakistan Muslim League Quaid.
Hashmi said that he supported the division of Punjab – the country’s most populous province – into four separate federating units, and explicitly said that he did not support the idea of creating a province on the basis of ethnicity, not even a Seraiki province.
“Since Seraiki is spoken in all four provinces in Pakistan, it would be a mockery of the process to create another province of 100 million people,” said Hashmi.
That this was stated by one of the most prominent Seraiki politicians in Multan, the largest city in the Seraiki belt, is a significant development. Hashmi has on previous occasions supported the creation of new provinces in order to improve governance quality and administrative efficiency and had implied support for a Seraiki province.
Hashmi had been sidelined by the PML-N leadership for taking a stance that had, at the time, been against the party’s policy. However, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif appears to have been modifying his stance over the past week and is expected to announce support for new provinces on Monday, provided they are not based on ethnicity.
“I still stand by my opinion that Punjab should be divided, on an administrative basis, into four provinces and the rest of Pakistan should be divided into eight provinces,” said Hashmi.
While Hashmi has widely been seen as estranged from his party’s leadership, he lashed out against their primary rivals – the Pakistan Peoples Party – on Saturday in a speech that suggested a rapprochement, or at least an attempt to do so on Hashmi’s part.
“New provinces can only be created by the PML-N because only our party cares enough about the common man,” he said. “The PPP is just supporting new provinces to play politics.”
Meanwhile, the pro-PML-N breakaway faction of the PML-Q – which claims to have six senators and six members of the National Assembly – also supported the notion of new provinces in the country, provided they are not based on ethnic or linguistic divisions.
PML-Q Likeminded faction leader Salim Saifullah Khan – who is also the Senate foreign affairs committee chairman – said that the “formation of provinces on administrative grounds would negate provincialism, promote nationalism, harmony and the country would be on the path of development.”
While the breakaway faction is not very large at the national level, it claims to enjoy significant support in the Punjab Assembly and at one point included a majority of the PML-Q members of the provincial legislators.
The main PML-Q, for its part, has been supporting the creation of a Seraiki province out of southern Punjab and a Hazara province out of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
The ruling PPP, meanwhile, appears to be defending its decision to create a new province only in Punjab. Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan said that since Punjab is the single biggest province, it is the only one that needs to be divided. She also claimed that the PML-N was bowing to public pressure for the creation of new provinces. “If the PML-N scraps the people’s demand to create new provinces, the people will scrap the PML-N,” she said in an interview with Express 24/7.
(With additional reporting by Irfan Ghauri in Islamabad)
Published in The Express Tribune, August 7th, 2011.