New provinces will break Pakistan

For those who want a Balkanised Pakistan, a Seraiki province is not enough in Punjab.

Zahid F Ebrahim August 16, 2011

The 1973 Constitution is the only consensus document binding the federation. It neither recognises nor foresees the further division of Pakistan into more provinces. The manifestos of the PPP and its ally, the Q League, make no reference to new provinces. Thus, the call for more provinces is nothing but reckless desperation of a morally bankrupt political leadership which sees defeat written large in the next election.

The Q League, which is in the process of rapid evaporation, is the most vociferous proponent of more provinces. Chaudhry Shujaat and Pervez Elahi have the most to lose come elections and are therefore eager incendiaries demanding a division of Punjab. In the week leading to Pakistan’s independence day, the PML-Q introduced a proposal in the Punjab Assembly for breaking Punjab and creating a Seraiki province.

The PPP, whose new poster boys were never seen in Benazir Bhutto’s lifetime, is equally passionate about new provinces, at least in Punjab. President Zardari’s trusted troubleshooter, Dr Babar Awan, claims that the Seraiki province cannot be suppressed any longer. As if this was a long-standing promise of the PPP. It is obvious that the PPP high command feels there is no national slogan which is capable of garnering votes in the next election, and it’s only option will be to pit the people of Punjab against each other.

For those who want a Balkanised Pakistan, a Seraiki province is not enough in Punjab. Mohammad Ali Durrani, General Musharraf’s information minister, is hoping to come out of the political wilderness by leading the battle for a Bahawalpur province. Durrani’s vision is to restore the former nawab of Bhawalpur’s scion to the lost glory of the British Raj. Another notable supporter of a Bahawalpur province is Izajul Haq, who leads his own one-man faction of PML (Ziaul Haq).

In what is developing into a rapid free for all, Dr Nazir Bhatti of the Pakistan Christian Congress is demanding the formation of a Christian province in southwest Punjab. On the other hand, a JUI MPA from Mianwali rejects the proposal for a Seraiki province and has demanded a Thal province where people of his constituency can be free, according to him, from the lords of Multan. The temperatures are slowly rising. In the last parliamentary session of the Punjab Assembly, the proponents of Seraiki vs Thal provinces traded insults and abuses and had to be physically restrained from attacking each other.

The danger of lighting a fire in Punjab is that it can engulf the entire country. The demand for a Hazara province to be carved out of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has now been renewed. Dozens were killed in rioting leading up to a mere change of name from NWFP to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Imagine the bloodletting which will welcome the partition of a province. And with every drop of blood wasted in the name of division of provinces, it is the federation of Pakistan which will suffer irreparable harm.

For MQM supporters, the demand for Karachi and Hyderabad as a separate province is literally the writing on the wall and the restoration of the city district governments is considered its foundation. However, Sindhi nationalists promise that their province will only be divided over their dead bodies. There is already no dearth of violence in Karachi and we cannot afford more bloodletting. Stoking the fires of division in far away Punjab merely to cut the Sharif’s down to size is likely to not only destroy PPP’s traditional vote bank in Sindh, but threaten Pakistan as we know it.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 17th, 2011.