Flaring tempers, dramatic walkouts, fresh alignments and chaos prevailed in the National Assembly on Thursday, triggered by a demand to hold a parliamentary debate on the creation of new provinces.
The situation deteriorated to a point where Deputy Speaker Faisal Karim Kundi was forced to suspend proceedings to calm tempers.
In the midst of it all, there were clear signs of detachment between the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and one of its allies when debate began on carving new provinces out of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P).
The Awami National Party (ANP) – the government’s coalition partner, both at the centre and in K-P – vehemently opposed what seemed to be the federal government’s proposed method and formula for the division of the two provinces. The stand taken by the ANP, which is the ruling party in K-P, brought it in line with the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the ruling party of Punjab.
In another setback, one of the PPP’s stalwarts from Sindh staged a walkout from the lower house in a snub to his party’s support for a resolution moved by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).
MNA Zafar Ali Shah of the ruling party said the MQM did not have the right to bring the resolution under the Constitution because any move to divide provinces must be originated in the provincial assembly.
On the other hand
Several MQM and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) members raised slogans slated with the word “debate” — supporting the creation of Seraiki and Hazara provinces.
Joining the chorus in no time, members of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), including its minister Shah Jehan Yousuf and K-P President Amir Muqam, raised voices in favour of the new provinces.
When proceedings of the lower house managed to resume after a twenty-minute break, ANP President Asfandyar Wali Khan staged a walkout from the National Assembly with his colleagues saying, “Proceedings of the house were not being run under parliamentary norms.”
The PML-N’s stand
Earlier, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said his party will not oppose creation of new federating units.
However, quoting Deputy Speaker Kundi’s Twitter status which supported the Seraiki province’s idea, Nisar said that a person with “personal interests in such issues” should not chair the lower house.
Kundi was chairing the National Assembly’s 37th session in absence of Speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza.
PML-N vs MQM
Talking to reporters outside Parliament, Nisar asked how can a party which has never had a single councillor in K-P or Punjab ask for new provinces in these regions with its leader “sitting in London”.
“MQM is the only party creating drama over the creation of new provinces,” he said while demanding the formation of a commission to create new provinces.
“The party’s terror can only stay on the people of Karachi… A party in Karachi cannot make provinces in other provinces.”
ANP vs MQM
The ANP chief also criticised the MQM for supporting the creation of new provinces at a time the country was faced with a number of crises, such as energy shortages and price hikes.
“If you [MQM] hate Pakhtuns then how you can be sincere in your demands of a Hazara province,” Wali questioned.
MQM’s scathing response
Responding to the ANP and PML-N’s allegations, MQM parliamentary leader Farooq Sattar said, “His [Altaf Hussain] party is “Pakistan’s party.
“If we don’t have a seat in Punjab, then don’t forget that you don’t have any support in Sindh either.”
Speaking on floor of the House, the ANP chief opposed the debate on resolutions moved for creation of the new provinces in South Punjab and Hazara saying: “My party does not oppose a debate on the issue but members should have been intimated in advance about it,” he said.
He added, however, that the ANP wanted to refer the matter to the concerned provinces.
“They [provinces] will first pass a resolution with a two-third majority paving the way for presenting such a bill in Parliament.”
After significant uproar and dissent, Kundi finally allowed the debate to kick off.
MQM’s Sattar said, “New federating units should be created now or never. It’s time to consider the longstanding demand of the Seraiki and Hazara people.”
Later, PML-N MNA Sardar Mehtab Ahmad said: “We fully support the concept of creation of Seraiki and Hazara provinces.”
However, he added that this concept should also be extended towards more voices being raised for new provinces like Bahawalpur, Fata and Malakand division.
PML-Q Minister Yousuf and MNA Muqam claimed that the concept of the new provinces was initiated by their party. “With the creation of the new administrative units, distribution of resources will be balanced out.”
JUI leader Laiq Muhammad Khan then thanked the MQM and other political parties for initiating and supporting the resolution for creating a Hazara province.
He also exchanged harsh words with PML-N leader Captain (retd) Muhammad Safdar on the issue — loudly alleging each other’s party for ‘point scoring.
Meanwhile, PPP former minister Najamuddin Khan also staged a walkout when he was not given time by the chair for speaking on matter.
One-on-one with the PM
During the course of proceedings, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani also discussed the issue of new provinces with deputy parliamentary leader of MQM, Haider Abbas Rizvi.
After having a one-on-one discussion for 10 minutes with Rizvi, Premier Gilani left the floor of the lower house. Religious Affairs Minister Khurshid Shah and MNA Jamshed Dasti also accompanied him. The house will continue its debate today.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 6th, 2012.