As the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and its allies plan to table a bill on the creation of a Seraiki province in the next National Assembly session, the situation in the Punjab Assembly (PA) remains uncertain, with legislators from both sides of the divide staying strongly aligned to their party affiliations.
For a bill to succeed in the Punjab Assembly, it has to have a bipartisan consensus and must include the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) which holds the lion’s share of seats in the house.
The PML-N’s position on the Seraiki province is that the new unit must be based on administrative requirements, instead of ethnic or linguistic factors. The PML-N is not eager to embrace the Seraiki cause mainly out of suspicion that the PPP is using it as a political ploy to retain its vote bank in south Punjab while eroding its own political appeal in the province. The reason is clear: the party draws its power from central and northern Punjab and would not like to see its sphere of influence shrunk to one-third once a Seraiki province is carved out.
However, there are signs that if a resolution or a bill is taken to the voting stage in the Punjab Assembly, it will be very difficult for members of south Punjab to vote against the aspiration of their constituents. “Though I am tied to my party policy on the province in south Punjab, I definitely feel that not returning the state of Bahawalpur to the Bahawalpur people would be a grave injustice,” said Haji Zulfiqar, a PML-N legislator from Bahawalpur.
“Compared to the Seraiki province, a separate province for Bahawalpur is a more just cause and it is not all that difficult as the state of Bahawalpur, annexed by Pakistan in the early sixties, can be returned to its people through an executive order,” said Zulfiqar, whose party baulks at the idea of a Bahawalpur province.
The PML-N’s Mohsin Leghari, who is a vocal force behind the Seraiki province, says he did not see a problem with a bill or a resolution for the Seraiki province being presented in the National Assembly. “Actually, it has to start from the National Assembly after the amendment in the constitution in 1985. A province containing Multan, DG Khan and Bahawalpur divisions has to be carved out as it makes administrative, economic and political sense,” Leghari said.
However, the PPP’s constitutional wizard Senator Raza Rabbani has warned against starting the amendment process from the National Assembly. Addressing the media on Friday, Rabbani said that the process should start from the concerned provincial assembly otherwise it would look like a centrist attempt. “My party and I support the constitutional position on this,” Leghari said.
Article 239, clause 4 reads “A bill to amend the constitution which would have the effect of altering the limits of a province shall not be presented to the president for assent unless it has been passed by the provincial assembly of that province by votes of not less than two-thirds of its total membership.”
PPP’s senior member of the provincial assembly Nazim Hussain Shah said that the Seraiki province is a reality, and historically, areas inhabited by Seraikis had been an administrative unit. “We want our own province at all costs – even if we have to go to civil war for it. We know that we don’t have a two-thirds majority in the assembly, but how would a Seraiki member oppose the resolution or a bill on the province?” Shah said.
So far, Punjab Assembly Speaker Rana Iqbal has held off all attempts by Seraiki members to bring a resolution in the house, pitting Seraiki members against the PML-N.
During the last session, members belonging to Seraiki areas frequently huddled together in meetings to evolve a bipartisan consensus on the issue.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 9th, 2012.
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