At the centre of the Pakistan Peoples Party’s battle for a separate South Punjab province lies another dilemma – dealing with the demand for the restoration of the Bahawalpur province.
While Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz has constantly supported the demand for such a province, the PPP has finally struck a deal which removes this obstacle from the picture altogether; with none other than the Nawab of Bahawalpur himself, Salahuddin Abbasi.
The deal follows an offer from the PML-N which left the Nawab unimpressed. Sources close to Abbasi and privy to the development told The Express Tribune that the deal was struck between him and President Asif Ali Zardari, and will be formally announced soon. Officially, the meeting between the two is said to have merely discussed “social, political and economic issues”.
Deal’s key points
Abbasi will gain three major benefits if he merges his newly launched political party, Bahawalpur National Awami Party, with the PPP and backs out from the movement for the restoration of Bahawalpur province.
First and foremost, the Nawab will be made the first governor of the newly created South Punjab province. According to sources, this was a key factor in Abbasi agreeing to the creation of only one province.
Secondly, President Zardari will issue PPP tickets for all the National Assembly, provincial assembly and senate seats from the Bahawalpur region on the basis of Abbasi’s recommendations.
Thirdly, the Nawab would benefit from his title in the form of red passports for family members, protocols inside and outside the country, and an annual honorarium. The title of Nawab would also carry on to his son.
Earlier, during the 2008 general elections, Abbasi had supported two PML-N candidates, one PPP candidate, one independent and one Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) candidate for five seats in the Bahawalpur region.
PML-N’s earlier offer
In February this year, according to sources, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif offered Abbasi only two out of five NA seats in Bahawalpur, one Senate seat, and a free hand to raise his voice for a Bahawalpur province – which pales in comparison to the president’s offer.
Either way, the deal never came to fruition after some of Abbasi’s close aides, who have strong affiliations with the PPP, convinced the Nawab to deal with President Zardari instead. Abbasi also had second thoughts about dealing with the PML-N after the party backed out from awarding a Senate seat to Abbasi’s nominee in Senate elections this March.
PML-N’s Central Information Secretary Mushahidullah Khan said he did not know anything about the meeting between the president and Abbasi. PML-N MNA from Bahawalpur Baleeghul Rehman, however, said that whether the nawab met with the president or with Sharif, one point on the agenda would definitely be the restoration of Bahawalpur province. Rehman added that PML-N’s stance on the issue was ‘crystal-clear’.
Nawab Abbasi’s spokesperson Rifatur Rehman Rehmani denied the deal while talking to The Express Tribune and maintained the official stance, that President Zardari and the nawab only discussed procedures for the restoration of Bahawalpur province. He said Abbasi had not compromised on a separate Bahawalpur province, nor had he discussed the South Punjab province issue. The spokesperson said that Bahawalpur state, comprising three districts (Bahawalpur, Bahawalnagar and Rahim Yar Khan) would be restored before the upcoming general elections.
President Zardari had earlier this year sent a reference to the National Assembly speaker to constitute a commission which would carve out two new provinces, South Punjab and Bahawalpur. So far, the speaker has not constituted the commission.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 2nd, 2012.