The federal and Punjab government are poised for a potentially explosive showdown, with the centre pushing ahead on the key issue of new provinces despite protests by the country’s largest federating unit.
Punjab had announced that it had reservations about the composition of a newly-constituted commission tasked by the centre with finalising the creation of new provinces – with the Punjab assembly speaker going as far as saying that it could take the matter to court.
However, the commission has ignored these threats and objections – and, on Saturday, announced that its first meeting will take place next week, on August 28. This is despite the PML-N’s stand that it will abstain from the proceedings of the meeting. The absence of PML-N, which currently governs Punjab and is the leading opposition in the centre, from the major national undertaking is set to cause plenty of conflict.
Following the federal government’s announcement, Chief Minister Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif, took to the micro-blogging website, Twitter, to vent his frustration.
“Federal government neither consulted on new provinces nor took us into confidence regarding national commission for division of Punjab,” said a tweet posted on the official account of Shahbaz Sharif.
“If the division of provinces is inevitable, a uniform policy should be pursued throughout the country,” said another tweet from Shahbaz.
In July, President Asif Ali Zardari asked Speaker National Assembly Fehmida Mirza to formally initiate the process of carving out two separate provinces in Punjab.
On August 16, the speaker announced a 14-member commission which included six members each from Senate and National Assembly. The remaining two members were supposed to be nominated by the speaker of the Punjab Assembly, a request which was ignored by Punjab Assembly Speaker, Rana Muhammad Iqbal.
However, the PML-N has, at the last moment, pushed for more representation for Punjab in the commission, which has the all-important mandate to look into issues relating to the fair distribution of economic and financial resources, demarcation, allocation or readjustment of seats in the National Assembly, Senate and the concerned provincial assembly. In addition to this, they are supposed to look into the allocation of seats in the new province on basis of population, including seats of minorities and women among other constitutional, legal and administrative matters.
The PML-N has also said that it is not only Punjab that should be carved up – insisting that the government recognise the demand for the creation of a Hazara province in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa as well. In addition to the PML-N, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) has also pushed this point. However, the proposal was strongly opposed by the Awami National Party (ANP), which is in power in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and also a coalition partner of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
In May, the Punjab Assembly passed two resolutions pertaining to the creation of a South Punjab province and the restoration of Bahawalpur province.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 26th, 2012.
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