Today’s Punjab Assembly session, that lasted no longer than an hour, had a rather terminal feel about it. The Pakistan People’s Party bandwagon driven by the Basras and the Rajas, once again, raised the issue of south Punjab.
They have intermittently been asking the speaker to act on a letter written by National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza seeking the nomination of Punjab members to the national commission formed to carve a separate province in southern Punjab.
The speaker, in line with PML-N policy, however, gave no definitive answer on the nominations giving the PPP lawmakers the chance to kick off a pre-planned pandemonium in the house.
The slogans were non-stop and full throttle till the speaker announced the prayer break. As soon as the session reconvened, PPP lawmakers pointed out the quorum.
As the time for elections, the PPP, it seems, is left with only one card to play: a separate province for south Punjab.
Battered and bruised in the arenas of economy, law and order, war on terror, fight against extremism and Balochistan unrest, the Zardari-led party holds on to the cause of south Punjab as a life-line.
However, for the last four-and-a-half-years that the party has been in power, there has not been a single serious political move by the party on the issue.
Their posturing and cajoling started as the term neared its end.
Unlike central and north Punjab, where the rival PML-N rules the roost, the PPP has a significant presence in the south. Hence, the slogan of a separate province looks a last-ditch effort to hold the turf which, especially in the face of the rising political power of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf in the urban centres of the south, it is in danger of a losing.
As far as the political brinkmanship is concerned, the party has so far succeeded in making the ages-old demand of a separate south province their own.
The PML-N, instead of competing with the PPP on this tricky pitch, has been evasive and ambiguous.
Their stance of ‘being against ethnic divisions and not administrative division’, is a vague position no one wants to buy into.
One thing is clear to everyone. The south is Seraiki and any carving out of the territory in the south will be done purely on the basis of their long-standing demand of a province of their own.
Another factor that is hard to ignore here is the Bahawalpur factor. The people of the three districts of Bahawalpur have been demanding the formation of a Bahawalpur province ever since they lost their state after the One Unit was done away with in Ayub Khan’s regime.
Creating a Seraiki and a Bahawalpur province would be a complicated process that ends up pleasing no one. This very position of the PML-N makes them ‘not so popular’ in the south.
The point, however, is that both parties know that there is no time left for these assemblies to take such monumental decisions. All the PML-N wants by not nominating members to the commission is to deny the PPP a political upper hand at the time of campaigning. On the other hand, the PPP is clearly conveying to its voters in the south the message that the PML-N is to be blamed for the issue.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 28th, 2012.
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