ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Muslim League-N, which alienated most people in its traditional stronghold in the Hazara region, may rally in support of the demand for a Hazara province in the face of rising public pressure.
The PPP may use it as a justification to press for the creation of a Seraiki province in southern Punjab. The PML-N has substantial political backing in the Hazara region, where people have been violently protesting against the renaming of the NWFP as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The PPP, however, enjoys considerable support in southern Punjab. Political analysts say that PML-N lawmakers from Hazara had opposed the renaming of the NWFP.
Facing mounting public pressure, former NWFP chief minister Sardar Mehtab Ahmed Khan was left with no choice but to tender resignation from his seat in the National Assembly to party chief Nawaz Sharif. Although Mr Sharif refused to accept his resignation, he might be compelled to support the demand for a Hazara province.
The PML-Q has already tried to create a foothold in the region by supporting the demand for a separate province. Sources in the PPP maintain that although the party is not overly enthusiastic about new provinces, its leadership may use it as an opportunity to bolster its image among its voters in southern Punjab, adding that creation of a Seraiki province may provide Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani with extra political mileage.
They say that the PML-N had been able to use its strong support in central and northern Punjab to form a government in Punjab.
The PPP thinks that if it is able to form a province Seraiki or otherwise it would be able to weaken the PML-N at the national level as the Nawaz League would be left with only half of Punjab.
But the party’s spokesman Farhatullah Babar said that the PPP position was not going to change the current provincial arrangements. Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira denied the possibility of linking the demand for a Hazara province with a Seraiki province. He said decisions concerning the creation of new provinces should only be taken after attaining a national consensus.
He also said that the Constitution required that change in the composition of a province could only be initiated if the assembly of that province “comes up with a resolution in its favour with a two-thirds majority”. A senior PML-N leader Siddiqul Farooq said that his party was not against the concept of a new province but it “will take decisions keeping in view the wishes of the people of Hazara and the national interest”.
When asked about the possibility of a proposal for a province in southern Punjab, he said the PML-N was not opposed to new provinces provided they “are formed keeping in view administrative considerations and not “linguistic considerations”, adding that any such change would require the assent of two-thirds majority in the Punjab assembly.
When asked if the PML-N would vote for a province in southern Punjab, he said if a total consensus developed, the PML-N would not oppose it. But he refused to answer when asked if the PML-N opinion during such a consensus building would be in favour of making a new province out of the Punjab. Some senior PML-Q leaders, however, have been supporting the call for a province in southern Punjab “just for gaining some political support there”.
The Awami National Party (ANP) says any demand for a Hazara province shall first have to get through the provincial assembly after fulfilling constitutional requirements.
Neither the PML-N nor the PML-Q enjoy a two-thirds majority in provincial legislatures. ANP’s Secretary Information Senator Zahid Khan said the party had not yet been approached by any political party on the subject of creating a Hazara province. He said it was premature to talk about the creation of a province and even if such a demand came through, “there is the Constitutional process which the ANP will follow”.
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