Strengthening the federation

According to reports, the government “is considering making an announcement for a separate Seraiki province by the end of this month” or on August 14th. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has made this move in order to truncate the influence of its archrival, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). Not to be outdone by the PPP, Mian Nawaz Sharif has also formed a party committee related to the demand for new provinces. While this may be a political gimmick for the two mainstream political parties, the truth is that the idea of more provinces in Pakistan is indeed a good one. The PML-N has ‘threatened’ to ask for the division of Sindh along the lines of the Seraiki province but instead of threatening the government with such veiled remarks, they should think about the ground realities and how the creation of further provinces will help strengthen the federation.

Most politicians think that the idea of a Seraiki province is good for administrative purposes while missing the complete picture. There is an ethnic and linguistic issue at hand as well. Administratively, it makes perfect sense for a Seraiki province given the grievances of southern Punjab because of ‘Takht Lahore’. It is a longstanding complaint of south Punjab that the Lahore-based Punjab government does not do justice to their region. The formation of a Seraiki province will inevitably lead to a demand for more provinces. Already there is a movement for the restoration of the Bahawalpur state. The division of Punjab makes perfect sense. When one province houses over 60 percent of the country’s total population, there is an inevitable imbalance in the federation and the division of its resources because of this. It is because of the Punjab-dominated ruling elite that the other three provinces have not been able to get their just rights for decades.

The argument for more provinces on linguistic, ethnic and administrative lines is something that should be given a chance. Small provinces should be made due to the argument against Punjab's domination. When people’s complaints and demands are met, Pakistan will be strengthened. When the name of NWFP was changed to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, there was a demand for a Hazara province. Instead of quashing such demands, the government should hold a referendum in areas where we see such movements. If the people want new provinces, they should get them. It is in the realm of real democracy. Soliciting opinion has always strengthened democracy instead of undermining it. Our politicians should not be afraid of this process. There will be hurdles in the way of making new provinces but that should not deter them from making decisions that will, in the long run, help Pakistan.

That said, the demand for a Seraiki province should not be turned into a political ping pong game. This is not a zero-sum game either. Constitutional amendments will have to be made when the federation carves out new provinces. By adopting a tit-for-tat policy vis-à-vis Sindh, the PML-N is trying to make a mockery of an issue that is very serious and requires sober reflection and discussion. In the past, Pakistan negated the linguistic and ethnic realities when One Unit was promulgated. We should not make the same mistake again by denying the people of Pakistan their just rights.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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