HYDERABAD, May 13: Nationalist leaders and legal experts are of the opinion that creation of new provinces will pose a serious threat to Sindh’s interests. They have called for a new social contract among the federating units to make the federal system workable.
“Creation of one or two provinces will require a new federation with a new social contract between the federation and federating units. The present parliament doesn’t have any power to create new provinces under the 1973 Constitution. This assembly can only alter limits of a province,” said Syed Jalal Mehmood Shah, grandson of the father of Sindhi nationalism G.M. Syed.
Nationalists argue that the 1940 Resolution ensures sovereignty to each state, which joined Pakistan in 1947 and Sindh had been a separate state for centuries.
“Sindh joined Pakistan in 1947 when there was no Seraiki province or state. If we start making claims on the basis of history then we can also claim that Sindh stretched up to Kashmir,” he said.
Bahawalpur was a separate state which was merged into One Unit in 1955 but it was not restored as a province after abolition of the One Unit.
“Siraikis and Punjabis appear to have common views on resources and water and their combination will be detrimental to our vital interests in elected houses and constitutional forums. They [Seraikis] support Kalabgh Dam and Greater Thal Canal which infringe upon Sindh’s vital water rights,” said Jalal.
Kalabagh Dam and Greater Thal Canal as well as Chashma Jhelum and Taunsa-Panjnad link canals remain a major irritant between the two provinces. Sindh being the lower riparian demands first use of Indus water in Rabi and Kharif seasons but it often does not get it from Irsa.
Dr Kaiser Bengali, Sindh’s non-statutory member on NFC, said that in the event of creation of a new province, Punjab’s share would be deducted and given to South Punjab.
“The composition of senate after creation of new province may become a cause of concern for Sindh because each province has 25 equal seats in the Senate.
“South Punjab and North Punjab will have equal number of seats in the Senate. Two Punjab provinces will have 40 seats and other provinces will have 20 seats each,” said Bengali.
But Jalal Shah fears that if the scheme of new provinces goes through the parliament the federation will not survive. “There is a demand for division of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and making Fata a separate province. If new provinces keep cropping up where will we [Sindh] stand numerically.
“Therefore, we consider new provinces a serious threat to our interests unless a new social contract is worked out…how will Sindh secure its rights if Punjab has three votes in any [constitutional] forum,” he said.
He argued it would require a new social contract with a new set of rules to run the federation.
To legal experts the issue is not that simple. Resolutions passed by the National and Punjab assemblies, according to them, have no constitutional value.
Wajihuddin Ahmed, a former Supreme Court judge, said the resolutions were nothing but a political gimmick. “Under Article 239(4) limits of a province can only be altered or modified…it doesn’t allow creation of new provinces. The Constitution will have to be amended by two-third majority of the total strength of the house to make that happen,” he said.
The Constitution, he said, was a pact between federation and provinces. Since the amendment was likely to infringe upon rights of provinces, all provincial assemblies would be required to adopt resolutions with two-third majority for that amendment. “But it will disturb the whole scheme of things...” he said.
Barrister Zamir Ghumro said Sindh had reasons to get worried. The constituent assembly of 1973 did not give the right to this parliament to create new provinces, he said.
“The parliament can only alter limits of a province. It will create a federation with five provinces while the Constitution has a federation with four provinces,” he said.
He said that Punjab’s domination would be affected if it was halved. “When assemblies will pass resolutions in favour of Seraiki province they will seek guarantees for protection of their own rights,” he said.
Ayaz Latif Palejo, lawyer and head of Awami Tehrik, said that only one province in Punjab was acceptable. But if Punjab was planning to have two more provinces in the name of Bahawalpur or Potohar then it would prove that it wanted to keep its hegemony intact.
“We have no problem with Seraikis…they may have any name for their province but if there are going to be two provinces then our reservations and concerns are genuine,” said Palejo.