ISLAMABAD, Aug 11: The government’s plan to form a parliamentary commission for carving out a new province from Punjab may end nowhere due to a lacklustre response from the Pakistan Muslim League-N.
The ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) says that a cold response from the PML-N has delayed the formation of the 14-member commission as it is still awaiting names from the opposition party.
The PML-N says it is not interested in having representation in the commission, considering it a political move of the PPP as the panel is aimed at carving a new province out of only Punjab, ignoring demands coming from other parts of the country.
Talking to Dawn on Saturday, the PPP’s chief whip Syed Khursheed Ahmed Shah said his party had received names from almost all parties in parliament, but so far the PML-N had not nominated its members for the commission to be formed in light of a letter written by President Asif Ali Zardari to National Assembly Speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza a couple of months ago.
The PPP leader said that under the Constitution the Punjab Assembly speaker was also required to nominate two representatives in the commission, but he too had not forwarded any name.
Mr Shah disclosed that the PPP had nominated Syed Ali Musa Gilani, son of former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, along with Jamshed Dasti and Arif Aziz Sheikh to represent the party in the proposed commission. He said the party had picked people hailing from south Punjab only as they were the “main stakeholders”.
Musa Gilani hails from Multan, Jamshed Dasti from Muzaffargarh and Arif Aziz Sheikh is an MNA from Bahawalpur. He said the commission would be formed on the basis of proportionate representation of the parties.
According to Mr Shah, formation of the commission had become necessary after the letter from the president who was a part of parliament and head of the federation.
The PML-N’s spokesman, Senator Pervez Rashid, said his party wanted the Terms of Reference of the commission to include creation of new federating units in other provinces as well, particularly in the areas where locals had been campaigning.
“We want a commission that should also consider creation of Bahawalpur province (in south Punjab) and Hazara province (in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa),” the PML-N member said, alleging that the demand for south Punjab province had not come from the public but was part of the PPP’s political agenda.
Mr Rashid declared that his party was against this “selective approach” of the PPP.
During a meeting with a delegation of notables and legislators from Bahawalpur and Bahawalnagar last week, President Zardari called for the formation of the commission for carving out a south Punjab province as early as possible.
The president’s spokesman, Farhatullah Babar, quoted him as saying that he looked forward to early constitution of the commission.
The president tried to dispel an impression that the province was being created for political gains and to weaken any political party in Punjab.
The National Assembly speaker was authorised by the house on July 11 to name the commission to propose demarcation and allocation of parliamentary seats and resources to the proposed units.
The move came after a message from President Zardari was read out by Deputy Speaker Faisal Karim Kundi calling for constitution of a 14-member commission to implement, by amending the Constitution, two resolutions passed in May by the lower house of parliament and the Punjab Assembly.
The May 3 National Assembly resolution, sponsored by the ruling coalition led by the PPP, demanded the creation of a ‘Janoobi Punjab’ province — avoiding the originally proposed name of ‘Seraiki’ province of Seraiki-speaking districts of southern Punjab.
And the subsequent provincial assembly resolution, which was supported by both the province’s ruling PML-N and the opposition PPP, called for the creation of Janoobi Punjab as well as revival of an earlier status of Bahawalpur division as a province.
The presidential message said the commission must comprise six members each from the National Assembly and Senate, to be nominated by the assembly speaker and Senate chairman and two from the Punjab Assembly nominated by the speaker of that house.
“The commission shall look into issues related to fair distribution of economic and financial resources, demarcation, allocation/readjustment of seats in the National Assembly, Senate and the concerned provincial assembly and allocation of seats in the new province on the basis of population, including seats of minorities and women and other constitutional, legal and administrative matters,” it said.
It said the commission must submit its report to the National Assembly speaker and the prime minister within 30 days of its notification in the official gazette, which, it added, would be followed by the initiation of the process of amendment to Constitution, including relevant Articles 1(2), 51, 59 and 106.
An amendment to the Constitution must be passed by a two-thirds majority both in the 342-seat National Assembly and 104-seat Senate — which the ruling coalition says it has in both houses. The process could become much easier if the PML-N too joins the move by adhering to the Punjab Assembly resolution.
The PPP and its main allies — the PML-Q, Muttahida Qaumi Movement and Awami National Party — had originally demanded the creation of what it called a ‘Seraiki province’ to alleviate alleged economic and political grievances of southern Punjab against the Lahore-based provincial administration. But that name, which the PPP had also promised for its new election manifesto, was replaced in the National Assembly with Janoobi Punjab, probably to soften opposition from the PML-N which says it favours creation of new provinces on administrative rather than linguistic or ethnic grounds.