ISLAMABAD, Aug 23: The government has finally decided to convene the first meeting of a parliamentary commission on creation of new provinces in Punjab on Aug 28 ignoring an announcement made by PML-N that its members would abstain from proceedings.

Official sources told Dawn that the chief whip of the ruling PPP, Syed Khurshid Shah, had been asked by the leadership to contact the PML-N before the commission’s meeting next week.

“Yes, the first meeting of the commission has been convened on Aug 28 to elect its chairperson,” said PPP Senator and President’s spokesman Farhatullah Babar, who is also a member of the 14-member parliamentary commission formed by National Assembly Speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza on Aug 16 in pursuance of a message received from President Asif Ali Zardari and authorisation by the assembly on July 11.Her announcement named only 12 members, drawn from the two houses of parliament. It said two members would be nominated by the speaker of the Punjab Assembly.

Inclusion of the three PML-N members in the commission surprised the party and a day after its announcement, Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan accused the speaker of unilaterally nominating his party’s lawmakers without consulting the party leadership.

The opposition leader, while rejecting the commission, had also called for more party representation, saying if the proposed commission was meant only for the creation of two new provinces within Punjab, the PML-N being the single largest party in the province must have 50 per cent representation in it. He had also questioned inclusion of MQM’s Dr Farooq Sattar, ANP’s Haji Adeel and JUI-F’s Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri in the commission, saying their parties had no representation in Punjab.

Later, PML-N spokesman Senator Pervez Rashid declared that the PML-N members would not attend the commission’s meetings till the objections raised by the opposition leader were addressed.

The PML-N says it wants the government to form a national commission which should discuss creation of new federating units in other provinces as well, particularly in areas where local people had been campaigning for it, like Bahawalpur province (in south Punjab), Hazara province (in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and new provinces in Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).

The PML-N believes that the demand for the south Punjab province has not come from the public, but is a part of the PPP’s political agenda.

PPP’s Farhatullah Babar, when contacted, gave point-by-point reply to the objections raised by the PML-N and said the opposition party had already been given more than its due representation in the commission. He said each party had been given representation on the ratio of “one to 37 lawmakers” in both houses of parliament.

Responding to the objection that the commission’s mandate was limited to formation of new federating units only in one province, Mr Babar said the commission had been formed in line with the two resolutions passed in the National Assembly and the Punjab Assembly seeking formation of new provinces in Punjab. He said no other provincial assembly had so far passed such a resolution and, therefore, to expect the commission to discuss creation of new federating units in other three provinces would amount to transgressing the provincial autonomy and by doing so the commission would go beyond its mandate.

About representation of members of other parties and other provinces, Mr Babar said no new province could be carved out in the country without carrying out certain amendments to the Constitution. He said carving out of provinces was not merely demarcation of boundaries. The process, he said, also involved several far-reaching constitutional amendments and distribution of resources and both these issues were related to all parties.

Mr Babar, however, admitted that the speaker had unilaterally nominated the PML-N members from the assembly in the commission, but claimed that PML-N’s Senator Ishaq Dar had himself proposed to the Senate chairman the name of Rafiq Rajwana for inclusion in the commission. He said the speaker had sent two letters to the opposition leader asking him to propose the names, but he did not respond. He said the formation of the commission was a serious issue and it could not have been left hostage to an individual. He, however, expressed the hope that PML-N members would attend the commission’s meeting considering it a national cause.

When contacted, PML-N’s Pervez Rashid rejected Mr Babar’s viewpoint and alleged that the government had adopted a selective approach on the issue of new provinces. He said if the commission had been formed in line with the resolutions passed in the Punjab Assembly, then why the PPP had not moved such resolutions in other three provinces where it was ruling with other coalition partners. He said the PML-N would stick to its demand that a national commission should be constituted that should first devise a formula on the basis of which new provinces should be carved out in the country and that formula should apply all over the country.

The move to form the commission had come after a message from President Zardari was read out by Deputy Speaker Faisal Karim Kundi calling for the constitution of the 14-member commission to implement, by amending the constitution, two resolutions passed in May by the lower house and the Punjab Assembly.

The May 3 National Assembly resolution, sponsored by the ruling coalition led by the PPP, had demanded the creation of what it called Junoobi Punjab, 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 PML-N and the PPP, called for the creation of Junoobi Punjab as well as revival of the earlier status of Bahawalpur division as a province.

The commission has the mandate to look into the issues relating 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 for minorities and women and other constitutional, legal and administrative matters. The commission is required to submit its report to the speaker as well as to the prime minister within 30 days of its notification in the official gazette.

The PPP and its main allies -- PML-Q, MQM and ANP -- had originally demanded creation of a Seraiki province to address 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 by Junoobi 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.


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