ISLAMABAD: The Senate on Tuesday witnessed a heated exchange of arguments between the members belonging to the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) on the issue of creation of new provinces in the country and both sides accused each other of “playing politics” over it.
The ‘out of agenda’ debate on the controversial matter began when speaking on a point of order PML-N’s Chaudhry Jaffar Iqbal blasted the parliamentary commission headed by PPP’s Farhatullah Babar for suggesting creation of a province to be called ‘Bahawalpur Janoobi Punjab’, ignoring the two unanimously-passed resolutions of the Punjab Assembly calling for restoration of Bahawalpur as a province.
The PML-N Senator stated that by proposing just one big province in southern Punjab, the commission had committed ‘excesses’ with the people of Bahawalpur who had been struggling for the restoration of their province for the past many decades. He alleged that the PPP was repeating the mistake committed by former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who had not only ignored the calls for restoration of the province, but resorted to police action against those who had been agitating against the merger of Bahawalpur with Punjab when the one-unit system was abolished. Leader of House Jahangir Badar, however, clarified that the police action on the people of Bahawalpur took place during the regime of military dictator Yahya Khan and was not ordered by late Bhutto.
The PML-N Senator reiterated that his party would continue its efforts for the restoration of Bahawalpur province and would not accept the commission’s report. He said if the government tried to bring the amendment bill for Bahawalpur Janoobi Punjab, the PML-N would submit amendments to it seeking creation of two provinces. Alleging that the PPP wanted to use the issue of provinces as ‘election stunt’ and was not sincere in removing the miseries of the people of the south Punjab, he questioned the logic behind the decision of including Bhakkar and Mianwali in the proposed new province. He claimed that most of the commission members were even not aware of the geographical locations of the areas which they had suggested should be included in the new province.
He alleged that the PPP had bypassed the parliamentary process knowing that it did not have the required two-thirds majority in both the houses of the parliament as well as in the Punjab Assembly.
Rejecting the parliamentary commission, Opposition Leader Ishaq Dar claimed that he and Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the opposition leader in the National Assembly, were not consulted by the speaker before announcing the formation of the commission. He demanded that a national commission should be constituted to look into the possibilities of carving out new provinces all over the country.
Responding to the points raised by the PML-N members, commission’s chairman Farhatullah Babar said the commission had heard 15 experts and received more than 2,300 letters and communications, but no one could prove that Bahawalpur was a province. “Bahawalpur has never been a province and if anyone has documentary proof or any notification in this regard, it should have been brought before the commission,” he said.
As far as declaring Bahawalpur, which was a state before independence, as a new province was concerned, he said, the commission was of the view that it would create more complications as tomorrow the people of Khairpur or Swat, which were also independent states before partition, could make the same demand.
In what can be described as a counter-attack, Mr Babar criticised the PML-N for not allowing tabling of a resolution in support of South Punjab in the Punjab Assembly for three years. He also assailed the PML-N for boycotting the commission’s proceedings. “If you have missed the bus, you will again get an opportunity when the bill will be presented before the parliament and the provincial assembly,” he remarked.
Mr Babar denied that the PPP wanted to use the issue as an ‘election stunt’. He admitted that the government might not be able to get the amendment bill passed from the parliament, but said “the bill is just an expression of intent. Our intentions are clear that we want to create a new province in order to remove the grievances of the people of South Punjab.”
Another PPP Senator, Saeed Ghani, said the commission had been formed on the PML-N’s demand even though no such provision was available in the Constitution. Mr Ghani said the PML-N’s stance on the issue was ambiguous as it was not yet clear as to how many provinces the party wanted to have in the country. He advised the PML-N to adopt the constitutional path, if it wanted to see a new Hazara province in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
An independent senator from South Punjab, Mohsin Leghari, lamented that proper homework had not been done before proposing the new province by the commission. He said the commission was quick in suggesting that there should be 124 members in the new provincial assembly and there would be governor house and chief minister house, but it had not disclosed as to who would bear the expenses and from where money for paying salaries and running the government would come. “Who will give the share from the National Finance Commission to the new province? Punjab or the federation?” he asked.