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LAHORE: The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) has endorsed the demand for creation of southern Punjab province “not for linguistic reasons but on administrative grounds to mitigate the miseries and sense of deprivation being faced by some 35 million people living in Bahawalpur, Multan and Dera Ghazi Khan divisions”.

This was announced by PTI vice chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi at a press conference after a meeting with the leadership of the Junoobi Punjab Sooba Mahaz (JPSM) here on Sunday. JPSM president Khusro Bakhtiar also addressed the press conference.

The JPSM was recently formed by some disgruntled Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz MNAs and MPAs from southern Punjab on the sole agenda of creation of a new province. As their resignations from the ruling party are yet to be accepted, two members of the Mahaz will submit a resolution in the Punjab Assembly on Monday (today) calling on the federal government to take measures to create a new province.

Criticising the PML-N and the Sharif brothers for their failure to remove the sense of deprivation among the people living in southern parts of Punjab during their rule, Mr Qureshi said that movements for the creation of the southern Punjab province had been sabotaged in the past. The PML-N would continue trying to deny a separate province to the people of southern Punjab, he added.

“Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has sown the seeds of hatred in southern Punjab and Chief Minis­ter Shahbaz Sharif will fan this hatred during his visit to Baha­walpur on Monday (today),” he said.

Qureshi meets leaders of Junoobi Punjab Sooba Mahaz, urges referendum on the issue

Reacting to remarks recently made by Minister of State for Finance Rana Afzal that the demand for a separate province was the aspiration of a few legislators, who had parted ways with the PML-N, Mr Qureshi challenged Mr Afzal and the government to hold a referendum on the issue in southern Punjab.

Replying a question, Mr Qureshi said neither the PTI nor the movers of the demand were afraid of setting up of a commission to sort out the issue. He said the PTI and the JPSB had discussed the proposed province’s economic viability and geographic compactness and found it workable. “A commission on the issue will strengthen the PTI, the Mahaz and the people of southern Punjab’s case for carving out a new province,” he said.

He agreed to a question that no political party would oppose the move for a new province at the time of general elections and added that some would openly practice “hypocrisy” in this case.

Mr Qureshi said it had become increasingly impossible to govern a province with a population of 110 million people and the state of public schools and hospitals, provision of potable water and sanitation could serve as a litmus test. He said the three southern Punjab divisions comprised 11 districts having a population of 35m people and 46 National Assembly seats.

He said Shahbaz Sharif-led Punjab government had never tried to give a sense of participation to southern Punjab and instead development funds allocated to the region had been called back during the course of every financial year. “There always remains a great difference in the allocation of funds and actual spending,” he observed.

He said PTI chief Imran Khan also wished that a new province should be created, while he was struggling for a new Pakistan.

Mr Qureshi said the chief minister had constituted a committee headed by Governor Rafique Rajwana for the creation of a secretariat in southern Punjab but the governor’s report did not see the light of the day.

Junoobi Punjab Sooba Mahaz president Khusro Bakhtiar said the creation of a new province comprising south Punjab was required for internal cohesion and strengthening of the federation. He lauded the PTI’s stance on the creation of a new province.

He said Mahaz members -- MPAs Sardar Nasrullah Dareshak and Makhdoom Hashim Jawan Bakht -- would submit a resolution in the Punjab Assembly on Monday (today) calling for the creation of a new province. Since the Punjab Assembly and the National Assembly had one-and-a-half-month more to go, the political parties, including the majority party PML-N, should get people’s demand through (the parliament), he said.

Stating that the movement for a separate province comprising southern Punjab was launched way back in 1970, he asserted that no move to divide the people of the region would be allowed to succeed. “We will support the political party which will be serious on the southern Punjab province issue and show it through its solid actions,” he said.

Mr Qureshi said he had had detailed discussion with the Mahaz leaders and told them their real place was in the PTI.

About the possibility of Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan’s joining the PTI, he said Chaudhry Nisar had direct access to Imran Khan and both could reach a decision mutually.

On the issue of caretaker prime minister, he said that he had held a meeting with Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Khursheed Shah while the latter had met the prime minister on the issue. “The discussions are going on and no decision has been taken so far to finalise the name for caretaker prime minister,” he said.

Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2018