FOR decades, there has been talk, but now the timing appears right to move towards the creation of a South Punjab province. The Executive Council on Creation of South Punjab has had its second round of meetings this week. Nothing really stands in the way of the PTI to fulfil its promise of establishing a fifth province. Other than PML-N’s disagreement over whether there should be two instead of one province, there is largely consensus among the major political parties on the need for a new province along ethnic and linguistic lines. If implemented, the province would have three administrative divisions — Multan, Bahawalpur and Dera Ghazi Khan — and 11 districts: Multan, Khanewal, Lodhran, Vehari, Dera Ghazi Khan, Muzaffargarh, Layyah, Rajanpur, Bahawalpur, Rahim Yar Khan and Bahawalnagar. Administratively, the creation of a new province in Punjab can lead to more organised and efficient governance. Before Independence, Punjab had been governed by two administrative centres — Lahore and Multan — while Bahawalpur remained an independent princely state. But the Seraiki-speaking belt now constitutes one of the most neglected and poverty-stricken parts of the country. The region also has one of the highest rates of violence against women, as well as deplorable infant and maternal mortality statistics. In the absence of progressive governance, health and education have suffered and lagged behind the rest of Punjab.
Since the 1970s, Seraiki-speaking nationalists have been pointing out cultural and historical differences between south Punjab and north and central Punjab. Their arguments do not stem from a xenophobic vision or an imagined sense of persecution, but are based on the right to political representation. The creation of a South Punjab province would lead to separate, and hopefully equitable, distribution of funding from the centre. A population of over 200m people spread across four provinces does not make sense administratively. If successful, the creation of the new province could be an achievement this government can boast about during the next election season.
Published in Dawn, November 30th, 2018