LAHORE: Opposition parties doubt that the ruling party is serious about the creation of a new province and decline to promise their support until the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) comes out with a clear-cut proposal.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had told the media in Multan on Saturday that he would approach Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) president Shahbaz Sharif and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari to get their support for the constitutional amendment needed to create south Punjab province.
A two-thirds majority is required for a constitutional amendment to sail through the bicameral parliament, while an equal support for a new province’s proposal is a must in the provincial assembly of the federating unit which is proposed to be bifurcated. The PTI-led ruling alliance lacks the required numbers in both houses of parliament as well as in the Punjab Assembly.
Mushahidullah says ruling party cannot think of bifurcating Punjab as it will lose control over 25 central districts
Mushahidullah Khan, information secretary of the PML-N which is the largest party in the Senate, said none took ‘the egg and hen’ government seriously, particularly when the ruling alliance itself didn’t seem to be unanimous on the issue, a reference to a federal minister’s statement about seeking restoration of Bahawalpur province first.
He argued that the PTI could not think of bifurcating Punjab, because it would then lose control over 25 central Punjab districts, where the N-League had won most of the seats, and the ruling party would be reduced to 11 districts of the southern belt. He, however, said his party would give its formal reaction after going through the proposal if and when put up by the government.
Rana Sanaullah Khan, another senior party leader, made it clear that in no case the PML-N would support the creation of just south Punjab province. Rather it would back the idea of forming a national body to see the need for new federating units across the country, he added.
“Like in India, a national commission must be formed to see and decide where carving out new provinces on administrative grounds is needed,” he said, spelling out the condition for his party’s support.
The former Punjab law minister is the mover of the resolution unanimously passed by the Punjab Assembly for the creation of south Punjab and Bahawalpur provinces back in May 2012. It, too, had called upon the federal government to form a national commission to do the needful.
He insisted that the Bahawalpur province issue would crop up by design whenever division of Punjab would be considered.
Mr Sanaullah ruled out cooperation on the south Punjab issue with the Janoobi Punjab Mahaz leaders, terming them “opportunists” who had been bagging votes in the name of deprivations of south Punjab but did nothing for the region despite holding offices in successive governments.
Responding to a question, the MNA from Faisalabad and a lawyer by profession asserted that a new constitutional bill would be required to be introduced as the previous one passed by the Senate stood infructuous.
The second largest opposition party also doubts intentions of the ruling party on the issue. PPP finance secretary and law professional Haider Zaman Qureshi said that by excluding the opposition from the consultative council formed on the subject by the Punjab government, the PTI had exposed its non-seriousness.
“How will the PTI morally seek our support for amending the Constitution to create the new province when it hasn’t taken input from us on the issue?”
Arguing that they cannot support the cause blindly for fears that the new unit may be without powers like Gilgit-Baltistan, he said Foreign Minister Qureshi had been talking on the issue since coming into power but hadn’t contacted the opposition even once.
The PPP leader rejected the proposal of establishing the south Punjab secretariat, saying it wouldn’t serve the cause as “decision-making powers will continue to rest with Lahore as the additional chief secretary will only be forwarding files to the provincial capital instead of taking decision locally”.
He recalled that former IG Shaukat Javed, as caretaker home minister, had also rejected the south Punjab secretariat idea as a futile expensive effort.
Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2018