ISLAMABAD: The opposition on Thursday assured its full support to the government for carving out a Seraiki province from Punjab. The leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, Shahbaz Sharif, vowed to table a private member’s bill soon in this regard.

In other developments, orders were issued for the production of detained PML-N leader Khawaja Saad Rafique, and a resolution was passed for the formation of the NA Public Accounts Committee and Standing Committee on Law and Justice.

As the creation of a Seraiki province was discussed, demands were raised for two further provinces — Bahawalpur and Hazara — while a Baloch leader urged that areas that he said had been excluded from the province of Balochistan be restored.

The ruling PTI stressed the need for the formation of a high-level committee, comprising the heads of all parliamentary parties, concerning the issue of a Seraiki province. The opposition, however, presented the view that there was no need for this given that such an exercise, led by former senator Farhatullah Babar, had already been conducted during the term of the last government, and a bill had been passed in this regard. Mr Sharif added his party’s support to the formation of Bahawalpur province too.

Debate in National Assembly stirs demand for more carve-ups

PTI chief whip Amir Dogar then accused the opposition of resorting to mere point-scoring over the issue. “The PML-N is just presenting the impression that it is serious about the creation of a Seraiki province,” he argued.

In response, Mr Sharif urged the ruling party MNA to not open a Pandora’s box by talking about the past. Further, contradicting his earlier statement, he remarked that Bahawalpur province was unviable since just three districts could not be declared as such. He did, however, express appreciation of the production order concerning Mr Rafique.

PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari also assured the government of support for a Seraiki province, claiming that the credit for opening up the issue of the possible south Punjab reformulation went to his party. “We first got a bill passed in the Punjab Assembly and then in the Senate, but unfortunately it could not be passed in the lower house by a two-thirds majority,” he explained, while demanding a debate on the price-hike issue given that citizens are labouring under heavy inflation.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who belongs to the Seraiki belt, reiterated the need for all parliamentary parties to form a committee to decide the pros and cons of the creation of a new province in Punjab. “Let us sit together to make serious efforts [in this regard],” he said, assuring the house that until this happens, the government will establish a secretariat so that Seraiki people do not have to travel to Lahore to have their problems resolved. Maintaining that none of the provinces were against the reformulation proposed in south Punjab, he asked why new provinces were not being created, and accused the erstwhile PML-N government of being non-serious on the issue since it had enjoyed a two-thirds majority in the house during its tenure.

Conversely, Maulana Abdul Saleh of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal warned that ‘separation movements’ would arise in Balochistan if a new province were to be carved out. “The MQM demands that Karachi should be made a separate province,” he said further. “Will you accept that? It will harm the federation.”

Sardar Nasrullah Dareshak said that he and other south Punjab leaders supported the PTI after the ruling party had inked out an MoU about creating a new province. He also gave credit to the parliamentary committee headed by Mr Babar for having completed 99 per cent of the work on the matter.

Balochistan National Party-Mengal chief Sardar Akhtar Mengal expressed the view that areas such as Dera Ghazi Khan had been part of Balochistan, but had been excluded from the provincial limits and given to Punjab. He demanded that these areas be restored.

In a similar vein, MNA Farooq Azam of the Bahawalpur Awami Party had said earlier that Bahawalpur counted as a separate province but was merged with Punjab under the One-Unit policy, while PML-N MNA Murtaza Abbasi demanded the formation of a new Hazara province in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Production order

Earlier, house Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri apprised members that a production order regarding PML-N leader Khawaja Saad Rafique had been issued. This was welcomed by the heads of almost all the parliamentary parties.

Following the issuance of the production order, it is expected that Mr Rafique will join NA proceedings possibly on the last day of the current session, on Friday.

Published in Dawn, December 21st, 2018