Referendum on issue of south Punjab provinces demanded

Updated 16 Dec 2019

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Pakistan Muslim League's Punjab general secretary and former minister Awais Ahmed Khan Leghari stated that the government had not even fulfilled its promise of setting up a south Punjab ­secretariat despite the passage of 15 months. — Irfan Haider/File
Pakistan Muslim League's Punjab general secretary and former minister Awais Ahmed Khan Leghari stated that the government had not even fulfilled its promise of setting up a south Punjab ­secretariat despite the passage of 15 months. — Irfan Haider/File

ISLAMABAD: Criticising the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government for keeping the issue of creation of new provinces in south Punjab in a cold storage, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has called for immediately holding a referendum in Bahawalpur Division to seek opinion of people as to what kind of administrative arrangement they want for their area.

Talking to Dawn on Sunday, PML-N’s Punjab general secretary and former minister Awais Ahmed Khan Leghari regretted that those people who had in the past formed Janubi Punjab Mahaz (South Punjab Front) and later merged it with the PTI and became a part of the government were also not pursuing the matter.

Mr Leghari explained that the PTI and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) were divided over bifurcating the southern region of Punjab into one province or two provinces. On the other hand, he said, the PML-N was very clear in its stance that two new provinces – Bahawalpur and south Punjab – should be carved out from the existing Punjab province.

In an apparent reference to the Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q), Mr Leghari claimed that the PTI’s allies also wanted creation of Bahawalpur province.

Government, PML-N accuse each other of doing politics

Mr Leghari said the PML-N actually wanted to see “restoration of the old Bahawalpur state” in the form of a province which had been promised to its people at the time of its merger in Pakistan. He said the new Bahawalpur province would consist of Bahawalpur, Rahim Yar Khan and Bahawalnagar divisions which were the part of the Bahawalpur state before Partition.

Mr Leghari then declared that the PML-N would accept the outcome of the referendum even if it went against its wishes.

He said those who had joined the PTI government on the promise of creation of new provinces should realise that the ruling party was now looking for excuses to run away from its commitment.

The PML-N leader said if the PTI wanted to complete the five-year term of its government in Punjab, then the PML-N could even agree that the constitution amendment for the new provinces would come into effect after the next elections due in 2023.

He recalled that his party had already taken a practical step in this direction by moving a bill in the National Assembly, but regretted that it was referred to a committee which had not so far convened its meeting.

Declaring that the PML-N would not allow the PTI to run away from its promise of creation of new provinces, he said that despite having serious reservations over the conduct of the rulers, the opposition was ready to sit with the government on the issue.

Alleging that during the PTI government, the sense of deprivation had increased in the people of south Punjab, Mr Leghari stated that the government had not even fulfilled its promise of setting up a south Punjab ­secretariat despite passage of 15 months.

“And all this is happening when a man from south Punjab is the chief minister of the province,” he added.

When contacted, Federal Minister for Professional Education and Training Shafqat Mehmood accused the opposition of playing politics on the crucial issue of the creation of new provinces.

He said the government had made efforts and invited the opposition for talks, but they did not show any interest. The creation of new provinces, he said, was part of the PTI’s manifesto.

“We are open to discussion and sincerely want resolution of the issue,” Mr Mehmood said.

He said the government and the opposition were engaged on new legislations and the appointments in the Election Com­mission of Pakistan and the opposition could bring this issue for negotiations as well.

On the demand of the referendum, the minister said this issue could also be discussed in the meetings.

In April, PML-N’s Rana Sanaullah had introduced a constitutional amendment bill in the National Assembly seeking creation of Bahawalpur and south Punjab provinces and Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri referred it to a committee after Law Minister Farogh Nasim said the government had no objection to it.

Parliamentary leader of the PTI and lawmaker from Multan Malik Amir Dogar said the PTI in principle supported the bill, but believed that only south Punjab province should be created. He was of the opinion that the people of south Punjab had been deprived of their due rights during the previous governments under the PML-N that had done nothing for the creation of the new province.

Interestingly, the PTI’s parliamentary leader faced opposition not only from his coalition partners, but also from within his party.

Responding to Mr Dogar’s speech, Federal Minister for Housing and PML-Q MNA Tariq Bashir Cheema declared that the people of Bahawalpur did not want to live with the people of the proposed south Punjab province.

Opposing his party’s parliamentary leader, PTI MNA Farooq Azam Malik also spoke in support of Bahawalpur province.

Published in Dawn, December 16th, 2019