New province debate

Published January 19, 2022

THE private bill introduced by a PML-N senator seeking a new province in south Punjab amounts to oversimplification of a complex constitutional and political issue. However, the initial response from major political parties to the bill says a lot about the rhetoric their leadership spews every now and then regarding the issue. The rhetoric will increase as the 2023 polls approach. Apparently, the PPP is the only party that is supportive of the idea. The reasons behind the hesitation of the ruling PTI and PML-N are easy to understand. The parties competing for power in Islamabad and/ or in the province via central Punjab would never want this division. Therefore, we have seen the PML-N dilute the issue of a ‘Seraiki suba’ by linking it with the demand for a Bahawalpur province. In January 2019, the party moved a constitutional amendment bill in the National Assembly for two new units in south Punjab. Likewise, the PTI, which had promised a separate province within 100 days of its coming to power, continues to drag its feet on the issue. Last year, it gave a sketchy plan for creating the province but hasn’t moved since to change the Constitution for turning it into reality, arguing that it lacks the two-thirds majority required for amending the Constitution. Ring-fencing their share from provincial development funds for the southern districts and the establishment of a secretariat do not make up for a separate unit.

The demand for a Seraiki suba isn’t a new one. In recent years, however, it has garnered significant support from the Seraiki-speaking middle classes. While the known protagonists of the movement want Punjab’s division along ethnolinguistic lines, there are many who support it for improving administration in the region. In either case, Punjab’s division is going to provide impetus to calls for new provinces in other areas as indicated by PML-N Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed who said that making a new province could open a Pandora’s Box, which the country could not afford just now. Indeed, it will not stop there, as he said. No party can afford to bury its head in the sand. The major political parties, whether or not they support the Seraiki suba, must ascertain public support for the latter. If the majority opinion supports it, politicians from across the divide should get the ball rolling in parliament for the creation of the new province.

Published in Dawn, January 19th, 2022

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