ISLAMABAD: Senior vice-chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi formally invited the country’s opposition parties on Thursday for consultations on the issue of creation of a South Punjab province as the main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) rejected it within no time, terming it a political stunt and non-serious move.
The formal invitation was extended by Mr Qureshi through separate letters to Opposition Leader in the National Assembly and PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, asking them to nominate their representatives for inclusion in a special parliamentary committee to draft a constitutional amendment bill with consensus.
Mr Qureshi wrote the letter, a copy of which is available with Dawn, two days after introduction of a private Constitution amendment bill in the Senate by PML-N’s Rana Mehmoodul Hassan seeking the creation of two new provinces -- South Punjab and Bahawalpur. Mr Qureshi has made this bill as foundation of his letter to the opposition leaders, but he did not mention that the bill seeks creation of two provinces and not just the one, which is the basic contention among the country’s political parties.
“Under what capacity Shah Mehmood Qureshi Sahib has written the letter to Shehbaz Sharif?” asked PML-N’s secretary general Ahsan Iqbal, when contacted to seek his comments.
Mr Iqbal said if the invitation was being extended by the ruling party then its chairman was Imran Khan and if the government wanted to invite the opposition leader then the country’s prime minister was also Imran Khan.
The PML-N leader said if Mr Qureshi had written the letter in his capacity as the senior vice-chairman of the party, then he should have addressed it to Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who was the senior vice-president of the PML-N.
Mr Iqbal said the letter written by Mr Qureshi showed the “non-seriousness” on the part of the ruling party. He, however, said the PML-N could give a consideration to the invitation, if it came from Imran Khan, either in his capacity as the prime minister or the PTI chairman.
Mr Iqbal said the PML-N had already introduced a constitution amendment bill in the National Assembly seeking creation of South Punjab and Bahawalpur provinces in line with the resolutions of the Punjab Assembly.
The other opposition PPP, however, did not give any response when its leaders were contacted to seek their reaction.
Mr Qureshi, when contacted for his comments over the PML-N’s rejection, termed it disappointing and a non-serious approach to an issue that had been under discussion since 1970s.
“This is not a question of seniority. This is ridiculous. I am talking on principles. I am doing it with the permission of my party’s chairman. Talk on the concept regardless of who is saying it. Either you agree or disagree with the concept. I am sorry, this shows their seriousness on the matter,” he said.
Replying to a question, Mr Qureshi said the Bahawalpur province was not economically-viable and this issue was being raised only to create hurdles. He claimed that many in the PML-N also did not agree to this proposal. He said they had no objection to the creation of Bahawalpur province, if it was economically viable.
Mr Qureshi said in his letters he had provided complete details of whatever administrative steps they had already taken in the direction of creating the South Punjab province.
“I write with reference to the creation of a separate province of South Punjab comprising Multan, Dera Ghazi Khan and Bahawalpur divisions,” writes Mr Qureshi as the opening statement in his letter.
“The creation of a separate province of South Punjab is a long standing aspiration of the people of that region and a key component of the PTI manifesto. However, the primary impediment to the realisation of this desire of 35 million people is a constitutional amendment that requires a two-thirds majority of parliament,” writes Mr Qureshi.
“To address this impediment, I invite you to come together with us, the PTI, to put the future of 35 million people foremost and to play a historic role in making this a reality,” says Mr Qureshi, while formally extending the invitation.
In his letter, Mr Qureshi also apprised the opposition leaders about the steps taken by the PTI government in the direction of the creation of the new province like creation of two separate secretariats in Multan and Bahawalpur granting administrative authority to various government departments, the steering committee constituted for the functionality of South Punjab which has approved a quota of 32pc for provincial employment for South Punjab and allocation and ring fencing of 35pc development budget for South Punjab divisions.
According to Mr Qureshi, the creation of a separate province through a Constitution amendment will pave the path for meaningful and long-lasting progress “to which all three major political parties must demonstrate unity in commitment”.
“As vice-chairman of the PTI, I reiterate my invitation to welcome your input on the way forward for reaching consensus on the formulation of a constitutional amendment bill for creation of a separate province of South Punjab,” said Mr Qureshi while asking the two party heads to nominate members for a proposed committee with the task to formulate a draft amendment bill for the parliament.
Published in Dawn, January 21st, 2022