ISLAMABAD: At a time when political temperatures are on the rise and warring politicians are not even ready to sit on the table, the Senate Standing Committee on Law and Justice is set to take up two controversial constitution amendment bills seeking creation of new provinces in the country.

The two bills, moved by senators belonging to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) seeking creation of South Punjab and Hazara provinces, are part of the nine-point agenda issued by the Senate Secretariat for the March 22 meeting of the law and justice committee headed by Ali Zafar of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI).

Under the Constitution, a two-third majority in both houses of the parliament is required to carry out an amendment to the Constitution. The Senate committee members are set to review the bills at a time when the National Assembly has a total of 217 members in the house, 11 short of the required two-third majority (228 members) due to the stalemate over the PTI members’ resignation issue.

The bill seeking creation of south Punjab province had been tabled by PML-N Senator from Multan Rana Mehmoodul Hassan as a private member’s bill on January 17 last year when the PTI was ruling the country. The bill was immediately supported by the PTI as well as the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), but was opposed by another PML-N senator.

“It is a wail of our deprivations,” Mr Hassan had stated while presenting the case for south Punjab province before the upper house of parliament.

People residing in the southern parts of Punjab were facing multiple hardships, he said, adding that they had to travel long distances only to fetch drinking water, complaining that the people of South Punjab did not even have that quantity of water which was being used to water plants in Islamabad.

While pleading for the south Punjab province, he also referred to the East Pakistan tragedy in 1971. He reminded the PTI of its promise to make south Punjab a separate province within 100 days in power.

PML-N senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed, while opposing the move, said building or creating new provinces would open a Pandora’s box, which the federation could not afford at the moment. Instead of a new province, the PML-N senator had called for strengthening provinces with local governments under the 18th Amendment.

PTI’s senior vice-chairman and the then foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, had declared that his party stood by its electoral promise and sought support of all other parties to help make it a reality, declaring that the passage of the bill would not only fulfill the desire of the people of South Punjab, but also strengthen the federation.

Former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani recalled that the PPP during its rule had already managed to get a bill for the creation of the south Punjab province passed from the Senate.

“We are demanding a province, not a secretariat. It is not a colonial system where limited democracy will work,” the PPP senator had asserted, while lamenting the PTI government’s decision to set up a secretariat in Multan.

The bill for carving out Hazara province in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had been introduced by PML-N senator and former provincial chief minister Pir Sabir Shah on February 7 last year.

While presenting the bill, Mr Shah had claimed that he had not been demanding a new province on linguistic basis, but doing so because the country needed more federating units to correct the “disturbed balance”.

He suggested that the political parties should consider converting the present federating units into “workable and manageable administrative units”.

Mr Shah was of the view that Hazara Division should be declared a province as the provincial government had not been able to administratively control the province after the merger of the terror-hit Federal Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).

The PML-N senator said the people of Hazara had sacrificed their life for their own province which would be sharing its border with Gilgit-Baltistan region.

Published in Dawn, March 19th, 2023

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