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Pointless exercise

January 28, 2013

THE parliamentary committee tasked with formulating and laying the legislative groundwork for a new province — a legitimate, longstanding demand of the Seraiki-speaking people — in south Punjab is patently an election-year gambit in which politicians are playing politics and trying to manipulate the emotions of voters. With the PML-N boycotting the parliamentary committee and the Punjab Assembly, whose assent is required for carving up Punjab, opposed to debating the bifurcation of Punjab while leaving other provinces untouched, the parliamentary committee’s recommendations are likely to go nowhere soon. In that milieu, it was almost inevitable that the committee’s proceedings would lead to peculiar recommendations. And so on Saturday the committee approved the draft of a constitutional amendment for the creation of the ‘Bahawalpur Janoobi Punjab’ province — and included within its limits the districts of Mianwali and Bhakkar.

The decision came as a shock to some in Mianwali, who immediately took to the streets to stage protests and denounce the parliamentary recommendation apparently taken without any meaningful input from the representatives of the two districts. If Mianwali and Bhakkar can be clubbed into a south Punjab province for whatever reasons, then why keep out D.I. Khan? Sometimes politicians looking to gain an electoral edge can be too clever by half, and end up creating more of a mess without even necessarily gaining any electoral advantage. Another indication that the committee has failed to evolve a workable consensus on the basic building blocks of a new province is the dithering over whether Bahawalpur or Multan will be the new capital — or perhaps both.

All of this will only give the PML-N, perhaps the PTI too, more reason to cry foul and push back harder against the PPP–PML-Q combine in the province. The leader of the opposition Nisar Ali Khan took to the airwaves to issue a robust condemnation of the parliamentary committee’s proposals and the back-and-forth is only likely to grow louder in the days ahead. Lost in all of this is the raison d’être of new provinces: bringing government closer to the people so that it can be more effective and accountable. Activating local governments would in fact make the most sense to help achieve that goal but it happens to be the very thing politicians resist most. Instead, they are busy recommending there be 23 new senators, a governor, a chief minister and an assortment of ministries — all of which means more posts to accommodate more politicians. Instead of catering to a genuine demand, the debate is becoming pointless and controversial. Sadly, it is here to stay.