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Challenge of new provinces

Published Jan 29, 2013 12:20am


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THE debate on creating new provinces in Pakistan is gaining momentum with the proposal approved by the parliamentary commission to create a new province — ‘Bahawalpur Janoobi Punjab’.

But the fundamental question which needs to be addressed while considering the demand for new provinces is: should the new provinces be established on an administrative or ethnic basis? The existing four provinces are carved along ethnic lines though the option to redraw provincial boundaries along administrative lines has been presented.

It is not only the rationale behind demanding a change in Pakistan’s federal structure that needs to be addressed; the issue that must also be examined is the potential for violence and conflict if new provinces are created without taking into consideration the interests of ethnic minorities and other stakeholders.

This is especially true when the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, which rules Punjab, is not on board. One can expect the deepening of political polarisation and the consequent impact on the election campaign.

While intolerance, extremism, radicalisation and terrorism shape the political landscape of Pakistan today, those demanding the recognition of their identities have threatened to follow a violent course if their right to a separate provincial identity is not granted.

Three contradictory factors which influenced the issue of creating new provinces in Pakistan were religion, nationalism and centralisation. The argument that the identity of Pakistan rested with Islam as a major unifying force was exploited by the bureaucratic-military establishment which wanted to suppress nationalistic forces and establish a unitary instead of federal state.

It was argued that the existence of Pakistan would be in jeopardy if ethnic and lingual identities were given legitimacy in the shape of new provincial units. The feudal-religious-bureaucratic-military nexus led to the creation of One Unit with the dissolution of the provinces in 1955 in West Pakistan as a counterweight to East Pakistan which had the demographic edge.

Although the provinces of Balochistan, North-West Frontier Province, Punjab and Sindh were restored according to the legal framework order proclaimed in 1970, since then no change in the federal map of Pakistan has taken place.

It was only in 2010 and after that the demand for new provinces gained impetus and became part of a serious political discourse. Renaming the NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) in the 18th Amendment was termed a major shift in the political landscape, and it immediately led to a reaction in the Hazara division of KP, with demands being made that a provincial status be granted to the division.

The tabling of the 20th Constitutional Amendment Bill by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement last year in the National Assembly, that sought the creation of new provinces in Punjab and KP, gave impetus to forces seeking recognition of distinct provincial identities.

The question is: why is the redrawing of provincial boundaries limited only to Punjab and KP and why not Sindh and Balochistan?

It is argued by some that when an initiative can be taken in parliament to debate the creation of Bahawalpur, Seraiki and Hazara provinces, a similar debate should be launched for redrawing the boundaries of Balochistan and Sindh. Why is the parliamentary commission only Punjab-specific and how can the constitutional requirements to create new provinces be met when the majority of Punjab Assembly members do not support the division of their province?

Constitutional ambiguity and impediments in the way of creating new provinces in Pakistan aside, perhaps the most important challenge in the process of redrawing the provincial boundaries is the potential for violence and conflict.

Three major demands for the creation of new provinces centre on Seraiki, Bahawalpur and Hazara provinces. But in all three cases, there is the likelihood of stakeholders — whether the ethnic majority or minority — not accepting the borders on historical, lingual, economic, political and ethnic grounds, thus increasing the possibility of conflict.

Even the name given to the new province — Bahawalpur Janoobi Punjab — may not pre-empt resistance from communities, particularly settlers, who may not feel comfortable in a new provincial set-up.

The case of the proposed Hazara province is further complicated because the bureaucracy in that division is Pakhtun-dominated whereas demographically there is an ethnic overlap. There is the threat of resistance on the part of the non-Hindko-speaking population of Hazara if minorities, namely the Pakhtuns, are marginalised in the proposed province.

In May 2012, PML-N members in the KP Assembly submitted a resolution in the provincial assembly secretariat asking the government to amend the constitution to create Hazara province composed of six districts of KP. Can those supporting the creation of a Hazara province get two-thirds majority in the assembly for the fulfilment of their demand?

There are two options to successfully deal with the potential outbreak of conflicts if new provinces are created or the status quo is maintained.

The first is to hold a referendum in areas where there is lack of consensus among the stakeholders — particularly in Hazara, Bahawalpur and Seraiki-speaking areas — to determine what the local people want. Second, instead of being created on an ethnic basis, new provinces could be established along administrative lines so that the threat of ethnic violence is averted.

The future parliament of Pakistan needs to seriously probe the fault lines when it comes to meeting the demand for new provinces.

The writer is a professor of International Relations, University of Karachi.


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (5) Closed

Sadam khan Jan 29, 2013 11:54am
its good article..but it seems writer is preoccupied with the concept of violence and ethnic clashes.Most respectfully,there is not any single example in the neighborhood where provinces were to be made on administrative we have achieved Pakistan on the basis of Two nation theory then how could we negate the presence of ethnicity.It is the failure of the provincial governments that they deliberately kept those areas of provinces neglected and underdeveloped.For example if we take the example of saraiki province.Its reality that people are very poor over there.Mr. shahbaz hardly find any time from his busy schedule of beautifying Lahore to visit that area and spend some money over there.To the great dismay,He has spent 100 billion rupees on bus project alone in Lahore.While in southern Punjab most of people drink water of nearby rain-fed reservoirs.The area is agricultural hub of Pakistan..but govt. has failed to negotiate prices of cash crops with the purchasers(mostly politicians).presently... i have seen no state over there.In such circumstances , if we reject formation of new provinces on ethnic grounds and instead of blaming state for not ensuring the security of the people we blame people ....they will surely revolt against state like we have seen in the case of Hazaras. ITS THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE STATE TO HOLD PEOPLE UNITED AGAINST ANY CRISIS NOT OF THE PEOPLE TO AVOID CLASHES WHEN THERE IS NOT ANY WRIT OF THE STATE OVER THERE.THE DAY OUR POLITICAL LEADERS WILL ABANDON GAME PLAYING AND EDUCATE PEOPLE THAT DAY WILL BRING AN END TO THE FEELINGS ETHNIC DIVERSITY.
Walayat Malik Jan 29, 2013 10:58am
Easiest solution to avoid violence related to the creation or non-creation of provinces can be easily avoided by comparative analysis with other countries. The population includes human beings. Every person in every part of the globe wants freedom and autonomy. This is the innate tendency that cannot be extinguished. Just think there are scores of countries whose population is less than 10 million people. Can't the intellectuals of Pakistan suggest that at least each 10 million Pakistanis be provided with their OWN province? That will be empowerment of the people. People of Pakistan do not look beyond their borders although they cross it in millions to earn their living in other lands. Look at Turkey. It has 81 provinces for its 75 million population. British divided sub-continent into divisions, districts and tehsils. Pakistan should convert every district into a province or every division into a province.
umar fayaz wazir Jan 29, 2013 05:14am
why only talking about Hazara and Bahawalpur, what about FATA? first FATA should be given a status of province and then the rest.
Khanm Jan 29, 2013 12:03pm
The major problem in Pakistan is FATA AND ATTA. We are not united have four provinces wonder what will happen if we have more.
Hamza Khan Jan 29, 2013 08:54am
Mr. Moonis Ahmar, In my view that should NOT be done that will weaken the federation of Pakistan. Some selfish people exploit the current political situation. Pakistan can't bear this tragedy. There are several factors involved for current situation of Pakistan i.e (CURRENT IMMATURE RULING ELITE, POLITICIANS AND UN-EDUCATED (MAJORITY) PEOPLE, TRADERS, GOVERNMENT INSTITUTIONS AND MANY MORE..............). Regards Hamza Khan