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Partitioning Punjab

February 17, 2013

THE venerable and usually erudite Mr Kunwar Idris has erred in his analysis of the issue of partitioning Punjab (Feb 1).

The real problem is that the manner in which the exercise is being carried out is arbitrary and illogical but that does not necessarily mean that the exercise itself is unwarranted. We cannot throw out the baby with the bath water.

Pakistan is a federation, which means that the constituent units exist as a matter of legal and constitutional right and not at the sufferance of the centre.

While these units have surrendered a measure of their sovereignty in favour of the centre, their absolute right to exist cannot be appropriated by the centre.

Logically, therefore, it is the will of the people of each unit as expressed through their provincial assemblies which alone can determine whether the unit may be divided into two or more entities.

The federal legislature can only then carry out an appropriate amendment to the constitution to give effect to the will of the people of the unit desiring such a change. In the present case the cart is being placed before the horse and that is the real problem.

Mr Idris errs also in the ‘facts’ he presents as argument. Punjab was not partitioned in 1947 under any constitutional provision within a country.

It was partitioned to make way for two sovereign states and if Pakistan were to emerge at all, truncated or otherwise, even the constitutional genius of the Quaid could not have found another solution.

It may be mentioned also that Bengal was similarly partitioned and for the same purpose though mercifully it was much less violent than the partition of Punjab.

Subsequently, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh were carved out of the Indian Punjab.

By contrast, the state of Bahawalpur, often referred to in old colonial maps as the ‘Daudpota Territory’ and which bears the name of Bahawal Khan Kalhoro, was attached to Punjab by a military dictator.

It must also be pointed out that the residents of Punjab are neither all Punjabis nor do they speak Punjabi to the exclusion of other languages.

A large proportion of its population is of Baloch and Sindhi extraction and the Seraiki language gets its name from the Sindhi word ‘serai’ meaning ‘of the north’.

Seraiki is phonetically closer to Sindhi than to Punjabi, albeit with a large acquired vocabulary of Punjabi. It should more appropriately be referred to as a dialect of Sindhi.

There are definitely anomalies in our federal structure but these are a legacy of the colonial rule when the boundaries of conquered territories were redemarcated to meet the requirement of administering a vast, disparate and eventually hostile native population.

We do need to rationalise our federal structure because there are genuine irredentist claims of units on each other.

The only way to do it is to go back to the original position of each unit at the time of its colonising to ascertain the validity of each claim.