New provinces?

In South Asia on 18. April 2010 at 19:50

Enough has been said and done by the Muslim league fractions over the renaming issue of the former Frontier Province. The struggle of the Pakhtun nationalist Khudai Khidmatgaar Movement to rename their home province from being literally called a frontier to be Pakhtunhawa has been over a century long. Initially the main aim of the Khidmatgaars founder Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was to lift the Pakhtun people from misery, extremism and illiteracy in order to become a highly respected and developed people, the renaming claim were merely a formality, but which is also big symbolic act for the inhabitant to feel “home”.

Both the Q and N factions of the Muslim league have said during the debate on the 18th amendment that the Hindkowan population will feel alienated because of the proposed name for the province. Although Nawaz league agreed on a name which included Khyber (pretty odd, since Khyber is also a pure Pakhtun district) while Q-league started to demand a whole new province for this minority. With protests sparked in Abbotabad, 7 people died and over 100 got injured. The coalition partner at federal level and the ruling party in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Awami National Party blamed the PML-Q for these protests. The role of the PML-Q leadership in this incident should not be ignored as the Hindkowan area is a strong voter base for Nawaz Sharif and where the Q-League can score easy points to win voters.  Although the main protesters were supporters of regional political parties and nationalistic groupings, while some members of the PPP, JUI-F and Jamaat-e-Islami were also present.

Soon after the name change were a reality both the Pakistan Muslim League factions started to give comments on the need for new provinces. A senior Nawaz league politican Makhdoom Javed Hashmi argumented for a Hazara (a province for Hindkowan people) and a Seraiki (southern Punjab) province soon could be a reality. Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, president of the PML-Q demanded a Hazara province as soon as possible.

New provinces are not a bad idea in itself, although it is a weak idea if it is merely done to score cheap political points. If provinces are created on the base of ethnicity in a Pakistan where ethnic conflicts are common then future demands in all of Pakistan will make the provinces the size of today’s districts. We can look across the border to our sister nation India and their administrative divisions since the independence as example. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel launched a major process in where princely states and smaller provinces were merged and reorganized and at last were divided in linguistic provinces. Today the harmony in between the provinces is that of European states and they function as a mini EU in a chaotic third world. In addition there is not one single state in India which got so many seats in the parliament that it could be a hindrance in the legislation. In Pakistan Punjab have half the seats in the National Assembly.

In numbers, a total mandate from Punjab in the National Assembly is composing 54 % of the body. In percentages of the total parliament the number is still high on 49 %. Although when the parliament votes the provinces gets their seats leveled so each province has equal share of vote. Including this level the Punjab provinces power base in the total parliament is 38 %. With other words more than enough to stop a 2/3 motion, and in reality a veto on the other provinces. No wonder the other provinces start feeling like colonies. In 1947 with Bengal the new nation did not had this problem, although after 1970 the new political division of Pakistan were done in matter of months, and not as a part of a long term plan.

So, is there need of many provinces as some political parties and regional groups wants? No we do not.  But one interesting movement is worth the attention, the home area of the current Prime minister of Pakistan, the Seraiki belt. Seraiki people are of the Indic ethnicity just as the Punjabis. Their language is termed a dialect of Punjab, but they themselves consider it a language of their own. The people is scattered in the southern Punjabi districts, with some settlements in southern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, northeastern Baluchistan and northern Sindh as well. There are some regional nationalistic movements which already demand a province primarily because of the lack of attention from the industrial northern Punjab.

Initially there is no wrong in Punjab having the size it has in representation in the parliament, they have half the population in Pakistan. But with a economically stronger northern Punjab, compared to the rest of the country and with the lack of attention from Lahore on southern Punjab there is no bad idea to carve a Seraiki province. The provinces natural capital would be in Multan and it would be a important partner for the other provinces in order to achieve consensus on issues regarding provinsional autonomy, financial allocations and security. With a separate provinsional government it can directly address the local population and development. It is important to notice that the proposed Seraiki province would include Punjabis, Marwaris, Vaghris, Baluchis, Sindhis and Pashtuns, with other words not a ethnic province, rather a linguistic and a province to make the life of the rural population easier as well as making legislation among the provinces more smoother.

Now, it would be up to the titans of Punjab as the PPP with the Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gillani, Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the PML-N with its senior leader Mahdoom Javed Hashmi and the PML-Q with Mohammad Ejaz-ul-Haq and other southern Punjabi politicians to think of a easy process to make this a reality. Many people have voiced concern over such a move in this period, but we could not see any hindrance in the same period to give FANA autonomous status and baptized Gilgit-Baltistan, the issue of Southern Punjab is merely a new province. Some have also shared concerns over a breakup of Pakistan if a new province is created. These concerns are baseless, a smoother legislation and more attention to a proposed Seraiki province will make the federation stronger.

In the end, it should be noted that new provinces, even a Seraiki one, will not stop loadshedding, poverty, terrorism or corruption. That is up to politicians to manage and at present, there is no long term project for any of these problems, with the exception of General Kayanis war on terror.

  1. Hey, I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say GREAT blog!…..I”ll be checking in on a regularly now….Keep up the good work! :)

  2. Well said, you should be a part back the resolution I have passed lately :P


  3. Thanks alot Barbara and Tanzeel.

    Tanzeel, i have seen your “resolution”, i would support the latter part of the current name, i.e. only Pakhtunkhwa.

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