Seraiki province: a bone of contention for many – by Rauf Klasra
Sharp differences within the ranks of the PML-N surfaced in the National Assembly on Friday over the issue of a Seraiki province when its MNA Hanif Abbasi, without naming anyone, snubbed the likes of Javed Hashmi, who had joined the voices backing this move.
The top PML-N leadership reportedly fears that such a move, which is said to have strong backing of the top PPP leadership, would lead to erosion of its political authority in case a new province was created in the Punjab. The loud voice of Javed Hashmi in this regard reportedly rang alarm bells in the party ranks and Hanif Abbasi was tasked to give a shut-up call to those who were favouring this demand.
Meanwhile, the supporters of this move may get more reasons to demand their own province when the National Assembly was informed during the question hour that out of the Rs 20 billion loan obtained from the World Bank by the Ministry of Communication to construct mega roads in the country, not a single project was launched in the southern Punjab. Out of 18 projects, eight were started in the central and northern Punjab. Likewise, out of the Rs 20 billion taken as loan from the Asian Development Bank, only one 37-km road project was started on the Multan-Muzaffargarh road.
One official said this kind of discrimination in the allocation of development funds to the most poverty-stricken and backward areas had already led many to fear that the next battle ground after the tribal areas might be these areas as militancy was on the rise there.
Earlier, the Punjab Assembly witnessed hue and cry over the issue when a group of MPs hailing from southern Punjab favoured this demand. They also chanted slogans against the centralisation of powers and concentration of development in Lahore and its adjoining areas after it was pointed out that only a Rs 5 billion development budget was fixed for the Seraiki areas against over Rs100 billion for the central and northern Punjab.
The PLM-N top leadership is keeping quiet as only provincial minister Rana Sanaullah tried to counter those who were demanding a separate province. Now, Hanif Abbasi has joined Rana Sanaullah.
However, PML-N Senator Pervez Rashid told The News from Lahore that so far his party had not started any debate within its ranks on the issue. He said the views of the parliamentarians were their own.
He said that it was not only the PML-N where this kind of sharp division was being seen on this issue, but it would also happen with the rest of the political parties like the PPP and the PML-Q when their leaders start discussion on this issue. Pervez Rashid said discussions about new provinces or the administrative units take place all over the world and there was no harm in discussing them. But, he questioned those elements, particularly Mohammad Ali Durrani, who were in favour of a Bhawalpur or a Seraiki province, that on what basis they wanted the division of the Punjab.
He said if this was on the lingual basis, many other nationalities with different languages living in the province would also seek separate provinces. Rasheed also asked whether this division would only be confined to the Punjab or rest of the provinces would also face similar arrangements.
But some background interviews with some top political sources revealed that the PPP was set to raise this issue on a much bigger scale in the days to come, as it believed that this might play havoc with the politics of PML-N in the Seraiki areas and the party might exploit it in the next elections. Although, in the past this kind of debate did not generate much interest among the Seraiki voters during the elections, but this time, the situation seems quite different, as not only the PPP is backing this move but MPs from this region have also started making this demand in parliament for the first time.
PPP MNAs from Muzaffargarh Qayum Jatoi, Moazam Jaoti and Jamshed Dasti were the first to make this demand from President Asif Zardari in their party meetings and later they raised it on the floor of the House. However, this issue got more weight recently when Senator Mohammad Ali Durrani announced to launch a movement to get the Bhawalpur province restored in line with the commitment of then prime minister Ghulam Mohammad when one unit was formed.
The political analysts said the PPP knew it very well that this move would marginalise the PML-N to the central and northern Punjab as the south might go for a party that would support the creation of a new unit.
One source said the move by PPP leaders has already started paying the dividends, as the PML-N was being seen sharply divided after Javed Hashmi’s loud statement in favour of a province followed a furious outburst against this idea by Hanif Abbasi on the floor of the House on Friday.
But the sources said the PPP leadership would face the real test as and when it would adopt the issue as its official policy, and one would see how easily it might convince its Punjabi politicians about the division of the province.
The News, June 28, 2009