Movement for Saraiki Province: The Pros and Cons – by Faisal Awan
When bomb explosions, hysterical screaming, acrid black smoke, dreadful smell of burning flesh and blood, human body parts littering the streets, even the sound of a fire cracker making you cringe like a frightened child with a cadaverous look praying dearly that it is not another suicide bomb attack, is punctuating the day of a Pakistani citizen and if the lady luck is benignant enough and you survive through the day then the atrocious heat at night â€“ by the courtesy of electricity power cuts â€“ is waiting to offer a sneak preview of the doomâ€™s day. In the midst of such animated terror stricken life of Pakistanis when they are trying to hold on to themselves and desperately seeking happiness, peace and unity in every little thing that comes their way, some of our politicians including ex-information minister Mr. Durrani, who had retreated in to silence for some time now, decided to fashion the head lines and further befuddle the Pakistani nation who is already in the state of ataxia, with the demand of a separate Bahawalpur province. This demand caused the rejuvenation of an old demand for a separate Saraiki province. Many analysts are seeing the demand of a Bahawalpur province as an extension of the Saraiki province demand.
Separate Saraiki province in south Punjab is not newly a coined term and in fact has been looming for almost past three decades since the time when one unit was dissolved in 1970 by General Yahya Khan and the state of Bahawalpur was annexed with Punjab province. Before the implementation of one unit, until October 14, 1955, Bahawalpur was a princely state ruled by Nawab Sir Sadiq Muhammad Khan Abbasi V Bahadur, who culled to integrate with Pakistan at the time of independence in 1947.
Although the demand of a separate province in southern Punjab has never gained much support amongst the elite and influential political clique but this time the surprise package was Mr. Durrani championing the cause, who is well known for always taking very calculated steps and his deep connections within the establishment.
The current situation presents its audience with more than one aspect to it. One side of the picture paints a rosy portrait of a dreamland whereas the other side has more realistic answers to the jutifications of this demand and screams the unfortunate truth.
The Rosy Picture:
Logic and prudency calls for the demand as being very geniune. A separate Saraiki province with a large or developed city serving as its capital can potentially make current Punjab province administratively manageable and subsequently governance is bound to improve. Creation of more province(s) will result in decentralization of power and it can become much more difficult for a dictator to seize power and rule the country with all the stakeholders of every province happily hanging around his tail.
The major factor contributing to reinvigoration of this call among the suffering common Saraiki inhabitants is more related to the extreme economic imbalance created between southern and rest of the Punjab. Each province requires putting in place an infrastructure in its domain specially the under developed areas so that they can be at par with the developed areas of the province. The inception of a separate province will affect a separate budget for itself which should be substantially higher than mere Rs. 7 billion allocated in Punjabâ€™s Rs. 490 billion 2009-10 budget for the Saraiki belt. Hike in the budget and laying out of infrastructure will create local employment opportunities. This can prove to be a step in the right direction to alleviate poverty in southern Punjab, which according to the report of International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), 2001, on rural poverty is more chronic in the areas of south Punjab.
The cotton and agricultural industry will get a boost and Saraikisâ€™ will benefit from their own province rather than powerful upper Punjab grabbing the lionâ€™s share of Saraiki beltâ€™s revenue.
Another reason inflicting disparity amongst the central or main Punjab and the Saraiki people is the allotment of parcels, during and after General Ziaâ€™s regime in the Cholistan area to the aristocrats of main Punjab. This has created animosity amongst the less fortunate and landless people in the Cholistan area. A separate province for Saraikiâ€™s will supposedly do better to stand up against the unjust allotment of their own land.
Just as one would imagine that world would be a better place if re-engineering of Punjab boundaries happen, it is equally important to look at the other and probably more realistic side of the picture.
Justifications for the demand and the Unfortunate Truth:
There is nothing wrong with the demand but the timing of this call is highly objectionable, amiss and incredulous. The champions of this call are trying to create a stir at the time when Pakistan as a country is facing daunting challenges of drooping economy, deplorable law and order situation, foreign and home grown terrorism, foreign secret agencies involved in fathering and funding domestic issues, governmentâ€™s weakening grip on Balochistan issue, limping judicial system, and archaic educational system to name a few. There is hardly any front where our current cracked leadership and wretched nation is enjoying a sigh of relief.
One of the justifications given by the adherents of this cause is solely linguistic based and claims that Saraiki speaking people should have their own province. So are we planning to start dividing Punjab and Pakistan on linguistic basis? Saraiki is a dialect of Punjabi and if we are to start creating lingo-based provinces then the claims for a Hindko, Pothohari and Majhi province will soon surface and chain of uncontrollable movements for a separate province can take birth. It is a can of worms which if opened will defile minds across Pakistan.
Another aspect to this claim is that Bahawalpur should revert to its original constitutional representation which it had before the implementation of one unit and in addition also put other Saraiki districts under its control. The rationale given for it is that Bahawalpur and the Saraiki belt being far flung from the powerful Lahore fails to make an impact on the policies of Punjab province and has no Saraiki representation what so ever among the powerful policy making clans, and as a consequence, it is being ignored and deprived of socio-economic development. However, the factual truth is that the area in subject is a victim of feudalism and bureaucracy, which is consuming it and rest of the Pakistan like a canker. To counter their claim of scarce political representation from their area, below are some of the numerous political clouts from the Saraiki belt who have represented their area at various fronts: Muhammad Ali Durrani (PML-Q), Chaudry Pervaiz Elahi (PML-Q), Jehangir Tareen (PML-F), Mukhdoom Javaid Hashmi (PML-N), Sardar Athar Khan Gorchani (PPPP), Khan Muhammad Hussain Azad (PPPP), Farooq Lagahri â€“ President of Pakistan 1993-1997, Balakh Sher Mazari â€“ Prime Minister Pakistan 1993, Yusuf Raza Gilani (PPPP) â€“ Prime Minister Pakistan 2008 â€“ current, Shah Mehmood Qureshi (PPPP), Ghulam Mustafa Khar, Tasneem Nawaz Gardezi, Makhdoom Shahabuddin, Makhdoom Altaf, Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar, and Riaz Pirzada, to name a few. Although some of the Saraiki politicians including Yusuf Raza Gilani the current prime minister correctly feel that a thorough and credible debate should occur in the parliament rather than making him an outright cartographer of some of the Saraiki politicianâ€™s fictional world.
With such star studded Saraiki political representation it is perplexing that nothing substantial could be crafted in the last 60 years and they could not influence the policy makers to carve policies for the socio-economic development of south Punjab and have suddenly created a highly questionable and suspicious agitation. The notable fact is that most of the infrastructure that betokens the development and importance of the Saraiki belt is either the courtesy of Nawabâ€™s who ruled the Bahawalpur state before merging into Pakistan or Arab Sheikhs, who in return enjoy whooping concessions on turning Bahawalpur and Rahimyar Khan state acreage into private hunting lands, and nothing significant has been delivered in past 60 years by the â€œSaraiki politicians who are now demanding a separate provinceâ€.
If the philosophy behind the renaissance of this movement is reverting to the historical boundaries, then what to do with that part of NWFP which was in Punjab before November 1901. Does that mean redressing of all the provinces if historical boundaries are the criteria?
It can be a likely possibility that it may be a government backed stunt to sway the attention of Pakistani people from the core issues of economy, law and order, and terrorism which are crippling the fragile government day by day and they are finding it hard to grapple with on hand challenges. Many political analysts are seeing it as an attempt by PPPPâ€™s government to weaken the PML (N) grip on Punjab and to disguise governmentâ€™s dragging of approval of 17th amendment behind the pretense of a Saraiki province demand. PML (N) has several times clearly expressed its displeasure pertaining to the delaying of approval process of 17th amendment. However, the political stature of PML (N) in Punjab should not take a hit since it has not much support amongst the Saraiki belt and currently holds only eight seats from the Saraiki districts out of some forty odd seats.
At the government level though, PPPP has denounced the call for a separate Saraiki province both from the President and Prime Ministerâ€™s office and maintained its stance that it is against the fragmentation of the provinces. On the other hand PML (N) is amiable to the idea of calling a meeting with the Saraiki leaders currently living in the subject areas and chalking out a package to address the contentious issues.
Hypothetically if the Saraiki province is created, then WHAT? The same politicians who were representing Saraiki belt before will be dumped on the Saraikiâ€™s again. How will they change things when they have not done a single bit in the past 60 years for them? What goods it has brought to Balochistan as being a province, as it still remains the most underdeveloped area of Pakistan and the reason for that is none other than the feudalism and lack of sincere and ardent implementation of development policies by the federal government and the baloch politicians. Interestingly, the champions of a separate Saraiki province demand, most of them enjoy a luxurious life in the serene and opulent areas of Lahore and Islamabad rather than the area which they are claiming is theirs and crying out in their interviews that they can not be a witness anymore to the deplorable condition of their people and the area.
To add another spin to this issue, with terror networks already present in southern Punjab and trying to strengthen their grip in that area, raising such an issue at this precarious time can provide the opening which India, Israel and their allies may be looking for to build upon and create a kind of mayhem as they have created in Swat and Balochistan. This will provide them the luxury to recruit traitors at will in the name of â€œIslam and getting your own identityâ€, as they have done in Swat and Balochistan. This may very well lead to opening another alarming front of a troubling separatist movement to deal with for Pakistan army and the already crippled government of Pakistan.
Although the timing of the demand in subject is highly unfortunate but it is a fact that the ground realities pertaining to the scoial and economic conditions of southern Punjab are extremely deplorable and demands immediate attention. Rather than chauvinistically demanding a separate province and expending energies towards it, the Saraiki politicians and intellects along with their peers in northern Punjab need to formulate packages for economic development, educational and judicial reforms, industrialization, improving governance, utilizing the resources efficiently and honestly, eliminating the terror dungeons, and lastly but most importantly go back and live among the people whom you are aspiring to lead. So that the people of their area should not feel that they have been again duped by bunch of charlatans like the past 60 years.