Seraiki province: whither PPP?
January 13, 2012
The PPP has principally decided to introduce a bill in parliament on creation of Seraiki province. Having no mood to alienate the ANP, it is not going to include two Seraiki districts of the KP — DI Khan and Tank — in the map of the proposed province. Makhdoom Shahabuddin has been tasked with presenting the bill in the next session of the National Assembly. In the intervening period, the Makhdoom of Rahimyar Khan, who is a federal minister and the president of PPP South Punjab chapter, will be busy touring different regions of the proposed province — Multan, D.G Khan and Bahawalpur — to develop a consensus.
The PPP is the most confused political party on the issue of creating new federal units. While the rest of the mainstream political parties, say PML-N and PTI, are insisting on devolution of power and have proposed constitution of a commission for the demarcation of provincial boundaries, the PPP insists on ethno-linguistic formula.
By insisting on creating a Seraiki province only from Punjab, the PPP is ignoring the fact that Seraiki is spoken in all provinces of the country and contrary to the data of the 1998 census it is the largest language of Pakistan. Deputy Speaker National Assembly Faisal Karim Kundi will certainly be disappointed if his party does not include Seraiki speaking districts of KP in the bill on Seraiki province.
The PPP is following the One Unit era thinking that developed among the intelligentsia of the smaller provinces which sees the large size of Punjab with contempt and its hold on the mighty bureaucracy and army. Sindhi, Baloch and Pushtoon nationalists have projected Seraiki identity definitely with an objective to cut Punjab into size.
The PPP once endorsed the 1969 formula of General Yahya Khan for constituting federal units after the undoing of One Unit. The dictator merged the Balochistan States Union into Pushtoon-dominated Commissioner’s province to create Balochistan, which caused unrest among Baloch people and gave birth to the sentiment of separatism which Z. A Bhutto tried to suppress with force. Similarly, the merger of Dir, Amb, Swat and Chitral into the then NWFP was also against the wishes of the people of the princely states. It only went to the advantage of a particular ethnic group.
The PPP endorsed Yahya Khan’s administrative formula in Punjab whereby the princely state of Bahawalpur, which had the status of a province prior to its merger into One Unit, due to the reason that the feudal of South Punjab had wanted so. This formula was made part of the 1973 Constitution because the people of Bahawalpur rejected the party in 1970 elections. By keeping ethnic divisions intact in the smaller provinces and introducing a Seraiki question in Punjab, the PPP only ensured its existence across Pakistan.
Despite all the wisdom and sagacity he has been ruling Pakistan with for three years, Asif Ali Zardari is just sticking to the legacy of his ‘spiritual father’. He is unwittingly confining Seraiki identity only to Southern Punjab. To create a Seraiki province, he should first hold a census, which is overdue since 2008, to ascertain the strength of Seraiki speakers and their exact location.. The last such effort (1998) established the number of Seraiki speakers only 10.9 % of the population (lesser than Sindhi and Pushtoon), which according to rough estimates should now constitute 18 million people. The results of this census were duly rejected by the Seraiki nationalists.
Outside of the official figures, Seraiki is tipped as the largest language of the country. Claiming to create a ‘Seraiki’ province is of course a ploy and half-hearted effort to address the problems of Seraiki people. Confining ‘Seraiki identity only to three divisions of Punjab will be a great injustice for after having their own province they will lose the right to preserve their language in other provinces like the KP, Sindh and Balochistan.
That a ‘Seraiki province’ is an impractical idea is well-evident from the fact that the ANP is not ready to part with two of its Seraiki speaking districts and the PML-N has simply rejected it. Balochistan Assembly has also passed a resolution against the proposed province. Sindhi nationalists don’t let Seraiki to be taught in the upper Sindh where Seraiki is widely spoken, particularly by Baloch tribes. The former Khairpur State was predominantly a Seraiki state, which has now been merged into Sindh so completely that such identity has become untraceable. Within Punjab, creating a province comprising three divisions will not address the identity question. From Mirpur (the hometown of Mian Mohammad Bakhsh) down to Rahimyar Khan is spoken the same language, no matter what you name it.
What is practical is that the new provinces should be created to address the question raised by the devolution of power to the provinces. Of course, the benefits should reach beyond Lahore, Karachi, Quetta and Peshawar. Linguistic formula for provinces will create confusion and introduced divisions in already a fractured society. The most feasible solution lies in converting the administrative divisions of the One Unit era into provinces, as suggested by Tanzil-ur-Rahman Commission in 1980s. Since 1990s the number of administrative divisions has been increased to serve sectional interests. Going little bit back to the past does not make much harm if greater interest of promoting national integrity is served effectively.