SERAIKI PROVINCE, Ill-advised move threatens national integrity
April 20, 2012
If we begin to think of ourselves as Punjabis, Sindhis etc., first and Muslims and Pakistanis incidentally, then Pakistan is bound to disintegrate. Do not think that this is some abstruse proposition: our enemies are fully alive to its possibilities which I must warn you that they are already busy exploiting.
Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah made a historic speech from Radio Pakistan on March 28, 1948. In utter disregard to the advice of Pakistan’s founding father, President Asif Ali Zardari has stated that a Seraiki province would be created during the tenure of the incumbent government. He was talking to a delegation of the People’s Lawyers Forum, in Multan, on April 15, 2012, during his maiden official visit to the southern Punjab – a region which he could not visit when it was hit by devastating floods. He stated that he had advised Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani to consult all political parties for preparing a framework to make the new province a reality. Prime Minister Gilani informed media-men, on the same day in Muzaffargarh, that Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) will decide contours of the new Seraiki province. He claimed that the proposition enjoyed support of PPP’s coalition partners –ANP and MQM – and that the former has included it in their party manifesto.
Prime Minister Gilani appreciated MQM leader Altaf Hussain’s statement in support of the Seraiki province and also welcomed Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s statement on the new provinces. He claimed that many political parties support the creation of the Seraiki province as it is in keeping with their party manifestoes. No one opposes the creation of smaller administrative units provided these are not carved out on ethnic/linguistic grounds because any movement in that direction is bound to strengthen fissiparous tendencies, which could, God forbid, cause great harm to the country’s integrity, as pointed out by Quaid-e-Azam. The only criterion for creating new provinces should be better governance and service delivery to the masses. However, the way PPP is politicizing the Seraiki province issue in an attempt to gain political mileage ahead of general elections in order to divide the public opinion in Punjab, hitherto PML-N’s power base.
The people of my generation remember that some elements living in the areas now constituting Pakistan, had vehemently opposed the creation of Pakistan. A segment amongst them openly declared themselves to be the supporters of the Indian Congress Party. For that very reason, the leader of this segment was popularly called as Sarhadi Gandhi in the then North-Western (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) province; while the masses called his counterpart in Balochistan as the Balochi Gandhi. Due to the machinations of the leaders of the Indian Congress Party and the opposition of their stalwarts in Khyber Paktunkhwa province (KP) and Balochistan to the Muslim popular demand for an independent Pakistan, the British colonial rulers had to hold referendum in each of these two regions to decide the fate of these areas. An overwhelmingly majority of the electorate in both the places voted for joining Pakistan, foiling the nefarious designs of anti-Pakistan quarters.
After having failed in their designs, those elements raised the bogey of Pakhtunistan, comprising the Pushto-speaking areas of KP, Balochistan and Afghanistan. Ultimately, the Pakhtunistan issue met its natural death. If the progeny of those elements, now commanding ANP, support the creation of Seraiki province, one should not be surprised because in it they find inherent the prospects for the revival of the Pakhtunistan issue. The same holds true for MQM’s support for the Seraiki province. If ethnicity is accepted as the raison d’être for the creation of a new province, the MQM could also raise the demand for Jinnahpur, a province of the Mohajirs, comprising of Karachi and urban areas of Hyderabad, Mirpurkhas and Sukkur, which its leaders have so far been hesitant to raise publicly because of the fear of backlash.
It would be pertinent to mention here that some elements in other provinces also want their separate province. One would refer here to the demand for Hazara province and that of some quarters in Balochistan for the creation of their separate province. Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah had advised the nation to remain alert to foil the designs of such elements, in a speech at Islamia College, Peshawar, on April 12, 1948. He stated: “Having failed to prevent the establishment of Pakistan, thwarted and frustrated by their failure, the enemies of Pakistan have now turned their attention to disrupt the State by creating a split amongst the Muslims of Pakistan. These attempts have taken the shape principally of encouraging provincialism…As long as you do not throw off this poison in your body politic, you will never be able to weld yourself, mould yourself, galvanise yourself into a real true nation. What we want is not to talk about Punjabi, Sindhi, Baluchi, Pathan and so on. They are, of course, units. But, I ask you: have you forgotten the lesson that was taught to us thirteen hundred years ago?” The Quaid underlined: “If you want to build-up yourself into a nation, for God’s sake, give up this provincialism. Provincialism has been one of the curses; and so is sectionalism – Shia, Sunni, etc.”
Quaid-e-Azam reminded the people of Pakistan about the designs of inimical forces in these words: “Our enemies, among whom I regret to say, there are still some Muslims, have set about actively encouraging provincialism in the hope of weakening Pakistan, and, thereby, facilitating the re-absorption of this province into the Indian Dominion….You must learn to distinguish between your love for your province and your love and duty to the State as a whole….our duty to the State comes first; our duty to our province, to our district, to our town and to our village and ourselves comes next.
Replying to a civic reception at Quetta on June 15, 1948, Quaid-e-Azam said: “Local attachments have their value but what is the value and strength of a “part” except within the “whole.” Yet this is a truth people so easily seem to forget and begin to prize local, sectional or provincial interests regardless of the national interests. It naturally pains me to find the curse of provincialism holding sway over any section of Pakistanis.”
A vast majority of the people in this country would not oppose the creation of new provinces, if such a step is taken purely on administrative grounds for the whole of the country, say giving erstwhile revenue divisions the nomenclature of provinces. However, we should always keep in mind the spirit of devolution, which demands that new administrative units should be created without adding much burden on the people. Our neighbouring country, India, has carved out many new provinces. In some countries, district level basic administrative units have the nomenclature of provinces. For instance, in the Philippines, elected mayors are in-charge of all major metropolitan towns, while elected governors rule over the rural areas.
To sum-up, we may say that the guiding principle should be service to the people and not any myopic move aimed at vote-grabbing or appeasing the people. However, it appears that the stalwarts of the ruling party have raised the issue of Seraiki province simply to grab votes in Southern Punjab. While doing so, they did not give much thought to the consequences and negative fall out of raising this bogey. It appears that they did not even care to go through the constitutional requirements for creating a new province. The constitution stipulates that a new province can be created with the support of two-third majority of the respective provincial assembly as well as the lower and upper houses of Pakistan’s Parliament.
It appears that the PPP and some of their coalition partners are eager to split Punjab into two or three provinces, but they do not want division of the second largest province – Sindh – on ethnic or even on administrative basis. They should keep in mind that if they divide Punjab into more provinces, they will need to increase its berths in the Senate, which will tilt the balance in Punjab’s favour. Before concluding, let one remind that we live if the nation lives. And that only a united and integrated nation can command respect in the comity of nations.