Seraikistan will not weaken the federation

Published: April 25, 2012

New provinces created on administrative basis, rather than linguistic or ethnic ones, would further strengthen our national integrity. PHOTO: EXPRESS

While it may seem that the PPP-led government has failed to deliver to the masses, it has definitely added some feathers in its cap by extending autonomy to provinces through the NFC Award, by abolishing concurrent lists, and through the passing of the 18th and 19th constitutional amendments.

In addition to this, it has provided the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit Baltistan with identities, and given representation to religious minorities in the Senate. Indeed, PPP is one of the few parties in the country which strongly believes in provincial autonomy that is directly proportional to strengthening the federation.

However, whenever there are voices raised in favour of the formation of new provinces, believers of ‘federalism’ promptly stand up against the proposed ideas with their stale and hackneyed arguments and notions. There is an uproar over this issue, particularly over the formation of Seraikistan since it will create a line on Punjab’s map, bifurcating south and north Punjab. This subject has become food for thought for bloggers, columnists and many others.

Even though the proposal of the Seraikistan province has received a great deal of negativity, President Asif Ali Zardari has now promised the Seraiki people a separate province. However, the federalists and rightists – believers of the status quo and no change — have their own misconceived and pre-meditated notions about the formation of new provinces. They believe that if a few more lines are sketched on Pakistan’s map, it will weaken the centre thus ultimately lead to the federation breaking up.

Nothing is wrong with the formation of  Seraikistan, Hazara or any other new province that is created for the purpose of easing administrative affairs. History is replete with examples where countries have created new administrative units; India has increased the number of its provinces to 28 since 1947.

The population of Pakistan has augmented many folds since 1947, thus a demand for new provinces is a genuine one. Besides, the demand by people of southern Punjab is not something unconstitutional; it is not something that might cause harm to national integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan. It is purely democratic and our constitution even has a provision for this. Article 239 (4)  of the constitution reads:

A bill to amend the Constitution which would have the effect of altering the limits of a Province shall not be presented to the President for assent unless it has been passed by the Provincial Assembly of that Province by the votes of not less than two-thirds of its total membership.

Moreover, the movement for Seraikistan has been peaceful and non-violent. Though the region touches borders with all four provinces, including the troubled Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the movement has so far not witnessed any non-democratic action.

If Punjab is to prevent itself from secessionist and nationalist movements – there are many such movements going on in Sindh and Balochistan – then the creation of Seraikistan is a must. The new province would, in the long term, be in favour of Punjab. I say this because the reservation of the nationalists of smaller provinces concerning Punjab taking the lion’s share in government’s resources, job quotas and so on will be wiped away once it is equal in population to other smaller provinces.

However, new provinces should definitely not be formed on the basis of language or ethnicity since this would create a further ethnic divide amongst the communities.

There are a few detractors who believe that like Punjab, Sindh should also be divided into two provinces. However, they should understand that the cases of Sindh and Seraikistan are totally different from each other. Firstly, there is no visible demand or movement by the people of Karachi or the MQM for such a cause.

There have been allegations about Jinnahpur, but these have been categorically denied many times.  Secondly, there are reservations amongst the people of interior Sindh, especially Sindhi nationalists, about a Karachi-based ethnic party, but they have never made a demand for separating Karachi from the rest of the Sindh.

Thirdly, Seraiki people in Punjab are demanding a separate province because Southern Punjab has been lagging behind in the development sector. They allege that much of the development funds are being spent in Lahore or in the northern Punjab. Karachi, on the other hand, is not only the most developed metropolitan city of the country, but it ranks amongst the top developed cities in the world! Hence, the Urdu speaking population of Pakistan has no reason to have any reservations.

To save ink, creating new provinces should not be compared with the weakening of the federation. New provinces created on administrative basis, rather than linguistic or ethnic ones would, in fact, further strengthen our national integrity. This would also create harmony and enhance provincial autonomy.

Therefore, the formation of Seraikistan cannot be ignored; it will come sooner or later.

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Kapil Dev

Kapil Dev

A communications consultant who writes on minority rights and social issues.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.