06 December 2011

The case of new Provinces

PPP first raised voice for creation of new provinces, particularly about Siraiki province. After them many voices for new provinces started coming from different corners of the country. The stakeholders in the case of new provinces are PPP, PML-N and other regional parties and individuals. Some people stress on the inevitability of the new provinces others simply say that this new issue is another political stunt. This issue is the topic for most of TV talk shows these days, where different people have their different opinion.

The core of this issue lies in southern Punjab. There is a popular demand to form Siraiki province there comprising of four out of nine divisions of Punjab. Traditionally Southern Punjab has been PPP stronghold. They think by creating Siraiki province they will not only form government in it but also reduce the political power of PML-N in Punjab. Naturally PML-N is opposing the issue for obvious reasons. They have adopted a new stance on the issue that the new provinces should be formed on administrative basis and in entire Pakistan not in Punjab only.

Certain politicians led by Mohammad Ali Durrani are lobbying for Bahawalpur province. Bahawalpur was a princely state at the time of partition and on that basis they are demanding for new province. Bahawalpur is a Siraiki majority area and it’s a part of the area which is demanded as the new Siraiki province. But Mohammad Ali Durrani and his companions disagree with the idea that Bahawalpur should be made a part of Siraiki province. Moreover, Deputy Speaker of National Assembly Faisal Karim Kundi has demanded that Dera Ismail Khan, which is currently a part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, should be included in new province. These factors have made this whole issue a complex one which can’t be dealt simply.

Second most important region is Hazara division. After NWFP was named Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, movement for Hazara province started in Hazara division. Former mayor Baba Haider Zaman is leading the movement for Hazara province. There is no apparent opposition for this province by ruling ANP in KPK. PML-N is opposing this province as traditionally Hazara has been a PML-N stronghold. After PML-N agreed to coining the name KPK to former NWFP, it overnights lost its base their. PPP is not a direct party in this case but can support this new province in order to politically undermine its arch rival PML-N.

FATA is also a part of debate on new provinces. FATA is administered by federal government through governor of KPK, who serves as administrator for FATA. Since partition this area has been an alienated place. Frontier crime regulation (FCR) is in place there, which means that entire tribe is punished if one of their members commits a crime. Political agents through Tribal Maliks rule FATA. In 1996, adult franchise, which means one person one vote, was implemented. Before that tribal Maliks used to vote to elect MNAs and senators of FATA. FATA is also the core of war on terror and serves as a buffer between Pakistan and war torn Afghanistan. Apart from that the area is used by Pakistani establishment to achieve Strategic depth in the region. So, due to its backwardness primarily, there is a popular demand to make FATA a province of Pakistan. ANP has demanded that it should be made a part of KPK.

Sindh and Balochistan are also not safe from this tension of new provinces. Northern Balochistan also known as Pashtun belt is Pathan majority area of Balochistan. Balochistan is itself a baloch majority province. The Pashtuns of Balochistan are demanding that a new province should be formed comprising of Pashtun majority districts of Balochistan. There is also a demand to merge these districts with KPK to form single and greater Pashtun province. Sindh has politically been divided into Urban and rural Sindh since early 1980’s. Recently when MQM was pressurized by PPP from all sides, Walk Chalkings were found in Karachi demanding a Muhajir province. The Urban Sindh would be that Muhajir province. After MQM’s demands were met, they dropped this demand. In rural Sindh, Sindhi nationalists carried out massive protests against demand for new provinces and they are against division of Sindh. In normal circumstances there is no demand for a new province in Sindh. Gilgit-Baltistan has recently been made an autonomous unit, though not a part of Pakistan, has also fallen in new province debate. The people of Gilgit-Baltistan demand that their territory should be made a province of Pakistan. This demand is not about dividing any current province but giving provincial status to an autonomous region.

Now, what’s the feasible solution for all the demands which are conflicting with each other? The basic policy should be that a new province should be formed only if people of that area are demanding for it. Demands in favor or against a new province coming from outside that province should not be considered. The debate whether division of new provinces should be on ethnic or administrative basis should be finished. Since this has now become a national issue, it should be dealt with a national approach. A commission should be formed which will decide about formation of all or some of newly demanded provinces and also about demarcation of the boundaries of new provinces. This commission should comprise of members of all political parties and representatives of all the stakeholders in demand for new provinces. This will provide an undisputed solution to the problem since the decision will be based on mutual consensus.

Different parties and individuals should stop playing with this issue as a political move. It’s much more serious than these politicians can imagine. The Siraiki province should be formed with consensus and the commission should decide whether Bahawalpur should be a part of Siraiki province or made a separate province itself. PML-N has to accept this demand upon approval from commission. Hazara division should be made a new province. FATA can be a new province if establishment agrees. If FATA becomes anew province then people will have similar rights as rest of Pakistan has, however this will make the situation less conducive for militancy. Ironically this is against the strategic interests of military establishment of Pakistan.

It’s least likely that northern Balochistan will be made a new province. Currently there is a separatist movement going in Balochistan by native Baloch people. Establishment dilutes the case of separation by claiming that Balochistan is a Bi-ethnic province consisting of baloch and Pashtun. If Pashtuns are given their new province then establishment can no longer use the Bi-Ethnic issue for diluting the case of separatists. Sindh needs not to be divided in current scenario. If a Muhajir province is formed then it will give rise to ethnic violence which will be destructive for country. This is because MQM and Sindhi nationalists both are ethnically polarized against one another.

PML-N is justified in saying that new provinces should be formed in all four provinces and not in Punjab only. But there is another Punjab centric issue of this matter which is size of Punjab. Population wise Punjab forms 60% of Pakistan and rest of three provinces and federal territories form the remaining 40 percent. This is a unique federation and such example can’t be found in any part of the world. So Punjab has to be divided in any case in order to make the federation more balanced and realistic. Lastly, the timing and sudden emergence for new province case is also interesting. This issue is occupying the political scene in presence of other significant problems. The role of powerful secret hands working behind the scenes also can’t be ignored. It’s also possible that these hands have triggered this issue for achieving their vested interests. Just like they triggered fake degrees case, which mysteriously lost focus after it was proved that majority of legislators had genuine degrees. The case of new provinces is a sensitive and significant issue. It should be dealt with wisdom and setting aside self interests. Only then this issue can bring prosperity in Pakistan, otherwise violence will trigger after formation of new provinces.

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