Dividing Punjab Mahmood Shah Friday, April 01, 2011

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=39298&Cat=9

Lately the creation of a southern province in Punjab is being debated in the media and in our political circles. The incommodious attitude of certain political parties of avoiding open debate on this significant issue of considerable public import is incomprehensible and manifests an escapist attitude.

Punjab is the biggest province of Pakistan with a population of 81, 330, 531(over 81 million) which is about 47 percent of Pakistan’s total population. It encompasses an area of 2, 05, 344 square kilometres. Out of a total of 342 National Assembly seats; Punjab has 183 MNAs, Sind 75, KPK has 43, Baluchistan 17, FATA 12, minorities 10 and Islamabad Capital Territory two MNAs. If the number of 183 MNAs from Punjab is seen in juxtaposition to 171 MNAs from all the other three provinces and other groups put together, it shows a very unpleasant comparison. Without any bias, prejudice and sounding parochial, the small provinces are living in a state of perpetual minority vis-a-vis Punjab. And certain vested interest groups and parties have been using this anomaly to their advantage. Using the Sind ‘card’ and some statements by sub nationalist parties in KPK and Baluchistan manifests this dangerous trend due to this anomaly. Even the erstwhile East Pakistan saga finds connections to this disproportionate administrative structural deficiency phenomenon. The people of Punjab are very open minded and hearty people. People hailing from other provinces and working in Punjab do not face discrimination. Yet Punjab gets a bad name when it suits certain vested interest groups and parties. Punjab in spite of being very accommodative gets discredited simply because of its size as compared to other federating units. This anomaly, therefore, needs to be addressed at the earliest.

From the point of view of administrative efficiency and good governance it is simply not possible for one IG police presently known as PPO to control crime and maintain law and order in a population of over 81 million people spread over a vast area. Service delivery and development outlays over such a vast area controlled, executed and managed by an incongruous government administrative machinery sitting in Lahore becomes extremely difficult notwithstanding some excellent administrative efficiency of some of the political leaders at the provincial level. Uneven and unequal development in Southern Punjab and Northern Punjab vis-a-vis Central Punjab is also attributed to concentration of power in Lahore which is derisively called Thakht-i-Lahore and Punjab as a big brother. Industrial development in Faisalabad, Gujranwala and Lahore, although good for the country, must be seen in relation to similar developments in Southern and Northern Punjab.

Logically this all calls for an inevitable division of Punjab into three provinces namely; central Punjab called Punjab with the provincial capital at Lahore, southern Punjab called Bahawalpur province with the provincial capital at Bahawalpur or Multan and northern Punjab called Potohar province with the provincial capital at Rawalpindi or Jhelum.

Certain detractors and critics of this issue argue that this subdivision will trigger other subdivisions like the demand of Hazara province. The demand for a Hazara province is an emotional issue which suddenly sprung out of renaming of the province without adequate consensus in the province. Hopefully this resentment will die down with time. Because if this sensitive issue is further exacerbated a demand of unification with Pushtuns in Baluchistan may also come up implying bifurcation of that sensitive province. The main political forces need to work for integration of the society in Pakistan and must move away from linguistic and ethnic divisions in the country and think in terms of administrative efficiency for homogeneous development of the society.

Another important implication of this subdivision is that the present day Punjab when divided in to three provinces will gain another 50 seats in the Senate. The people of southern Punjab have certain affinity with people from Sind and Baluchistan and similarly the people from Potohar have some compatibility with the people from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. A wider representation in the Senate will therefore make this house a more effective upper house.

The present federation of Pakistan consisting of four provinces (excluding Azad Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan (newly formed province), and Fata for this discussion) is like a vehicle with four wheels; Punjab as a tractor wheel and the three provinces as car wheels. Therefore this federation has not been running smoothly so far.

The division of Punjab into three provinces is a sound and logical idea which should be debated openly and without any prejudices. Creating a separate province does not amount to making another country. These provinces still remain available to all the political parties for their politics and they should be able to manage their respective political vote banks in the newly formed provinces. This arrangement will lead to an equitable, proportionate and balanced political power base and will help in developing a homogeneous society in Pakistan over a period of time.

The writer is an ex-brigadier former

Fata secretary and home secretary

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Email: mahmoodshah @mahmoodshah.com

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