By Shafiq Awan
Parliament has approved the 18th Amendment, but it has inadvertently opened a Pandora’s box of issues; one of which is the creation of new provinces in the country. After a new debate over the issue was initiated, major political forces all clamoured in favour of new provinces, each toting their own agenda.
PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif, in a recent interview, admitted that there would be no harm in creating new provinces on an administrative basis instead of a linguistic one.
The MQM has already voiced support for the creation of new provinces because it suits the party – the creation of a new province consisting of the urban areas of Sindh has always been an MQM dream.
In fact, the MQM would stand to benefit the most from the creation of new provinces.
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani himself supports the creation of a Seraiki province and MPs from the Seraiki belt have tried their best to place this demand on the agenda of the constitutional reforms body. But President Asif Ali Zardari, foreseeing political complications in the issue, advised the reforms body to stay away from the question of new provinces.
Later, the PM said it was not the right time to press for a separate province, but he did support the demand for one. The PML-Q is supporting this move for political point scoring so it can garner some form of backing. The ANP’s major problem was Pakhtoonkhwa, and after achieving its goal, the party leadership has no objection to new provinces. But demanding the demarcation of new provinces on the basis of language – as the Hazara belt is calling for – will lead to a Seraiki province and a separate province for Pakhtoons in Balochistan and ultimately an Urdu-speaking province for the MQM.
If the proposal for a Hazara province goes through, the ANP will lose electricity-generating areas like Tarbela, Ghazi Brotha and Bhasha.
After the renaming of the NWFP, the Hazara belt has stood up for their rights with their movement for a separate province picking up momentum day-by-day. Different political parties are supporting this move for their own vested interests. The MQM and Tehreek-e-Insaaf are not taking part in the game, while the PPP has no interest in it at all, as the Hazara belt was never their piece of cake. The PML-Q has openly supported the move, while the PML-N finds itself in a peculiar fix, if they support a Hazara province then the next target would be the Seraiki province, if they oppose the separate province movement in Hazara they will lose an electoral stronghold.
PML-N dissident leader Javed Hashmi has already declared that if any demand for separate province was moved, he would stand up for a Seraiki province. Practically, the Sharifs have no love with the Seraiki belt and the area’s share in the provincial government’s development budget is very meagre. One reason for this might be that the Seraiki belt was never a favourite of the PML-N. In fact, the Punjab government policy makers consider this belt as extra luggage. This might be the reason that no mega project has been initiated in South Punjab by the Sharifs. The cynic elements in the PML-N say they have never been politically supported by the Seraiki belt, so if it demanded a separate province status, it should be opposed. But optimistic elements urge their leadership not to lose ground as it did in Sindh and Balochistan.
A half-backed idea was floated by some of Leaguers to rename Punjab as ‘Seraiki Punjab’ so the demand of a separate province could be suppressed. But this proposal could not muster support since the Sharifs rejected it out rightly.
The problem in the Seraiki belt is that it is divided between locals and settlers. Locals are demanding a Bahawalpur province, while the settlers – backed by Javed Hashmi and others – are demanding a Seraiki province.
However, the PML-N leadership has played its cards and has decided to put its weight behind the Hazara province movement. Although this decision was not unanimous and some leader had apprehensions that the PPP could support the Seraiki province move in Punjab as the PM and some cabinet members had public announced their support for it. If PML-N dissidents like Javed Hashmi join hands with the PM and his team for the creation of a Seraiki province, it will be hard for the party to handle the situation. However, the sycophants prevailed and the party opted to support the Hazara movement to save its vote bank in the belt. No doubt, the next election in the Hazara belt will be contested over a separate province. The party leadership in Hazara has been conveyed to slowly move into the movement.
The PPP was never a favourite in that valley, so it is not really bothered to jump in the race, however, the MQM might make that jump as its leadership is considering supporting Hazara province movement to fetch some support or to have a franchise in the area.
The Leaguers suggested that their leadership support the MQM if it demanded a separate province in Sindh. Perhaps Nawaz Sharif has some personal rivalry against the MQM, which is why he opposed this idea so vehemently that the mover was visibly embarrassed at making the suggestion.
The fact is, the 18th Amendment has open a ‘Pandora’s box’ and had NWFP’s new name included “abaseen or Hazara’, this current crisis might have been averted.