NationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 16

Balancing the state structure

The federal government of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has finally decided to move ahead with the much-delayed and much-demanded bifurcation of the Punjab province and creation of the South Punjab province. In this regard, PTI Vice Chairman and Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, has announced tabling a move for the creation of the province in the Punjab Assembly, to be followed in the National Assembly and Senate of Pakistan.

The creation of a new province is part of the PTI government’s election manifesto upon which the party won considerable support from the region. It means that the creation of a new province in the south of the Punjab has been a very popular demand of the residents of the region. It is important to note that all mainstream political parties of Pakistan acknowledge the right of the residents of the southern parts of the Punjab to have their own province as well as its need. The parties include the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and more importantly, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), whose bastion has been the entire Punjab province. However, the PML-N’s words to support the creation of the South Punjab province by bifurcating the province, has never been matched by its action. The party has always run away from the genuine moves to create the new province. This is part of a well thought out strategy of the PML-N, because it knows the sentiments of the people of the South Punjab, which it in no way wants to hurt, fearing to lose a crucial electoral constituency. On the other hand, the PML-N knows that in the northern and central parts of the Punjab the people are against the creation of the South Punjab province while creating a new province would also be tantamount to dividing its political base without which it may not able to win a national or provincial election. This the PTI bigwigs know quite well, therefore, PTI Vice Chairman Qureshi has placed a political trap by asking the PML-N to support the party’s move to create the South Punjab province by voting for it in the National and Punjab assemblies. Passing a resolution for the creation of a new province first needs the nod of the provincial assembly, where the new province has to be created and it has to be passed by the National Assembly and the Senate of Pakistan in order to complete the process.

The PTI is playing politics as the time is quite important to launch the action for the creation of the new province. The PTI government, both at the Centre and the Punjab, what to say of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, has largely failed to improve the socioeconomic conditions and set a model of good governance. In the situation, raising the voice for the creation of the new province in the Punjab becomes important. Honestly, the PTI bagged a lot of votes on the slogan in the South Punjab region and if it further delays the process it is feared it would further lose the support of the locals.

Now the question remains: Whether the PTI’s renewed move to create the South Punjab province would see the light of the day? It is very much debatable and a lot would depend upon the respective interests of the mainstream political parties. At the moment, the two parties which matter in the creation of the South Punjab province, are the PTI and the PML-N. Both together have a two-thirds majority in the Punjab and National assemblies. Therefore, if they agree to create the new province, there could be no hurdles, whether the PPP, which has a good number of MPs in both National Assembly and Senate, opposes it or not. But the PPP has traditionally been quite supportive of the idea. In the situation, the PML-N does not seem to be quite interested in supporting the efforts of the PTI. The reasons have been explained but in the particularly temporal context, the PML-N would also not support the PTI to carve out a new province from the existing Punjab province for the basic reason that the credit would go to the PTI.

The PTI, on its part, has set the trap for the PML-N. Now if the PML-N supports the move, the PTI would get the lion’s share of the credit. On the other hand, if the PML-N refuses to support it, which most likely it would, the PTI would have the justification to tell the people in the South Punjab that it is basically the PML-N that does not want to create their province in a bid to secure political support from the region in the next election.

Without indulging into party interests, the creation of a new province in the Punjab has been very critically needed for a host of reasons. The foremost reason which, political observers across Pakistan have been pointing out for the bifurcating of the Punjab, has been to create a balance in the Pakistani federation. The Pakistani federation has always been the focus of debate because of its weird structure. Observers and researchers have pointed that the failure of governance in Pakistan at all levels and within all state institutions has fundamentally been due to the strange structure of the federation. The monstrous edifice of the Pakistani federation has been the relative sizes of the federating units and then the distribution of all state resources, jobs in civilian and military bureaucracies and the rest of state services on the basis of the population.

The demand for the creation of a South Punjab province is quite old and it was spearheaded by the Pakistan Seraiki Party, once led by the articulate and vocal politician Taj Muhammad Langa. The proposal to create a new province was also made by ex-Prime Minister Mir Zafar Ullah Jamali. He called for making three provinces in the Punjab in order to “save” the country. Again, Jamali made the suggestion after being shown the door ignominiously by his party, the PML-Q. He might also have realized that being the Prime Minister he could do nothing as he came from Balochistan, while his strings and the party’s leadership were in the hands of the Chaudhrys of the Punjab.

Even noted constitutional expert and lawyer, SM Zafar, favoured the idea and suggested doing homework on it. However, he had also advocated the division of all provinces into manageable units. If people, like Zafar, who during his lifetime was an icon of the dominance of the Punjab in Pakistan, supported the idea of dividing the Punjab province in the best interest of Pakistan, then the idea has a lot of substance. Earlier, the proposal of making more provinces in the country, especially in the most populated Punjab, came from former Prime Minister Malik Meraj Khalid, who also hailed from the province. People, like Meraj Khalid, were visionaries and they thought that the country could not be run through a highly lopsided power and resources distribution formula tilted highly in favour of one federating unit. They had felt that sham federalism and the highly centralized state structure would not work. But there earnest suggestions always fell on the deaf ears. The state institutions degenerated and became corrupt to a point where their rectification became almost impossible.

Now it is high time that the political leadership of the country realized its past mistakes and attempted to create a balance in the federation. Already, the political leadership has committed a grave mistake by merging the former FATA with the KP province, disturbing the balance in the federation.