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August 17, 2018

No ‘roadblocks’ in creation of south Punjab province


August 17, 2018

ISLAMABAD: Lack of political will and possible constitutional roadblocks, impeding the likely creation of a new province in south Punjab is missing for the first time in decades as the longstanding demand may now win the obligatory legislative approval from the national and Punjab assemblies.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which, in collaboration with a host of allies, controls the National Assembly, has committed to ‘take practical and tangible steps for establishment of south Punjab as a separate province’ within 100 days after coming into power. The countdown will start from August 18 when Imran Khan will be sworn in as prime minister.

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which, otherwise, is in the opposition and is apparently staying away from the PTI-led ruling coalition, adopted the political slogan of carving a new province out of the Saraiki region since long and vowed to create it but was unable to do so in the past because of absence of adequate parliamentary strength.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has always been strongly opposed to have a new federating unit in Punjab, but during the last PPP government it was so much impelled by the pressure exerted by the PPP and others, and the fear of loss of public support from the Saraiki region that it too had sponsored a resolution in the Punjab legislature, dominated by it, calling for creation of the new province.

If the PML-N sticks to its policy of not allowing the establishment of another province and ignores any political damage in south Punjab, it can successfully block the move, undertaken by the PTI government, in the provincial assembly on the basis of its numerical power.

Even before his public pledge with a set of “electables” from south Punjab, gathered under the banner of Janoobi Punjab Sooba Mahaz (JPSM), in May prior to the July 25 elections with a view to garner the support of powerful figures, the PTI has been half-heartedly backing the demand for the new province. Neither it nor any other party or these “electables” ever moved a resolution in the National Assembly or agitated at any other forum to have a new federating unit in Punjab. Since Imran Khan’s solemn commitment with Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar led “electables”, no side has ever even slightly talked about this demand. It also found no mention in the election campaign of any contesting political party.

If the PTI translates its promise into reality to make Saraiki area south Punjab province, the PPP, despite its differences with the ruling party, will naturally stand with it as it has been highlighting this demand since long. If the three largest parliamentary parties-- PTI, PML-N and PPP--will join hand, the new province will be easily created.

However, all the stakeholders will have to be taken on board before taking such a huge plunge--dividing the majority province into two federating units. In the power structure, Punjab undeniably has a principal say, which no player can discount.

A constitutional amendment will be required to create the new province that will have to be passed by a two-thirds majority in both the National Assembly and Senate. Not only this, such a bill will have to be approved by the two-thirds majority of the Punjab Assembly. The PML-N, which emerged as the larges party in the polls, and the PTI dominate the provincial assembly while the PPP has a negligible presence.

Clause 4 of Article 239 deals with this issue and says 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 assembly of that province by the votes of not less than two-thirds of its total membership.

The provision makes it clear that a bill to make Saraiki belt a new province will have to be passed by the two-thirds majority not only in both the parliamentary chambers but also in the Punjab assembly. It will not be assented by the president unless it has earned the approval of the Punjab Assembly with the same huge majority of votes.

The article doesn’t provide for passage of a non-binding resolution in the Punjab Assembly. The National Assembly and Senate can approve such amendment, but it will not be enacted unless it has been passed by the provincial legislature.

If a new federating unit was now created, it would be after 48 years that another province would be established. In 1970, military ruler Gen Yahya Khan had abolished West Pakistan and formed the present four provinces. Political sloganeering apart, setting up of a new province out of the most populous and powerful federating unit will be a huge political task, which will not take place as easily as some may think. When in 2002 only the name of the then North-West Province (NWFP) was changed as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) during the previous PPP government, it had fueled a big storm. Some people had been killed in Abbottabad in the bloody mayhem as the people of Hazara had also demanded to declare their area as a separate province.

If the Saraiki province is established, the demand for restoration of Bahawalpur as the state may also surface. Voices have been raised though meekly over the past few years that the Bahawalpur state should be revived. Having another province has the potential of opening the Pandora’s Box.

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