Will there be a consensus?

March 22, 2020

Tensions between mainstream political parties deepen on the issue of a province for Seraikis but they reiterate that they won’t settle for anything less than their demands

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi (R) addressing a press conference on March 14 on the creation of South Punjab province

"Ghin Te Rahsoon sooba Seraikistan"  (We will stop only once we get Seraikistan province) is a slogan found on many a wall in South Punjab. Mainstream political parties often tap into the desire of separate province for Seraikis to strike a chord with the population and get votes. Seraikis want Multan, Bahawalpur and Dera Ghazi Khan divisions, Layyah and Bhakkar districts to be made into an autonomous province. They believe that if a budget is not announced for South Punjab separately it will continue to be deprived and central Punjab would benefit at its expense. All political parties acknowledge the need for the province but none has delivered on the promises. In 2013, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) presented a bill in the Senate for the creation of a South Punjab province comprising Multan, Dera Ghazi Khan and Bahawalpur divisions besides Bhakkar and Mianwali districts of Sargodha division. Seraiki nationalists and Seraiki parties also demand the inclusion of Dera Ismail Khan district of KP.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz presented a bill for the creation of two provinces: South Punjab and Bahawalpur province. It is said that PML-N doesn’t want the Punjab to be divided because the leadership of PML-N wants to rule the entire region from Rawalpindi to Rajanpur.

“The creation of a Seraiki province would not only address the issue of deprivation but also the issue of cultural identity”, says Abdul Majeed Kanjoo president of Seraiki National Party (SNP).

The case of the Seraiki people has also been acknowledged by Pakistan Oppressed Nations Movement (PONM) which recognises the Seraikis as one of the five indigenous ethnicities of the country. “The survival of many a political bigwig and party lies in creation of the province but not a single party has approached the issue with sincerity,” he says.

Tahir Pervaiz, a PML-N parliamentarian and member of the Punjab Assembly denies that his party would not support the division of the Punjab. He says that the PML-N would support if the province is created on administrative basis. “PTI is the party of u-turn. They are not serious in the creation of the province. They’d promised that in first 100 days they would create the province. They didn’t even initiate a debate in the Punjab Assembly for the creation of the province. If they table the bill in Punjab Assembly, the PML-N would support it,” he says. He says that the PML-N has also been working for restoration of Bahawalpur state as a province.

Momina Wahid, a PTI politician and member of Punjab Assembly says that creation of South Punjab was a province in the manifesto of PTI. “PTI won the election and will fulfill the promise. But the coronavirus pandemic is a priority right now. The government is working on this issue rather that creation of the province,” she says.

“The creation of South Punjab province is not possible without a two-thirds majority in Senate, National and Provincial Assemblies. Unfortunately, the PTI believes in political victimization. How will they get support from the PML-N and the PPPP?” asks Rukhsana Kausar, an MPA of PML-N.

However, Seraiki nationalists are not ready to accept the creation of a South Punjab secretariat as an alternative. “We want a Seraiki province province comprising 21 districts based on shared language, culture and history including Tank and Dera Ismail Khan. We will not accept any other name except Seriaikistan,” says Abdul Majeed Kanjoo, the chairperson of Seraiki National Party.

In a recent press conference Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had said that some rumors were circulating about a secretariat being established in Bahawalpur. The fate of the secretariat, he said, would be decided by assembly of the province adding that the PTI was sincere about the creation of the province and for the welfare of the people, the PTI will talk to opposition parties and request their support for the province.

The author works for The News . He can be contacted at  [email protected]

Will there be a consensus?