On PDM’s upcoming Multan rally and the question of Seraiki province
The debate on ethno-national politics has assumed a renewed significance with Pakistan Democratic Movement’s (PDM) politicking on several issues pertaining to provincial autonomy. These include the 18th Constitutional Amendment, control over natural resources, control of islands claimed by Sindh and Balochistan, unabated enforced disappearances and economic exploitation.
How will the PDM respond to the demand of Seraiki province in its Multan rally, scheduled for November 30? The PDM leadership in Multan is likely to capitalise on the ‘apparent lack of commitment’ from the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government to the creation of a Seraiki province.
The expected position of the PDM — particularly the stance of the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) — is being discussed among the local political circles.
To weigh the benefits of supporting the PDM, Seraiki Lok Saanjh organised a consultative meeting, on PDM Multan Rally and Struggle for Seraiki Province, on November 8 in Shadan Lund, some 50 kilometres from Dera Ghazi Khan. A good number of political activists, lawyers, students, educationists, journalists, poets and writers belonging to various parts of south Punjab attended the meeting.
The participants appreciated the PDM’s demand for instituting democratic, constitutional and parliamentary supremacy in the country. They also agreed to extend support to the PDM and participate in its Multan rally to rise the demand for a Seraiki province.
The speakers at the meeting said that it was vital to end the deprivation of the marginalised nations of Pakistan and give them equal rights and opportunities. In this regard, they demanded that a magna carta be agreed on the pattern of charter of democracy.
They said that the creation of the Seraiki province was possible only through “democratic, constitutional and parliamentary means”. A rich debate took place at the meeting with the participants agreeing that the bill passed by the Senate in 2013 for the creation of a new province was “a great milestone in the history of Seraiki movement”.
Rashida Bhutta, the president of the Aam Aadmi Tehreek, said that the voice for Seraiki province must be raised from “every democratic and constitutional platform – including the PDM”. She said that the agreement of three major political parties — the PPP, the PML(N) and the PTI — on creation of a new province in the Punjab was a “major breakthrough”.
“Despite all the differences”, she said, “engagement with the parliamentary parties is indispensable for the creation of Seraiki province”.
Zulfiqar Ali Lund, a freelance writer and social activist, praised “the role of the PPP for giving provincial autonomy through 18th Amendment in 2010” and making the demand for Seraiki province “a parliamentary question” by passing a bill in the Senate in 2013”. He underlined the significance of decentralised governance both for giving a “sense of inclusion to various ethnic groups” and “strengthening the federation”.
“Despite all the differences”, Bhutta said, “engagement with the parliamentary parties is indispensable for the creation of Seraiki province”.
Advocate Ibrahim Baig built on this by saying that the formation of the Seraiki province “would break the status quo and all its beneficiaries”. He said these beneficiaries included “the political parties constituting the PDM” and argued that “neither could afford to support the idea”.
“Despite all its sincerity with respect to creating the new province, even the PPP was not ready to call it the Seraiki province”, he said.
Bhutta, on the other hand, urged that Seraiki nationalist groups not to oppose these parties “merely in the name of the new province”.
Safdar Klasra, a senior journalist, lambasted the Seraiki nationalist groups who were “badmouthing the PPP”. Questioning their commitment, he accused them of “supporting and strengthening” the forces that were opposed to the creation of a Seraiki province.
PPP MPA Shazia Abid said that though the Seraiki-speaking area “was rich in terms of natural resources and contributions to the national economy, its people were living in extreme poverty and under-development”. She attributed this situation to “the political dominance of, and economic exploitation by central Punjab”.
“To put an end to this injustice”, she said, “the Seraiki province is necessary”. She noted, however, that the constitutional and parliamentary processes required for its creation were “a huge stumbling block”. She said that the hurdle could be overcome only through the “joint struggle of Seraiki activists and the PPP”.
Irshad Taunsvi, a Seraiki poet and fiction writer, too said that he believed that the PPP was the only parliamentary party whose “unwavering commitment” to the Seraiki cause and the province was “beyond doubt”. He commended the sustained intellectual efforts of local writers and artists in cultivating a Seraiki identity consciousness, which he said had “paved the way for the struggle for national rights and separate province”.
Dr Ahsan Wagha, a linguist, researcher and writer, lamented that the Seraiki people “didn’t have control over their educational institutions”, and so “their history and identity had been severely distorted”. He said the need for the creation of a Seraiki province had “become all the more important and immediate in the face of the increasing economic exploitation and cultural misrepresentation of the Seraiki waseb (motherland)”.
“The price of cultural and historical misrepresentation of a nation is far greater than its economic losses”, he warned.
While praising the resistance by Seraiki people against the bloody invasions of outsiders, he said Khooni Burj, Chowk Shaheedaan and graveyards of Multan were testimony to the sacrifices made for their waseb.
The meeting concluded with several resolutions including a strong condemnation of derogatory remarks about Punjabi language made by Fayyaz-ul-Hassan Chohan, the former Punjab information minister; the demand for creation of a provincial finance commission in the Punjab and awarding the due share of Rs 530 billion to the south Punjab; allocation of water share for Seraiki waseb by Indus River System Authority (IRSA); ending land allotment to non-local settlers in the name of Greater Thal Canal and hunting lands for Arab princes in Cholistan; stopping environmentally hazardous mining and factory projects in Dera Ghazi Khan; introduction of Seraiki as medium of instruction for primary education; institution of a special quota for the Seraiki students and youth in professional colleges and universities and in federal and provincial government jobs.
In its Multan rally, the PDM leaders will have to take into account the expectations of the Seraiki nationalists. Translating “commitment to the cause of the Seraiki people” into reality will be an uphill task.
The writer is a student of anthropology and history