Zahid Malik

Monday, April 26, 2010 – Creation of more provinces in Pakistan, particularly in the Punjab, is an old demand which had been raised many a time not only by politicians of some parts of the Province but from those in other Provinces as well apparently on the plea that it enjoys undue influence in the Federation due to its bigger size, population and vast resources. Because of this, the Province has been coming under strong criticism with charges from other federating units that the Punjab with more than half of the majority in the National Assembly plays the dominant role in the formation of government and was thus ‘ruling’ them. To offset this irritating impression even before separation of East Pakistan, there were suggestions to carve out at least one more province out of the Punjab.

However, the renaming of the NWFP as Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa has reignited the demand for more provinces. The procession of jubilant Pakhtoons in Peshawar shook Hazara Division like an earthquake and people came out of their homes to registertheir strong protest over losing their identity and becoming, as they say, ‘slaves’ of the Pakhtoons. Over a dozen people lost their lives during protests. The beauty of a democratic polity should be that people express their grievances in a peaceful manner and their aspirations are given due consideration at the political level but the situation in Hazara went out of hand, is becoming more volatile, due to poor handling by the administration and its exploitation by the vested interests as mainstream political parties found themselves at the receiving end.

In my opinion, the issue of renaming of the NWFP was mishandled and its fuller implications were not given due consideration when President Asif Ali Zardari started endorsing the renaming of the NWFP much earlier. It was quite expected when the renaming issue was being considered by the Constitutional Reforms Committee that this would open a Pandora’s box and there would be no end to demands from other ethnic groups for creation of provinces for them.

However, I fully appreciate that Pakhtoons were within their legitimate right to demand a name, which gives recognition to their identity in the Constitution of Pakistan. It is, however, a matter of serious concern that the change of the name has reignited the demand for the establishment of more provinces. Voices are also loud not only from the Sairaiki belt but also a movement is brewing up which if not attended to promptly may create law and order situation and destabilize the already precarious law and order situation. Similarly, some stray voices have come from the Potohar region and from some segments of interior Sindh and Balochistan where people have started talking about their own provinces so that they could also get their due identity and rights. In fact the culture of identity, more rights and greater autonomy has recently gripped a vast majority of our people. I am not sure whether it was just a coincidence or by design. It is in this perspective that even those who always advocated a strong Centre, now concede to the necessity of giving more autonomy to provinces. Strong provinces mean a strong Pakistan, is a new buzzword.

But, giving identity to a particular region is a crucial issue and has the potential of turning into a grave crisis as convergenceof consensus of all political parties on the creation of a new province appears to be a Herculean task.

In our neighbouring country, India, where there are 27 States and seven union territories, demands are all around for carving out more States from the existing ones. Indian East Punjab was trifurcated in 1966 leading to the formation of Haryana and Himachal Pradesh States. A strong movement is on in Andhra Pradesh nowadays for the creation of Telangana State and 13 State Ministers from that region sent their resignation letters to Italian-born Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, demandingfixation of a deadline for carving out a separate State for them.

Coming back to domestic situation, I would say that a strong lobby had been making demand for a Sairaki Province in South Punjab since the adoption of 1973 Constitution, but it did not enjoy the popular public support at that point of time. However after the 2008 elections, MNAs from South Punjab, irrespective of their party affiliations, unanimously raised their concerns alleging that this part of the Punjab was somewhat neglected and kept underdeveloped by successive regimes. Mr. Muhammad Ali Durrani, a Minister in the Musharraf regime, who was previously considered to be a moderate voice and a soft-spoken humble politician, suddenly came up with the loud demand for restoration of Bahawalpur State as a new province. Indeed he is representing the Bahawalpur region well.

Now, the renaming of the NWFP as Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa, albeit done with consensus, has created an entirely new situation. According to 1998 census the population of the Province was 17.7 million and today it is around 20 million, of which more than 30% are non-Pushto speaking and their views cannot be ignored.

The adoption of the 18th Amendment is a proof of an atmosphere of reconciliation in our national politics which shows maturity to address lingering issues with consensus. Therefore, I would say that it would be in line with the mainstream national thinking of the day to sort out the issues which had been agitating the minds of the people of Pakistan since long and the issue of creation of more provinces is one among them and requires urgent attention of the Peoples Government.

In this perspective after having given a lot of consideration to various implications, ground realities and after interacting with some of the stakeholders, I have come to the conclusion that there should be nine provinces in Pakistan. Yes, I mean nine provinces.

I am suggesting this despite being fully aware of the fact that there would be strong opposition from the Central Punjab, Balochs of Balochistan, Sindh and even in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa over my advocacy for the new provinces and, perhaps, may also be misunderstood by some quarters. But as said earlier it is time that all pending major issues should be resolved now as the incumbent Government led by Prime Minister, Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, has the potential, capability and strength to address the fcritical issues which were not given due consideration in the past. The prevailing atmosphere of reconciliation and taking difficult decisions, if lost now, would perhaps not be available to the future governments and the opposition after the next general elections. So it is of utmost importance that the Government and political leadership must take the bull by the horns and make the people realize that it has the will and capacity to take difficult decisions. The action will also see a positive improvement so far as security of the region is concerned from Pakistan’s point of view.

Punjab: As mentioned in the preamble of these comments, I propose that in view of its size, population and resources, two more provinces be carved out one in Sairaki belt and the other in Pothohar region stretching from Attock to Jhleum.

Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa: It may embrace another province to meet the rising demand of Hazara people whose sensitivities have indeed been badly bruised.

Sindh: Keeping in view the size and diversity of population and other considerations, particularly the difficulties of the Sindhis belonging to interior Sindh who have to frequently visit far-flung Karachi too need a new administrative unit. Therefore, I propose the creation of Mehran Province with Larkana as its capital. This would be of great convenience to the people of interior Sindh in Ghotki, Sukkur, Nowsherhro Feroz, Khairpur, Nawabshah, Sanghar, Kashmore, Sanghar and Tharparkar.

Balochistan: This Province is larger in size than any other province of the country and needs more attention for its development and exploitation of its vast natural resources. Poor law and order machinery is responsible for the present state of uncertainty there. Though there are many ethnic and tribal groups, and even so-called settlers in spite of facing target killings, remain a sizeable population of the Province yet the main two are Balochs and Pakhtoons. Thus another province may be carved out for Pakhtoons who need to be brought in the mainstream politics of Balochistan. It will be indeed a strategic decision.

I hope the Government would like to consider these suggestions at some appropriate time and forum. These suggestions have been made after fully realizing the political implications, possible resentment among the affected people and burden on meagre resources of the country. To cater for the financial needs which must always be given due consideration, I would point out that the Constitution has fixed the size of the Federal and Provincial Cabinets. The 18th Amendment envisages that the total strength of the Federal Cabinet including Ministers and Ministers of State shall not exceed 11% of the total membership of Parliament. In case of Provincial Cabinets, it says that their strength will not exceed 15 members or 11% of the total membership of the Provincial Assembly concerned, whichever is high.

After the removal of concurrent list from the Constitution, it is also necessary that pruning of ministries/divisions/departments may be carried out and drastic measures taken to get rid of anemic and redundant departments and others merged with tight administrative and financial controls at the Federal level.

Similarly in the provinces, there should be smart Cabinets consisting of political representatives and, if I may say, some technocrats as well. Though under the 18th Amendment the restriction on size of the Cabinets would apply after next general elections yet I would urge that in view of the precarious financial conditions of the country the size of Federal and Provincial Cabinets should not be more than twenty Ministers at the most. It is not necessary to make every MPA a Minister just for the sake of pleasing him with a sinecure office. Inclusion of some Technocrats in different fields would deliver better to the people across the board as they would have no worries about securing votes from their constituents. Administered well small administrative units will usher in a new era of hassle-free good governance which is the need of the hour.

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