With the Pakistani general election around the corner, the debate on creation of new provinces in Pakistan is gaining momentum among the political parties and the media. Demands include the creation of Hazara and Seriaki provinces, partitioning of the Pakhtun areas of Balochistan and merging them with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province, division of the Sindh province, and enabling the creation of Karachi as a separate federal unit. This article attempts to sum up the arguments on the issue drawing from the viewpoints of three prominent Pakistani dailies: Dawn, Daily Times and The News International. The most outstanding question is whether “the debate is a serious attempt at resolving a contentious issue or an exercise in point-scoring and obtaining political mileage.” (The debate on new provinces, Abrar Kazi and Zulfiqar Halepoto, Dawn, 10 January 2012).
The demand for more provinces and provincial autonomy re-emerged with the coming of the new government and the passing of the 18th amendment in the year 2010. The dream of creating a new province was seen as translating into reality in the Seraiki-speaking area when the Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani stated that his government was determined to set up a new province in the Seraiki belt. Gilani said “creation of new provinces was the need of the hour and if a Saraiki province was not created during the tenure of a Saraiki-speaking prime minister, when would it happen, if ever?” (The issue of new provinces, Editorial, Daily times, 5 January 2012) Also, the Punjab Governer Sardar Latif Khan Khosa said that the long deprived area of southern Punjab must get its due share. The demand for new provinces has led to a coalition between the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-azam (PMLQ), who are the advocates of Southern Punjab and Hazara provinces respectively. However, this part of the political discourse has often been seen as a bargaining tool used by the PPP in Punjab, where Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is already running the show. (Move for Seraiki province gains momentum, Khawar Ghumman, Dawn, 3 August 2011)
Similar demands have also arisen from the Hazara Province Movement Committee (HPMC) which propounds the creation of the Hazara province. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf also considers the creation of the Hazara province a topmost priority. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) is keen on the creation of the new provinces Hazara and Seraiki, which they say will help to eliminate differences. This has led to a rift among the Awami National Party (ANP) and the MQM, as the members of ANP feel this is nothing but a political stunt by the MQM, which enjoys zero representation in the provincial assemblies of both Pakhtunkhwa and Hazara.
The question is whether the provinces should be made on an administrative basis or on ethno-linguistic lines. In the words of Mazar Arif, “New provinces, if created, will in fact be new ‘federating units’ representing social, cultural, linguistic and historical values and the aspirations of their respective peoples in the federation of Pakistan.” This complements the cultural and linguistic rights guaranteed under the constitution. (Seraiki province debate, Dawn, 15 August 2011).
Favouring the demand for federation, specially on the basis of ethno-linguistics, Dr Tariq Rahman said such a move would “reduce ethnic conflict, prevent Punjab from dominating the smaller federating units, make administration efficient, ensure that people do not have to travel long distances to get justice, and give all units a stake in the system.” (Linguistics and new provinces, Dawn, 9 July 2009).
However, many have also registered their reservations. Saleem Safi opines that provinces based on the criterion of ethnicity would cause further destabilization. Adopting this yardstick would push Balochistan to demand some regions currently under the administrative control of Sindh and Punjab to be declared its integral parts. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa will scramble to obtain the western parts of Balochistan. Such reorganization will not get Hazaras the status of a new province as most of the Hindko-speaking tribes there are ethnic Pakhtuns. A linguistic division will also become problematic as no part of the country can be declared a single language unit. (Make new provinces, The News International, 26 April 2010).
Parties like ANP, PML-N, and the army are in support of the creation of new provinces done in a constitutional and democratic way on an administrative basis and with having an equal formula (based on population, area, resources, sources of income etc) that will be applicable to all parts of the country.
The opposition leaders feel that the provinces should not come into being as a result of political jugglery where the parties are trying to divert the attention of the people from issues like shortage of gas, power and price hike.
Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam and the Sindhi nationalists are against the creation of new provinces. This is because the former thinks that in the wake of the financial crisis the division of the country should be kept aside, while the latter fears that MQM is trying to divide Sindh by flexing its muscles in the interiors after having gained considerable influence in urban areas.
The creation of new provinces must take into consideration the concerns of the people rather than being just a political stunt for the election. The proponents for the creation of provinces should also pay respect to the constitution’s Article 239 (4) which “lays down that no bill to amend the constitution that would have the effect of altering the limits of a province can be presented to the president for assent unless it has been passed by the provincial assembly of that province by a two-thirds majority. It then also requires a two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament in order to pass muster.” (The issue of new provinces, Editorial, Daily Times, 5 January 2012). Such an important matter of carving out provinces mandates the active participation of both political parties and civil society.