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Talk of a new province

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The Nation.

The ad hoc nature of President Zardari’s announcement of a Seraiki province can be seen from the gyrations being undertaken by Prime Minister Gilani, who during a visit to Bahawalpur on Saturday is supposed to have met the man who would have been Nawab of Bahawalpur, Prince Salahuddin Abbasi, as well as Makhdum Ahmad Mahmood, whose late father Hasan Mahmood was the last Prime Minister of the state. The proposed province does not have an obvious capital, with Bahawalpur as much a candidate as the Prime Minister’s native Multan. It is not clear whether the proposed province is to consist of just Multan and Dera Ghazi Khan Divisions, or to include Bahawalpur Division, which was until the creation of One Unit in 1955 a princely state. Bahawalpur activists are pressing for the restoration of the state as a separate province. It seems as if the claim of Multan to be the new provincial capital is being given up as the price of bringing Bahawalpur into the proposed province.

However, there is an increasing awareness that the PPP has not taken up the Seraiki province’s cause because it has any love lost for the people of such a province, but because the PPP not only lacks any other plank to fight the next election, but has no means of defending its record, and would also like to break Punjab, where it feels that it has no chance of coming into power if it remains one province. On the other hand, the creation of a Seraiki province would mean that there would be one province with a virtually built-in PPP majority. This of course assumes that the PPP can create a new province in the present assembly configuration. President Zardari should keep in mind that the country does not exist to serve his convenience, and that a new province requires being paid for, some source of funding for the army of ministers and the full panoply of bureaucrats, not to mention the excesses that will be committed to compensate for alleged past injustices.
The creation of a new province will lead to the asking of questions by other sub-nationalist movements. It must not be forgotten that every province has a separatist movement, and all of them want separate provincial identities for themselves. If the PPP thinks itself clever to call for the break-up of Punjab on linguistic grounds, it should not forget that its own stronghold of Sindh is itself vulnerable on the same grounds, and there matters are more advanced than in the Seraiki areas of Punjab, which have yet to decide on a capital. If the PPP insists on playing with fire, it must not complain when its fingers are burnt.

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