By Babar Ayaz
Once again, the Nawab of Bahawalpur Salahuddin Abbasi has raised the demand to create a separate Bahawalpur province in the run up to the 2018 elections. A parallel Janoobi Punjab Suba Mahaz (JPSM), led by a young MNA, Khusro Bakhtiar, has also been established by some of the MNAs and MPAs of the area. Interestingly, it is also led by Balakh Sher Mazari. The latter is the chief of the Mazari tribe and his family has historically been winning elections from DG Khan.
The difference between the demands of the Nawab of Bahawalpur and the JPSM is that the advocates of the Mahaz are asking for a separate province on an ethnic basis that covers all the Saraiki speaking areas. Proponents of the restoration of the Bahawalpur province draw their strength from the fact that Bahawalpur was a province before the promulgation of the One Unit policy in Pakistan.
The demand for a Bahawalpur province has strong historical justification, if historical rights are of any value in Pakistan. The Ameer of Bahawalpur, Sadiq Muhammad Khamis Abbasi signed an Instrument of Accession with the Governor-General of Pakistan, MA Jinnah on the 5th of October 1947. While agreeing to accept the authority of the Federation of Pakistan, the Nawab highlighted in clause 7 of the document: Nothing in this Instrument shall be deemed to commit me in any way to the acceptance of any future Constitution of Pakistan or fetter my discretion to enter into agreement with the Government of Pakistan established under such future Constitution. A second Supplementary Instrument of Accession of the Bahawalpur State was signed by the Ameer of Bahawalpur Muhammad Sadiq and Governor General Khawaja Nazimuddin. The Civil Military Gazette May 1, 1951 read: “Status of Province to Bahawalpur”. Dawn’s headline on the same topic read: Bahawalpur on par with provinces – Amir signs new agreement, federal laws applicable.
This new province had its own legislature and high court. But then the One Unit emerged to deny the East Pakistanis their majority, while all provinces in West Pakistan were merged together. However, when General Yahya undid the One Unit scheme, Bahawalpur’s status as a province was not restored.
Meanwhile, the JPSM’s demand for a separate province is predicated on the basis of ethnicity, and covers all the Saraiki speaking areas which were not part of the initial Bahawalpur state.
This raises the question of why they are demanding provincial status for Bahawalpur and not clamoring for a separate Sariaki province which may draw more people to the movement since it will include the Multan and DG Khan Divisions as well? Almost all local political leaders, even if their party is supporting the demand for a Sariaki province, claim that the movement for a Bahawalpur province has historical legitimacy and is more likely to be successful.
Some leaders, moreover, have observed that advocates of a Sariaki province have not managed to get enough support in the Multan and DG Khan Divisions, and have bagged only a couple thousand votes in previous elections. ‘The Gilanis, Legharis and Khosas are not interested in carving out a separate province from the all-powerful Punjab,’ these leaders like to remind me. Perhaps, this time, the presence of the Mazari’s chieftain is an indication of changing winds. Understandably, it is not in the interest of the Punjabi establishment to allow a new province to emerge out of Punjab. At present, the population of the province is around 110 million, which is roughly 53 percent of Pakistan’s total population.
This gives it over-whelming power over the other three smaller provinces. According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, the mother tongue of around 17 percent of the people in Punjab is Saraiki. This means that there are 18.7 million Saraiki speaking people in Punjab, which makes the rest of Punjab’s population 91.3 million. If the JPSM’s demand is accepted and a new province is created, Punjab’s share in Pakistan’s population will fall down to around 44 percent. Accordingly, Punjab’s strength in the National Assembly would also be curtailed and its share in the federal divisible pool of taxes will also shrink by almost 10 percent. That indeed would make the Punjabi leadership resist the creation of a separate Saraiki speaking province. On the other hand, India has created nine more states since 1950 by dividing big states on a linguistic and administrative basis. These moves were naturally not without resistance, but the Indians have managed to sort out these issues and are likely to create new states in the future as well.
The proposition that the Bahawalpur or Sariaki divisions should be given the status of a separate province may sound tempting to the PPP-led coalition before the elections. But their problem is that they do not have the two-third majority required to amend the constitution. This could have been possible when the 18th Amendment was being passed if the movement for a separate province on the basis of historical rights had been picked up, and had the MNAs of the area stuck together. At present a separate province looks like a distant dream.
(The writer is the author of ‘What’s Wrong with Pakistan’ and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)