Monthly Archives: April 2011

Political party launched for restoration of Bahawalpur province

Nawab Salahuddin Abbasi announcing launching of BNAP on April 14 at Sadiq Garh Palace, Ahmad Pur East

By Riaz Missen

Not many weeks have passed after Mr. Yusuf Raza Gilani announded to Jabalpur Pirwala on March 13, on the right bank of the Sutlej River, where he told a gathering that his party had made the mind about dividing Punjab and creating a new province comprising Seraiki regions, the regional forces have come together and formed Bahawalpur National Awami Party (BNAP) to remind him that the route to this end only passes through the restoration of the Bahawalpur province, which General Yahya Khan merged into Punjab when he announced the demise of One Unit in 1969. While the regionalists of the South Punjab think the formation of the BAP is the culmination point of their struggle against Takht-e-Lahore, the Seraiki nationalists have yet to know what boundaries the PPP has in mind for their proposed province.

The pro-province forces had become active right after the 2008 elections and the formation of coalition government in the Centre. The regional leadership reminded the PPP many times that its historic victory in Bahawalpur division was due to an understanding reached between the Nawab of Bahawalpur and Benazir Bhutto in London and not due to any change of hearts, but no clear assurance was made by the PPP leadership. The 18th amendment hurt the Bahawalpur leadership the most as Punjab, like many other provinces, got more resources and power without any assurance that the benefits would also reach to Bahawalpur as well.

Muhammad Ali Durani, who happens to be the only Senator from Bahawalpur, owes a lot credit to revive the movement for the restoration of Bahawalpur province. Though his activism brought him envy and contempt by the old lot who questioned his credentials and past conduct, but he remained determined and resolved in his mission. His ties with media, which he cultivated as information minister during Musharraf era, helped him to bring forth vital statistics regarding the plundering of the Bahawalpur resources as well as its marginalization in terms of funds. His arguments and presentations made the political temperature rise as the provinces moved for autonomy through NFC Award and 18th amendment. PML-F also threw its weight on the side of the movement for the restoration of Bahawalpur province.

Nawab of Bahawalpur, Salahuddin Abbasi, initially stuck to his family tradition and was not carried away by the passionate appeals of Durrani to lead the movement for long. He only issued cautiously drafted statements and a promise to come forward if 100,000 youth get registered with the movement. Meanwhile Muhammad Ali Durani brought ahead selling of some land and the railway track at throwaway prices. The statements of some PPP ministers for the creation of Seraiki province and their criticism vis-à-vis the Bahawalpur movement also pushed the Nawab to come into the public.

PPP not only failed on the promise of supporting the restoration of Bahawalpur but also it could not implement some projects which the PPP’s ex-chairperson had promised at the time he launched election campaign into Punjab. While addressing a public gathering at Rahimyarkhan, a few days after she had ended her self-imposed exile and landed in Karachi, she promised slashing interest on agricultural loans, construction of Nishtar Ghat bridge over Indus and provision of canal water at tail end.

The last visit of the Prime Minister in Bahawalpur and announcement for the Seraiki province added fuel to the fire. Muhammad Ali Durrani issued deadline and asked the premier to tell about the boundaries of the proposed province. Finding no response he broke the news that Nawab would announce ‘Bahawalpur Declaration’ on April 14. When the moment came and the people reached at Sadiq Garh Palace at Ahmadpur East in thousands, the Nawab in the presence of the regional leadership, belonging to all shades and colors, said the only way to bring the movement forward was the formation of a party.

Many questions have propped up vis-à-vis the launching of the Bahawalpur Awami Party. There is no question of its success in the upcoming elections both for the reason that the political leadership of the region is united and also that a strong sense of deprivation prevails among the people and they believe that the restoration of the provincial status is the only way out to get rid of extreme poverty and underdevelopment.

It is worth mentioning that there is clear understanding among the political leadership that the movement for the creation of Seraiki province is a ploy of the Peoples Party and that the issue has been just raised to make the Bahawalpur’s cause unachievable. The PML-N too can’t maintain its influence in Bahawalpur further as Nawab has said it very clearly that he would ensure that those who do politics for the cause other than the restoration of province got the political life ended.

The name of the political party suggests that Nawab has no political ambitions beyond Bahawalpur division. But the party influence may reach across three rivers (Sutlej, Panjnad and Sindh) which touch the Bahawalpur division. The districts like Mailsi, Lodhran and Rajanpur are closer to Bahawalpur rather than to Multan. There is history of these regions being attached to the ex-princely state before the occupation of Multan by Sikhs and later by the British.

Last but not the least: Nawab will have to look for political allies at national level. The Bahawalpur Awami Party will part of the Third Force that will simply uphold regional agendas and try their best to get politics take a consensual course. The Bahawalpur Awami Party can assume centre stage in the dialogue for raising alliance of regional parties.

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The battle for Punjab

The PPP has recently brought out its Seraiki card which it had been holding close to its chest since its birth. The premier recently said in Jalalpur Pirwala, a town on the right bank of Sutlej, that he is in favor of dividing Punjab on linguistic lines and that the new election manifesto of the party will include Seraiki province — to the very much anxiety of the regional leadership which expects from the party to support the revival of the defunct Bahawalpur province.

By Riaz Missen

Both the PPP and MQM are going to redraw their manifestos. The PPP Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari has constituted a 10-member committee and Farooq Sattar, the central leader of the Karachi-based MQM, has announced the constitution of Central Council to achieve their respective ends. Both the political parties are partners in the government at provincial (Sindh) and federal level though the MQM has declined to accept any portfolio.

The PPP is the largest political party of the country. The problem with the MQM is that it is identified as the party of Urdu-speaking migrants confined to the urban areas of Sindh. Its hold on Karachi gives it edge over the mainstream political parties of the country given the mega city’s position as the provincial capital as well as the business hub of the country.

Though the minutiae of the changes in the manifestos of the PPP and the MQM will come out as the committees set up for the purpose will brood, deliberate and discuss the matter, the interests and orientations of the two parties are already in the limelight. While the PPP wants to hold on to its position as the largest political party of the country, the MQM cherishes the dream of its expansion beyond the urban areas of Sindh. The Punjab is the most treasured political destiny its leadership wants to reach out. The party leadership also wants to shed the ethnic image of the country and, therefore, the new manifesto will certainly be drafted keeping it in mind.

The MQM is in a sense one of its kind given the nature of its interests and the agenda it wants to carry on. If one sets aside its ethnic orientations, as its opponents blame, the fact remains that it’s the support-base which constitutes urban areas. The language and thoughts of its leadership clearly indicate that it is not yet thinking about bridging the communication gap between the cities and the countryside. The image of the rural areas which they carry with them is the one dominated by feudal, tribal and spiritual chieftains who, they believe, are answerable for prevalent ignorance and poverty.

The MQM is likely to project itself as a knight in shining armor and deliverer through the new manifesto. Ending feudalism is its long-cherished goal now as has been the case in the past. It is very well-understood by the party leadership that its further expansion will be resisted by the powerful agriculturalist lobby heavily present in the mainstream political parties like the PPP, the PML-N, the ANP and their religious and ethnic associates. Overall, the MQM is pitted against all who matter in the politics of Pakistan.

The PPP, of course, represents the landed interests. It has a genuine interest in the urban areas of Sindh and the Punjab and for that matter it lures the laborers and working classes in the cities. Sindhi and Seraiki nationalists are its natural allies since the times of its inception. In the countryside it wants status quo and has a genuine interest in pushing the landless and the marginalized to the nearby towns and cities as a matter of externalizing the conflict in the rural side.

The PPP is almost out in the big cities of Sindh and only Multan has become it bastion in the Punjab. How to gain control of the urban/industrial region in the two above-mentioned provinces remains its cherished goal and this desire is likely to figure in the revised manifesto of the party. It is the point where the two parties’ interest is going to clash with one other. The MQM is not going to hand over Karachi and Hyderabad to any political party and is up to competing them in the Punjab as well.

The PPP has recently brought out its Seraiki card which it had been holding close to its chest since its birth. The premier recently said in Jalalpur Pirwala, a town on the right bank of Sutlej, that he is in favor of dividing Punjab on linguistic lines and that the new election manifesto of the party will include Seraiki province — to the very much anxiety of the regional leadership which expects from the party to support the revival of the defunct Bahawalpur province. The PPP has found an unexpected ally in the form of the ex-ruling party, PML-Q, which has floated the idea of dividing the Punjab to create a province for its southern parts though it is against doing so on ethnic or linguistic lines.

As for the MQM, it is all in favor of new provinces. It is one step ahead of the PPP in the sense that it pleads the re-demarcation of the boundaries of the existing provinces. The PPP prefers status-quo in this regard and it is only lately that it has supported dividing the Punjab. Though the premier in his aforementioned address in Bahawalpur had also announced support for the ‘small provinces’, it is not yet clear whether he meant by it strengthening the position of the existing smaller provinces or the creation of new ones like Hazara.

The MQM aspires for carving out a province out of Sindh and its desire found some expression in the form of the district government system which it welcomed and gained a virtual hold over Karachi, but abolition of this system by the PPP in Sindh and elsewhere has frustrated it. It is quite natural that this party wants a space outside of Sindh to make its voice effective in the decision-making process of the country. Given its bitter experience in the past, the MQM will avoid reviving any demand for creation of a province essentially comprising Karachi till it finds its support-base out of Sindh. So the Punjab has become vital for it after the abolition of the local government system and indefinite postponing of the polls.

The PPP seems ultimately convinced it can’t take over Takht-e-Lahore given the presence of PML-N and the wide support of the media and establishment available to it. All of its reconciliation policy has ended up its alliance with the PML-N in the Punjab. The South Punjab, a mainstay of the party, feels now frustrated and is all up to getting rid of Takht-e-Lahore. The move to divide the Punjab, however, may backfire.

The PML-N may overcome its foot-dragging and re-condition its motivation to this end as a measure to avoid commotion and mayhem due to concentration of desperate interest in Punjab and to revive its claim as a national-level party, it may negotiate a constitutional amendment with the government and its ethnic allies for some formula to create new provinces. Language can be one factor but not the sole criteria for dividing a province. The 7th NFC Award can serve as the best guide. If it decides so, the PML-N may be next party to announce its next manifesto right now.