Monthly Archives: August 2011

I’m just playing, my lord!

By Riaz Missen

Once, a child was digging a hole in the sand. A passerby asked him as to why he was doing such a labor. “It is for the one who will dig a hole for me,” was the reply. “If no one digs a hole for you ……,” the stranger enquired. The child smiled and said: “I am just playing, my lord”

But the children neither have the energy nor do they have interest in digging the sand too deep. Such games are associated with the youngsters living near beaches. Many times it is great fun; other times tides of the sea cause accidents, as well.

In this wonderland of Pakistan, the premier dug a hole in the sand of Punjab this March by showing the intention to reintroduce the ‘Saraiki province’ riddle in country’s politics. He, in his share innocence, disturbed not only Takht-e-Lahore but also sent shocking waves to the other provincial capitals as well. Reaction to the idea of creating more provinces can be gauged by the situation in Karachi where ethnic tensions have pushed the city on the verge of anarchy.

While the premier remains faithful to the two-nation theor, he showed a determination to challenge the four-nation idea (by adding Sariki to it) that has, rightly or wrongly, gained enough grounds since 1969, when Yahya Khan nursed the rebirth of the existing administrative units.

Creating provinces is the job of the federation. The countries around Pakistan have taken such steps without creating any ripple in the politics. India’s example is there. This neighbor has multiplied the number of its federating units by four. The Punjab it had at the time of partition has been divided into three provinces. Iran and Afghanistan with lesser population have more provinces than Pakistan. Then what the whole fuss is about?

Actually, the very act of recreating four provinces is still to be rationalized. The legitimacy of the decision of a dictator to add the princely states to the then NWFP, Punjab and Sindh has to be scrutinized in details. Why Baluchistan States Union was welded with the Baluchistan Commissionerate, is a question that has to be answered. Such mysteries need to be understood in the backdrop of the proposal of GM Sayyed to merge Rahimyar Khan district into Sindh. Too, there is question as to why general elections were not held after the dismemberment of the country. Why the country did not went to polls after signing the Constitution?

Yahya Khan certainly pleased four ethnic groups that were active in politics by adding princely states to the territories they claimed. This step laid the foundation of the four-nation theory which is still operative in the country. The so-called consensus constitution (1973) also accommodated the concerns of the religious right by retaining the Objectives Resolution as its preamble blocking the way of the country claiming a secular and pluralist identity.

The question as to why the present administrative units were created is still to be answered. Had Yahya Khan such brains to understand the consequence of the action he was taking? Certainly, he did not. Pakistan, due to ethnicity gaining grounds, has not been able to have a kind of nationalism that the neighboring powers practice. The people take pride in their ethnicity, based on linguistic affiliations, rather. Some important development projects have been postponed due to the reason that some provinces oppose them. Crime, extremism and corruption are other evils that the bigness of the provinces has bred.

Coming to the hurdles in the way of Saraiki province, the first and foremost is that it is not easy to amend the constitution. Provincialism does not allow the governments to sign their death warrants. The kind of support Saraiki nationalists extend to the Sindhis and Blauchis, their counterparts are too ineffective to make their dreams come true. Yes, it is a big leap forward that the PPP has, for the first time, endorsed the idea of a Saraiki province, but it has no say in Punjab affairs and does not command absolute majority in the Parliament.

Every talk about creating more provinces in the country, especially in Punjab, has caused ethnic tensions in Karachi — as the case is right now. So PPP is inherently not the right party to take forward the idea of dividing Punjab. The Baluchistan assembly has cast away any proposal of dividing it given the demand of the ANP to attach Pushtoon districts and regions to the KPK as a condition to include DI Khan in the proposed Saraiki province.

Probably the PPP has realized that the idea of Saraiki province is impractical. Gilani met Shahbaz Sharif in Lahore, after returning from Saudi Arabia (where he performed Umrah). So when he visited Multan recently to inaugurate newly constructed bypass, he did not mention Saraiki province at all. Rather, he talked about South Punjab — the idea which the PML-Q supports.

PM’s U-turn on Saraiki province may disturb the nationalists of the Southern Punjab but he knows very well about their strength — not a single gathering has taken place in favor of his statement in Jalalpur Pirwala. The politics is art of the possible. There is no use of digging holes in the sand. So the premier may go ahead with his amended idea. He may even look toward the more practical one — the Multan province.


Multan offers no choice, either

Premier Gilani , perhaps, believes that after spending the whole funds of Southern Punjab on Multan, his city now qualifies for the position to be the centre of regional politics. Gossips are there that his son has started receiving the protocol of the chief minister of the province his father has proposed.

By Riaz Missen

Does someone among you remember the times when Shahbaz Sharif used to sing the verses of Habib Jalib? He used to warn of bloody revolution if the problems of the commoners were not duly addressed.

Sharifs as well as the rest of the political clans that emerged successful in the 2008 general elections have prolonged their rule without bringing any positive change in the lives of the people.

Not only the opponents of the General Pervez regime have entered into the corridors of power, but also his staunch ally is also in the ruling camp.

For all this, everybody should be thankful to the reconciliatory politics of Mr. Asif Ali Zardari, who proudly says he is a businessman and wants to make the country a hub of regional trade, for taking all and sundry on board while he is in the driving seat.

One of Zardari’s unique choices is premier Gilani, who has been tasked, other than heading cabinet meetings and taking hold of the seat of the House of the Leader in Parliament, dealing with Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of the province which he belongs.

Lahore and Multan both have benefited during last three years. At least Rs.32 billion has been spent on the premier’s home town. How much Lahore has consumed? You just imagine. The lions deserve more share than any body in the jungle. Does any body have statistics of the expenditure on the Ring Road?

One is not sure whether Multan needs more next time. All the efforts of the premier are now for Southern Punjab, which understandably has suffered during past sixty-four years as well as during the times Sharifs are in-charge of the province.

God knows what came into his mind that he announced this March the plan to create Saraiki province, in Jalalpur Pirwala, a town on the northern bank of the Sutlej River that falls in the constituency of his brother. The first and immediate reminder came from nowhere but from the other side of the river: “Bahawalpur will go its own way”.

Premier Gilani thinks, perhaps, believes that after spending the whole funds of Southern Punjab on Multan, his city, now qualifies for the position to be the centre of regional politics. Gossips are there that his son has started receiving the protocol of the chief minister of the province his father has proposed.

Mr. Gilani has amended his stance a little bit on August 14 when he was in his hometown to inaugurate a project completed in record time of one year. He did not mention ‘Saraiki province’ in his speech, but repeatedly talked about Southern Punjab. He did say that the politics of reconciliation will continue, but it should not be taken as the sign of his government’s weakness.

How Takht-e-Lahore has responded to the call of dividing Punjab? The PML-N has come up with a plan to create four provinces rather raising hopes in Potohar, Thal and Bahawalpur. Besides that, it has started paying more attention to Sindh where PPP-MQM alliance has become a cause of outrage among the Sindhi nationalists and they are up in sleeves in Karachi and elsewhere in the province.

I am not against Multan or Multanis, but it is fact that I belong to the other side of the Sutlej River where people are trying to adjust with the ground realities that have surfaced after the drying up of this perennial stream.

Being pressed hard by the hot winds blowing from Thar Desert, which Bahawalpur makes a part, does not mean that we will cross over to Multan, for it will take enough time to undo our belief that Multanis are swindlers. Why they simply don’t talk about ‘Multan province’? If politics is about material interests, why it should be done in the name of language/ ethnicity?

Decentralisation must for sustainable growth

The political forces have done a commendable job by decentralizing administrative and fiscal resources on to the provinces but the benefits have ultimately to be passed on to the regions lying far off the provincial capitals — Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta and Karachi. It is vital to invest powers in the hands of the people so that they can decide about the issues related with the socio-economic development of their specific regions.

By Riaz Missen

Political parties of Pakistan, after doing wonders like NFC Award, provincial autonomy and the restoration of Parliamentary supremacy through 18th amendment in the Constitution, seem to be in hurry to undertake another uphill task: redrawing boundaries of the four provinces, established through a decree of General Yahya Khan in 1969, with the effect that some new federal units are created. While this step is vital for the proper management of the state vis-à-vis law and order and sustainable economic development, the only issue to be settled is the criteria to form a province.

Since March 13 when Premier Gilani, in Jalalpur Pirwala, announced support of his party for Saraiki province, no solid opposition to the idea of  creating more provinces has come to the forth but public opinion stands sharply divided as to whether the new provinces should be carved out on linguistic / ethnic basis or not.

The PML-N has raised the question as to why only Punjab should be divided, that too on ethnic grounds. While its leadership says Punjab should be divided into five provinces, the other provinces should also undergo this change for the sake of good governance. Within the Saraiki belt, the leadership of Bahawalpur has unanimously drawn lines and has vowed to resist any move other than reviving the region’s provincial status. 

Pakistan has been embroiled too much in the international politics since its inception and has been serving the role of frontline state for the liberal world led by America. The complexity of relations between two of Pakistan’s giant neighbors, India and China, and the US interest in the region kept Pakistan’s decision-makers too much obsessed with international politics. While the country was made to serve the interest of everybody around, its own people kept on suffering from poverty, disease and injustice.

When the situation has eased on international front and Pakistan finds a space to maneuver, its economy is simply in tatters. Except few – telecommunication, banking, oil and gas — all sectors of economy are in dire straits. The worst damage has been done to the economy and environment as population has increased six fold and blind exploitation of natural resources has disturbed the desired balance in the nature. The mismanagement of natural resources turned streams, lakes and rivers polluted; the forest cover has become too thin to sustain a fast growing population.

The hydrological facts are changing fast making the country swing between floods and droughts. The worrisome monsoon trend, whereby it has started earlier than the time and hit new regions and abandoned the others, has grave vis-à-vis human settlements, health and food. The climate change can put humans and wildlife on flight either due to droughts or floods.

When agriculture, the main source of country’s livelihood, seems to be unsustainable, one can’t aspire for the growth of industry and, consequently, jobs. No government, no matter who is in charge, can guarantee peace and security, whether internal or external, when economy keeps on sinking down. The crime rate — name it militancy, robbery, black-marketing or whatever one may like —is bound to rise in this situation. Investors will be shy of developing stakes in the country and foreign direct investment is simply unimaginable.

The mismanagement of natural resources and their irrational use has dangerous implication for the integrity of the state. It is certainly a time to rethink security when the country, due to heavy spending on defense, can only manage to spare 3% of GDP for the provision of basic amenities of life.

The political forces have done a commendable job by decentralizing administrative and fiscal resources on to the provinces but the benefits have ultimately to be passed on to the regions lying far off the provincial capitals — Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta and Karachi. It is vital to invest powers in the hands of the people so that they can decide about the issues related with the socio-economic development of their specific regions.

Pakistan is a diverse region in terms of landscape and crop patterns. The hilly regions’ economy heavily depends on forests, deserts’ on livestock and flood planes’ on agriculture. Culture is simply about co-existence with climate and geographical realities.

Contrary to the past, when the politicians could play on ethnicity, the question right now is how to repair the ecosystem that has been destroyed due to the unsustainable growth strategies.  The dominance of agriculturalists in decision-making process has set the agenda of country’s politics so far. The inequalities have been sustained through unrestrained use of violence against the aggrieved groups.  Centralization has been used as tool to suppress the dissenting voices.

Last but not the least, dividing province from the viewpoint of good governance and economic development, not ethnicity, will result into the boosting of nationalism which has been missing till now but is prerequisite to rational decision-making vis-à-vis socio-economic development of the country.