Category Archives: Politics

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?

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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.

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.

Beware of dictators!

Bahawalpur has known disliking for dictators: Ayub Khan had sold its lifeline, Sutlej River to India, through Indus Basin Treaty of 1960; General Yahya Khan did not mention Bahawalpur province when he restored the federal units that had been clubbed into One Unit in 1955; Zia had allotted vast tracts in Cholistan to his favorites. Bahawalpur has attached high hopes with democracy: it should not only get firm roots but also be able to undo the doings of the dictators.

By Riaz Missen

Ayub Khan visited Bahawalpur on his election campaign. When he reached Chowk Fawara to make an address, city plunged into darkness. What he said was this: “Brothers and sisters, I have come to power through the stick I am holding in my hand not through ballot box. I have visited your city to tell you that it does not matter whether you cast your vote for me or my opponent (Fatima Jinnah)”.

Field Marshall Ayub Khan did win elections and became president of Pakistan. The landed aristocracy supported him. He allotted lands to members of Pukhtoon and Tareen tribe in Punjab and Sindh in an effort to promote national solidarity. He was the most powerful president of the country and, by this account, the most corrupt ruler Pakistan have had so far. Zia-ul-Haq went a step ahead — he hanged the first elected prime minister and never bothered to hold elections. Both are now the story of the past but the legacy they have left behind is still intact.

Anti-democracy forces have prevailed on Pakistan for most part of its history. Two decades passed without holding parliamentary elections. The civil-military bureaucracy developed a system that made the commoners to pay but receive nothing in return. “Why to count those who survive on the lowest ladder of social life?” the intelligentsia from the other side of the divide, often raises the question.  In a country where feudal, spiritual and tribal leaders rule the roost, democracy only helps them to assert their privileged position in the society. Each and every election has brought these souls to the legislative assemblies. While they have the power to decide, the only thing they do is to reserve every luxury for themselves and their clans.

The fact of the matter is that the division between dictatorial and democratic forces has been clear and visible since the times of country’s birth. The situation would have been different if anti-democratic forces would not have been supported from without. Had Ayub Khan not imposed martial law, the NAP would have swept elections. Had democracy stayed, it is problematic whether Pakistan would have joined the Western Bloc. Had Zia-ul-Haq not intervened in politics, the country would not have been used as a base camp to launch jihad into Afghanistan. Actually, Pakistan would not have been in a precarious situation as it is today, had military stayed away from politics.

It is actually welcoming that Hillary Clinton, during her much celebrated visit to Pakistan recently, given a pledge that the US would never support dictators and would rather, help the civilian regime to do away threats to democracy. Additionally, the political parties have made it clear that they would never be part of any exercise to derail the political system in vogue. Civil society, too, is not fragile today as it once used to be. Media is free and independent and is religiously guarding its freedom. The Left, which had gone to hibernation since Zia period, is coming to life again.

Still, democracy is not on the sound footings. Addressing the recently held meeting of party’s Central Executive Committee, Asif Ali Zardari, the co-chairman, said the PPP had always faced crisis whenever it was voted to power. He said the establishment’s hidden hands had become active again due to which rumors and propaganda regarding differences within various constitutional and state components were being deliberately spread under a well-organized plan.

Needless to say, political parties still have to organize themselves on the grassroots level and hold free and fair elections to elect their leadership; power has to be devolved not only to the provinces but also to the divisions and districts; and, above all, the revenue and justice systems have to be made transparent and fair to wear a pro-people look.

Though there seems no urge, from any mainstream political party, to revive land reforms scheme, the peasantry’s problem has to be resolved — its size has increased but not its possessions. The new lands have only been allotted to the retired civil-military bureaucrats. Unjust distribution of canal water and increase in the price of input has made them mortgage their lands with the ZTBL — there lands should not be auctioned, any more.

The most dangerous fall out of the consistent martial laws in Pakistan has been the absence of any policy for sustainable economic growth. Livestock and fisheries have been paid least attention so far. Deforestation has assumed alarming trend, which needs not only to be stopped but also reversed. Desertification of deserts like Cholistan is also a problem that needs to be tackled effectively by stopping further encroachments on them by farming communities.

Needless to say, many doings of the dictators need to be undone, once for all. The constitutional reforms should provide enough proof of that. The identity of the state needs to be adjusted with the requirements of the global age. When democracy has returned the ‘ideological burdens’ should be laid off. While doing so, the democratic forces should have clear understanding that if they want to keep military in barracks, the mullas also need to be confined to their traditional tasks.

According to Dr. Rasul Bakhsh Rais, the eminent political scientist, “Until the quality of democratic governance improves, the political and social conditions of the feudal age would continue to determine class and caste relations in our society. But once democracy and rule of law become consistent functional political patterns, a new political culture of equal rights would emerge that would provide for political space and institutional remedies to lower caste groups against discrimination and exploitation.”

Postscript

Bahawalpur has known disliking for dictators: Ayub Khan had sold its lifeline, Sutlej River, through Indus Basin Treaty  of 1960 to India; General Yahya Khan did not mention Bahawalpur province when he restored the federal units that had been clubbed into One Unit in 1955; Zia had allotted vast tracts in Cholistan to his favorites. Bahawalpur has attached high hopes with democracy: it should not only get firm roots but also be able to undo the doings of the dictators.

-Weekly Pulse

Pakistan may search its identity in Cholistan

Pakistan’s identity not complete without reference to the civilisation that once developed and thrived on the banks of Hakra River

By Riaz Missen
January 21, 2008

The Saraiki department at the Islamia University of Bahawalpur is planning to launch M. Phil program that will definitely end up in Ph. D. A prominent poet-scholar Dr. Nasrullah Khan Nasir heads it. His journey to this prestigious post started in the late 1970’s when he became part of the movement against the merger of Bahawalpur State into Punjab.

The movement for Bahawalpur province was suppressed. The memory of military action against the protestors is still alive. A local daily carried out a special number. Akbar Malik has been awarded doctoral degree by History department on the subject. The merger divided the new and old settlers into two groups — the settlers supported the move while locals opposed it. Dr. Mussawar Bokhari believes that Saraiki nationalism draws strength from the anti-Punjab movement in Bahawalpur.

For the intelligentsia of Bahawalpur, if one cause was lost another had begun. Multanis, who were the first to console these dejected soules over the loss of their state, ‘advised’ them to join a movement to create a province out of Punjab while Saraiki, not the Sutlej should set the boundaries. They were not in favor of a militant struggle, as some ‘freedom fighters’ of Bahawalpur once planned. Rather, they would have to disperse and become part of the new system to make their voice stronger.

About four decades down the road, Bahawalpuri intelligentsia is well entrenched in the system. The people, who had dared Punjab’s wrath to retain their identity, are serving many state institutions in respectable positions. They don’t hide their intentions. They insist that Saraiki is the biggest language of Pakistan and preservation of the culture and identity of the people associated with this language is responsibility of the state.

Some believe that the restoration of Bahawalpur province is a dead idea and it is not in the capacity of the people of this region to carve out a province out of Punjab. Multanis have definitely to take the lead for the creation of new province keeping in mind that Saraiki identity is not complete without taking into consideration the history of  Bahawalpur  and the importance of the Hakra-Valley Civilisation that once flourished in the area now called Cholistan.

“Ganveri Wala (southwest of Derawar Fort) falls in the center of the two cities, Harappa and Mohenjo Daro, associated with the Indus Valley civilization,” says Dr. Nasrullah Khan Nasir adding that it is the area where Hindu sacred books were written. Referring to the findings of the prominent archaeologist, Dr. Rafiq Mughul, Dr. Nasir insists that the center of the civilization associated with Indus Valley rested on the banks of Hakra.

Dr. Nasrullah is truly an academic figure now. His main field is research and he is doing the right job by occupying right chair. When he does not agree with his counterparts in Central Punjab and Sindh on the matter of linguistic and cultural identity, he seems to be insisting that Bahawalpur region contains the secret of Pakistan’s past. No consciously built identity, not only of Saraiki but also of the state of Pakistan, will be complete and credible without a reference to the Hakra civilization.

The leading figure of the movement for the restoration of Bahawalpur province has practically abandoned the idea to get rid of Lahore’s domination. Seth Ubaid-ur-Rahaman who had played a leading role in this movement is only able to live with his memories. So is the case with Malik Qamar, the high court lawyer. When the comrades of the movement for the restoration of Bahawalpur province have turned to bigger ideas, the people from lower-middle class fill the ranks of the organization. Neither the statements of the leadership of the organization are given importance by press nor any practical plan to achieve its ends has come to the open. Electoral politics is still a remote possibility for it.

Though the movement for the restoration of Bahawalpur is weak, the question is still alive. The Saraiki nationalists have strong reason to reject the idea. The population balance among the Saraiki and Punjabi settlers is almost  equal. The consistent marshall laws have strengthened the hands of the settlers in terms of jobs and land and limited water resources. So, having a province will definitely result into the domination of the Punjabi settlers.

“It is out of question now. We stand for a bigger province on the basis of our claim of being Saraiki, like other ‘nations’ i.e. Punjabis, Sindhi, Balochs and Pukhtoons,” Ismail Dahir, member of Saraiki National Party (SNP) and practicing lawyer of Rahim Yar Khan says. To him a province comprising at least three divisions of Punjab i.e. Multan, DG Khan and Bahawalpur and DI Khan of NWFP, can help secure Saraiki identity and culture for the generations to come.

Shahzad Irfan’s father had been among the founders of Pakistan Saraiki Party (PSP) under the leadership of Barrister Taj Muhammad Langah, who had developed differences with Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto vis-à-vis questions related with Saraiki identity. He is not so active on political front. Archeology is his passion now. Shahzad insists on a distinct if not different identity of Bahawalpur. “ Regionalism not nationalism will provide the way out,” he says.

Somewhere in his mind rests the doubt whether Bahawalpur can reach its destination — ending rule of Punjab — with the help of Multan. Reverting to the position of 1970, the time when One Unit was abolished is more practical idea rather than waging a struggle for the Saraiki province. “Bahawalpur’s question is as bigger as the question of Kashmir’s accession to either of the state, India and Pakistan,” he insists.

“Supreme Court of Pakistan can settle this question,” Shahzad Irfan says insisting that the merging of Bahawalpur into Punjab is illegal as per the provision of the One Unit Plan. He does not fail to identify the hand of the feudals of Punjab and Sindh in the degeneration of a princely state into just a division of Punjab province.

“We lost Sutlej, our lifeline, due to the Indus Basin Treaty but no political party is ready to take up our case as the region gets its water table down to the alarming levels,” he worries. “Nobody bothers when Punjab sacrifices Bahawalpur’s share of canal water to the benefit of the Sindhi farmers in the name of provincial harmony,” he adds.

Once Peoples Party raised hopes among Saraiki nationalists by addressing their linguistic concern. The Islamia University of Bahawalpur got a Saraiki department during 1990s as a result. Bahaudin Zikria University has also got a research center. Saraiki is being taught at college level. But the whole process has consumed a decade and a PTV station in Multan still remains a dream.

The twists and turns of history have proved that no political party in Pakistan can come up to the aspiration of the Saraiki people given the fascination of the elite with big provinces. Many initiatives of the Centre vis-à-vis economic development and national cohesion are in limbo due to entrenched positions the four dominant ethnic groups have taken vis-à-vis each other. And Bahawalpur’s case is even more complex. It can’t wait now. Identity is not a problem — thanks to Dr. Rafiq Mughul. The drying up of Sutlej River is the most pressing problem and growing rate of unemployment and failing agriculture the others.
It is true that there exists tension between the settlers, mainly having links with Central Punjab, and the agricultural belt running alongside the Sutlej River. The competition on jobs and land resources has entered into the political arena as well. The Jats and Arains look towards Lahore while the rest to everywhere. The traditional elite that has switched their loyalties between Karachi and Lahore is under immense pressure from the youth of the old communities to find a way out.

The situation is about to take an ugly turn as the traditional elite have become sensitive to security of their domain that has become under threat now. The conflict between Chaudharys of Gujrat and Makhdoom of Rahmiyar Khan is an example whereby the later became irritated at the former’s getting allotted land in Cholistan and seeing goodbye to their murids, who were tilling the land since centuries. The competition on Rescue 1122 posts in Bahawalpur is the recent development that has caused resentment among locals due to heavy-handed tactics of Tahir Bashir Cheema.

The way out is probably there. The new and old settlers will have to join hands. The land grabbing in the area will have to be stopped to save water for the old population. Livestock and tourism will yield more than bringing the desert under cultivation. The conservation of the Hakra belt is as essential as the optimal utilization of the water resources.

There needs to be a consensus on the issue of Sutlej River, which has been unjustifiably taken over by India through Indus Basin Treaty. It is essential to preserve the ecosystem on which the future of the region heavily depends. The water table is slipping down very fast. If Sutlej does not resume its strength, exodus of population from the agri belt will be the only result. Such a development has already taken place due to drying up of once a mighty river, Hakra.

About the domination of Lahore over Bahawalpur, it is true that Ranjit Singh had once aspired for it. The region was saved only due to the intervention of the English. What was not possible at that time became real after the creation of Pakistan. It is also true that the settlers favored the merger of the princely state into Punjab to the very much disappointment of the old population. The reckless allotment of lands has taken the share of water available to it besides reducing grazing space for the livestock of the indigenous tribes.

As far as the differences between new and old settlers are concerned, the stalemate persists since the merger of Bahawalpur State into Punjab. Where the militant groups of Central Punjab have found clients among new population, nationalism is getting stronger among the old. The worrisome aspect of the whole situation is that there is still no dialogue between the two groups.

The question whether the act of merger was legal is still there and it needs to be resolved as soon as possible. Punjab is the largest province of Pakistan. Dropping little bit weight will make it look smarter. Its image will certainly improve among the smaller provinces of the country

The growth of Saraiki nationalism has naturally raised concerns among settlers. They have responded with strengthening links with religious organizations. Militancy is on the rise in this part of the population. Restoring Bahawalpur province will certainly bring down nationalistic sentiments as well religious militancy in the area. The democratic process will soon bring forth Bahawalpur’s pluralist character, as was the case before the partition.