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PPP victim of its own initiatives

Parochial ethnic interests fail to see the binding linkage between devolution and socioeconomic development

Mr. Asif Ali Zaradari is hopelessly trying to get back PPP’s share in Punjab, but luck does not seem to be smiling at him. Circumstantial evidences suggest that it will not be this province that will favor his party to take high seat in the federal capital, again. Why? It is a big question for him to answer.

The PPP, under Asif Ali Zaradari, owes the credit of changing the content of political discourse of Pakistan through ‘politics of reconciliation’ and the restoration of the Constitution, but has unfortunately become the victim of its own initiatives.

Mr. Zardari’s conduct, after the assassination of his spouse and the lifelong chairperson of PPP, Benazir Bhutto, was exemplary: he raised the slogan of ‘Long Live’ Pakistan when Sindh was high in rage and refused to accept the logic that general elections of 2008 for the reason, whatsoever.

During his tenure in presidency Mr. Zardari’s performance was miraculous, indeed.  By taking along other parliamentary parties, through the ‘politics of reconciliation’, he not only got the constitution clipped off the anomalies introduced by wild and vile dictators but also delivered to the ethnonationalists the kind of provincial autonomy they had not even dreamed of.

Mr. Zardari’s politics of reconciliation strengthened the stakes of the likes of Jamat-e-Islami and the JUI-F given the fact that the constitution, after its para-wise revision, became more religious in character as sovereignty continued to be a heavenly concern.

Four years after the Constitutional reforms, the PPP has lost power in the Centre and confined to the hinterlands of rural Sindh. The party has been banished from Punjab wherefrom it had been getting strength to rule in the Centre.
In South Punjab, the PPP had raised the issue of ‘Saraiki province’ but after the ANP snubbed it fearing to lose two of KP’s southern districts to the proposed federal unit and Punjab Assembly passing resolution for restoring Bahawalpur province as well, the PPP turned to ‘South Punjab’ mantra, alienating both nationalists  and the MPs of the region.

The constitutional reforms actually brought forth some complicated, if not intriguing questions, that required necessary legislation. Police massacred in Abbottabad a number of people demanding new province, for they did not adhere to the new identity of the province, which had been named Khyber-Pukhtoonkhawah on the demand of ANP, a coalition partner of the PPP.

Actually, the Constitutional reforms committee, headed by PPP’s Raza Rabbani, had closed the chapter of creating new federal units by retaining a Zia era provision, which sought the approval of the concerned province to redraw its boundaries.

Zardari’s unflinching belief in the founder of the PPP, which urged him to confine the process of constitutional reforms unto its restoration, must not be taken as unusual a trait, for loyalty means so in this part of the world, but it is also fact that he miserably failed to see Pakistan beyond the 1970s.

The PPP, under the pressure of the ethnonationalists had scrapped the district government system of General Musharraf era in Sindh, enthusiastically followed by other provinces, and has yet to fulfill the constitutional responsibility to devolve power to the grassroots level.

Needless to say, the devolution plan, despite all nobl intentions of its authors, has fallen victim to the parochialism of ethnic lots, who fail to see a binding linkage between devolution and development.

The 18th Constitutional Amendment was a major breakthrough as far as alleviating the sense of deprivation of the smaller provinces was concerned but the opportunity seems to be lost given the reluctance of the provinces to take the benefit of devolution to the grassroots level — the point where it is linked with the socio-economic growth.

Asif Zardari may ceaselessly talk about the party’s sacrifice for the sake of democracy to console the disgruntled souls within his party, particularly belonging to Punjab, but the fact of the matter is that he fails to understand the ‘spirit’ of devolution and foresee the consequences of not  sticking to reason and rationality.

Mr. Zardari’s obsession with ‘political actors’ should not end up in becoming a political actor himself. The first test for him is that PPP should not stand for the status-quo. Politics of reconciliation should now be directed at efforts for further Constitutional reforms keeping in mind what Benazir Bhutto meant by suggesting ‘new social contract’.

Mr. Asif Ali Zaradari should come out of oblivion and speak his soul.  Failing to justify his party’s stance on devolution makes his ‘reconciliatory’ politics as a deceitful move to serve the vested interests. Democracy, which he often talks about is meaningless if it does not empower people at the grassroots level; the people must be empowered to decide themselves how they will like their children to be taught and their hospitals be run.

Pakistan Observer
December 17, 2014

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.

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.