Make new provinces only on administrative grounds?

By Abdul Nishapuri

Source: Saraiki Waseb Development Organization (SWADO)

In today’s The News, I read an interesting article on the possibility of new provinces by Saleem Safi. It seems that after months and years of effectively campaigning for the case of Pakhtunkhwa, Saleem Safi has suddenly realized that “In the current scenario, the only option that seems feasible and probably acceptable to the democratic forces is declaring the administrative Divisions in all federating units as new provinces.”

In particular, the author demonstrates inadequate understanding of the Saraiki waseb, for example, when he writes that: “…Saraiki-speaking Dera Ismail Khan will become small ethnic enclave and not meet the characteristics of province.”

The author may care to spare a few moments in reviewing and understanding the geographical proximity (see the above map) and size of the population (at least 25 million) of all Saraiki areas (in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and other provinces) and then comment if the Saraiki waseb does or does not meet the characteristics of a province?

How long will our ‘mainstream’ journalists ignore the Saraiki culture and identity and the Saraikis’ demand for provincial autonomy?

Here is Saleem Safi’s article from The News, April 26, 2010:

Make new provinces

Demands for creation of new provinces, which have been made for many decades, have been spurred by the renaming of one of the federating units. The idea cannot be rejected out of hand, for many reasons.

These include huge differences in size, economic disparities, distortions in distribution of resources, ethnic deprivations and the local population’s little or no say in the affairs of the federation. This situation has created bitter prejudices in smaller provinces.

The demands could be accepted if creation of new provinces could facilitate smooth running of the country, create harmony among people and help mitigate ethnic, linguistic, and other prejudices among the federating units. However, most of the proponents of creation of new provinces demand division of existing provinces along historical, ethnic, linguistic and geographical fault lines, which is destined to enflame ethnic tensions.

If Bahawalpur demands the status of a province on the basis of its separate status in the British colonial India, then opponents may very well make the argument that the history of the region does not stop at that point of time. It goes farther to the times of the emergence of Muslim rule and, before that, Hindu kingdoms in the subcontinent.

Ethnicity is an untenable criterion for a separate province. Carving out new provinces on this criterion would cause further destabilisation. If adopted, this yardstick would push Balochistan to demand some regions currently under the administrative control of Sindh and Punjab to be declared its integral part. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa will scramble for getting the western parts of Balochistan. It will also lay claims to Mianwali and Attock of Punjab. Such reorganisation will not get Hazara the status of a new province as most of the Hindko-speaking tribes there are ethnic Pakhtuns. Eventually, the province will be happy to extend into other provinces’ regions, but it will also have to cope with the grief of losing its Saraiki-speaking areas, which will automatically gravitate towards a Saraiki province. The province of Sindh would be a scene of intense ethnic struggles.

Language will also become a problem criterion. In Pakistan, no part of the country can be declared a single-language unit. Local dialects of the major languages apart, all provinces are inhabited by people from other provinces who do not share the language of the host province or region. If it is ever accepted as the criterion for new provinces, language would most likely create unpleasant scenarios. One of the likely scenarios will be mass migration among regions and provinces thus creating the spectre of hate and ethnic atrocities. This migration will also be accompanied by painful economic displacements.

Secondly, if the minorities in any city, region or province are to be satisfied, their adopted provinces and districts have to be divided in very small units so that they get a separate province. For example, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and its capital, Peshawar, and cities like Chitral and Gilgit and Hindko-speaking Hazara and Saraiki-speaking Dera Ismail Khan will become small ethnic enclaves and not meet the characteristics of provinces. In the case of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, division on this criterion may not bring much trouble eventuality, but it certainly will spell disaster for Karachi and Hyderabad, where Urdu-speaking people are in majority but Punjabis, Sindhis, Pakhtuns and other people also live there in large numbers.

Notwithstanding the difficulties in the creation of new provinces on the abovementioned criteria, larger provinces do not help the cause of devolution of power to the grassroots level, social democratisation, public empowerment and efficient and effective public service delivery. Similarly, effective administration of a geographical unit demands that the area under its command is easily accessible and manageable for the government.

For this very reason, new provinces must be created where the seat and centre of power is close to the people being governed. Smaller provinces will improve law enforcement to protect basic rights of the people as enshrined in the Constitution and create a culture of democratic accountability. These reasons for division of provinces into smaller units are greater in the case of our country. The democratic forces may have no problem adopting this idea, nor will the establishment. In the recent past, we have observed the Musharraf regime flirting with the district governments concept. Musharraf never tired of telling all and sundry that the basic purpose of the district government system was solving people’s problems at their doorsteps and devolving power to the masses.

National development and good governance goals necessitate creation of new provinces by dividing the larger provinces into smaller ones, but the question is: what are the criteria to be adopted for creation of new provinces?

In the current scenario, the only option that seems feasible and probably acceptable to the democratic forces is declaring the administrative Divisions in all federating units as new provinces. This option would strike ethnicity, language, ethnicity, history and all other factors out of the equation. The division will also spare the people and the country of the consequences they will be made to bear otherwise. Pakistan has 27 divisions, FATA, and Azad Kashmir. This distribution has hardly been opposed by any force in the country. So declaring Divisions as provinces after dissolution of all federating units, the capital territory, FATA, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan into 30-or-so smaller provinces, will evoke no adverse reaction. Resultantly, the federation will be strengthened and Pakistan will become more democratic and prosperous.

The writer works for Geo TV. Email: saleem.



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