"All government - indeed, every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue and every prudent act - is founded on compromise and barter."
– Edmund Burke
All the political parties have finally decided to listen to the people of South Punjab, who are demanding a separate administrative unit, so that more opportunities for jobs and better standards of living are created for them. Therefore, President Asif Zardari’s announcement that the government is all set to establish a Seraiki province before the general elections has been well received not just by the Seraikis, but across the country’s political divide. He also promised to set up a Seraiki Bank. While the PPP’s detractors consider it as a political move, the fact remains that no political party can afford to oppose the creation of a new province as it would lead to defeat in the upcoming general elections.
According to some analysts, the new province would be economically viable and people will not have to travel long distances, i.e. Lahore, for the redressal of their complaints and problems. That is why, perhaps, the PPP has decided to prepare a framework for it. Nevertheless, the party has always maintained that its creation is not hard politics; it is to honour the wishes of the people of southern Punjab.
Besides, the notion that unless and until someone who belongs to South Punjab is elected as Chief Minister of the new province, the problems faced by the people in there will remain unresolved is absolutely correct. Meanwhile. Prime Minister Gilani’s contention that those who oppose its creation want him out of their way and, thus, allegations were being levelled against him and his family.
Furthermore, the PML-N’s leadership while supporting the idea of a Seraiki province, in principle, have attacked both the President and the Prime Minister. Probably, it is fearful that a political pincer movement is being launched against the party by PPP, on the one hand, and PTI, on the other. Yet it is confident that all the attempts to weaken the party’s popular support will fail, since the candidates are gearing up to contest the general elections on the basis of their 'performance' and their 'service' to the people of Punjab. Its contention is open to question, but, nonetheless, it has a point to make when it says that most of the damage to their political base could come from Tehrik-i-Insaf, while lesser damage will be suffered by the PPP that will gain from the emerging situation.
Needless to say, the announcement of a Seraiki province may shift some of PML-N’s support in favour of the PPP, thus creating desirable conditions for the ruling party in all the constituencies that will fall in it. However, the province should be created before the elections are held because any delay in the implementation of the programme will push it back for several years, which will lead to more despondency and a sense of deprivation among the people.
Having said that, Islamabad must be prepared to deal with other issues that may arise, such as the establishment of the Hazara province in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and/or the division of Sindh. It should be kept in mind that the creation of new provinces on the basis of good governance and better administrative units is better, but on ethnic or linguistic basis is dangerous. Therefore, efforts must be put in place to ensure that undue demands do not snowball, resulting in serious problems for the state.
Pakistan is already facing serious challenges and its foreign policy is in a period of transition, which will require some time to settle down. War on terror, itself, is a gigantic problem - more serious than the creation of new provinces. Hence, priorities need to be defined to avoid problems in the future.
Keeping this in view, it is time that the leaders of political parties, major and minor, while following their own agendas must agree on the issues that are vital national interests. This can only happen if they show political maturity and sagacity, instead of belligerence that is pathetically the hallmark of our political culture.
Against this backdrop, a broad-based national agenda would help the country tide over its current difficulties. Also, it would strengthen various state institutions; allow democracy to take root in Pakistan; facilitate to pursue development programmes; and maintain consistency and stability in the government’s policies, even if it is formed by one or more political parties.
One hopes that taking a leaf from the convergence of ideas on the creation of the Seraiki province, it will become possible for political leaders to find common ground on issues like the Afghan war; economic decisions that are required to pull out Pakistan's economy from the present mess; and formulate a vibrant foreign policy that will take it forward in the comity of nations in the next 20 to 25 years.
n The writer has been associated with various newspapers as editor and columnist. At present, he hosts a political programme on Pakistan Television.