Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Vice President Shah Shah Mahmood Qureshi Wednesday said his party fully supports the demand for creation of a separate province.

At least eight lawmakers of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) defected from the party on Monday by invoking the old slogan of securing a separate province consisting of relatively impoverished southern part.

These lawmakers – six of them Members of the National Assembly and two of Punjab Assembly – claim that within days a number of other party leaders will quit assemblies and join them in their movement.

The resigning MNAs are Makhdum Khusro Bakhtyar (Rahim Yar Khan), Syed Asghar Ali Shah (Minchanabad, Bahawalnagar), Tahir Bashir Cheema (Bahawalnagar), Tahir Iqbal Chaudhry (Vehari), Rana Qasim Noon (Multan) and Basit Bokhari (Muzaffargarh), while Sumara Khan and Nasrullah Dareshak are the MPAs who quit the assembly.

Announcing formation of ‘South Punjab Front’ on one-point agenda of creation of South Punjab province before the media at a hotel, the group said that this has been a standing demand of local people since 1970.

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, while calling the deserting lawmakers“opportunists”, said that such elements had no relation with the party in past.

Talking to the media on Tuesday outside the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) court, Nawaz Sharif said that Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had accomplished record development projects in south Punjab during the last five years.

He said that by-election win of the PML-N candidate in Lodhran was an expression of public confidence in the record development work carried out by the provincial government in south Punjab .

Replying to a question concerning the eight lawmakers who announced to quit the PML-N on Monday, Nawaz said that such “opportunists” were used to supporting dictators during military rule and posed as democrats during democratic governments.

He said that the lawmakers from south Punjab who quit the PML-N were in their notice for the last few months for their “mysterious activities” and those were the very elements, who used to malign politics.

Betrayal of these parliamentarians is not of concern for the PML-N as surfacing of such opportunists was a matter of routine for the leading political parties, Nawaz said.

Meanwhile, PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif has decided to have close contacts with the party legislators and leaders all over the country to know their reservations and address them.

Sources in the party say after the resignation of the eight lawmakers, the PML-N leadership is on the guard to control the damage and prevent any further defection. It is a dominant thought in the party that the current wave of change of heart by the party members is not on their volition, but they are being forced from the outside forces. An indication to this effect has also been made by Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and others.

Sources say Shahbaz Sharif does not want any more flight of the members from the party in a situation when he is already making efforts to reunite leaders like Ch Nisar Ali Khan. The Punjab chief minister also chaired a meeting of the assembly members from Khanewal, Rajanpur, Bahawalpur, Layyah and other districts and took them into confidence on the demand for South Punjab province.

Shahbaz told the members that the PML-N had presented two resolutions in the Punjab Assembly for the restoration of defunct province of Bahawalpur as well as South Punjab . This is a credit to the PML-N, he said. He claimed that during PML-N’s tenure, unprecedented development was made in the rural and urban areas of South Punjab .

He said from 2008 to 2013, 27.5 per cent of the development budget was given to South Punjab by the PML-N government. He added 10 percent quota has been fixed for South Punjab in Apna Rozgar and every scheme of the Punjab government. He affirmed scholarship amount has been increased from Rs 200 to Rs 1,000 for girl students of public-sector schools of South Punjab .