T

he Punjab government’s budget proposal drew some surprise when it did not feature any provision for South Punjab in it, leading some to believe that the government’s promise to create a new province might have been just an election gamble. Yet it appears they spoke too soon as the government yesterday took a quantum leap towards the creation of a new province comprising southern districts of Punjab.

Chief Minister Usman Buzdar has constituted a 12-member executive council for the creation of south Punjab province. According to a letter issued by the CM’s office, the council will identify issues pertaining to the creation of a separate province, address all legislative matters concerning South Punjab with the support of law and parliamentary affairs department, engage all relevant stakeholders to muster their support for the task, develop consensus and coordinate all matters with the federal committee on the creation of south Punjab province.

While the Punjab government was criticised for failing to include any provision for the creation of South Punjab in the budget, this careful process of an executive council to assess all potential issues is the better way. The process of bifurcating Punjab’s administration and resources is a difficult one and it requires careful deliberation before any proposals are made. There are a number of issues in South Punjab that need consultation of experts, including sensitive identity based concerns like the Sirariki movement and multiple ethnic groups- matters which need to be thoroughly researched before major steps can be taken.

There are also legislative impediments facing PTI in fulfilling its promise- it does not have the two-thirds majority needed under Article 239 of the constitution to sail through a legislation of their choice. For South Punjab to be an actuality, PTI would need to reach out to its arch-rival, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)- thus this executive body buys the party time to put pressure on the PML-N to join hands on this issue.

Mishandling the creation of a new province can create gigantic problems that could prolong for decades. This route of an executive body, which has no definite time-frame to produce results, will help the process to be thorough. However, the government has to be diligent that the executive body does not fade into obscurity as time goes on - as previous similar initiatives have. Once the province is done with its fact-finding and has an educated proposal, it needs to be taken to the federation.