LAHORE – Although the PPP-led federal government is stuck to the planned division of Punjab, the passage of resolution by the Punjab Assembly to discard the commission set up for the purpose has, by and large, put a question mark on the matter on moral and constitutional grounds. Additionally, new provinces appear hard to get due delimitation, administrative system and a proper infrastructure to run the business at a time when general elections are round the corner. Atop of it, the division of Punjab on the basis of language may lead to multiple complexities, after the province has already made the role of the commission controversial regarding advising and guiding the Centre on the new federating units.

The vital questions stirring mind of political and legal wizards relate to the viability of the new provinces in Punjab minus the Punjab government, mopping up two-thirds majority in the Parliament to amend the Constitution in this behalf when Hazara and Fata members are also stakeholder for their own provinces, authenticity of the new provinces, if at all, they are created without mandatory consent of the Punjab government and how a check will be placed if a controversy turned into a street fight.

It is a matter of fact that the PML-N, which rules Punjab, was duly approached by the Centre for giving names for representation in the commission, but it failed to get a positive response. And now, minus the three members of the PML-N, the remaining nine have named their chairman and set rules of procedure, following which it is due to formally embark on the business.

As such the situation is serious and needs discussion as not only the PPP’’s own Balochistan Chief Minister Aslam Raisani is opposed to the division but also others on the government side are not on board on the issue. Without prejudice to any party, giving his view on legal aspects of the matter, Advocate General Punjab Ashtar Ausaf Ali says creation of new provinces as a matter of fact is a constitutional subject that envisages the role of the Parliament and the assembly concerned but not of the commission.

As such formation of such an extra constitutional body does not hold any legal and constitutional validity and rejection of the same by the Punjab Assembly through resolution has even more diluted efficacy of the present one, he said and added, any act of the Commission as such would call for constitutional justification as PA resolution has now a dominating effect.

Ashtar said the commission by no means was a deciding body on the new provinces; therefore, its decisions whatsoever, either taken directly or indirectly, were not at all binding on the Punjab province. And in order to consent the decisions of the commission now, it would need to bring in another resolution to evaporate the effect of the previous resolution.

Most important of all was involvement of the province concerned in carving out of more provinces out of it, Ashtar added.

He said without associating Punjab in the whole process, no division could come about as it was the very province in the deference of whose needs and will, the Centre acted to establish more provinces.

As such Punjab is a necessary party and without its representation no decision on more provinces could be implemented whether taken on the recommendations of the commission or directly by the parliament. As to the need of present commission when Constitution has held it unnecessary, he said, it was constituted on the pattern of India where this forum took up bisection or multiplicity of the provinces throughout the country without targeting one province only.

“Ours also was set up to meet the demand of administrative needs of people of the country for creating provinces wherever they were needed but the Federal government made the commission Punjab-specific, which was a highly dangerous move.”

The advocate general said although the option of more provinces was still not off the table but the present move had become highly controversial after the Punjab Assembly’s resolve. Ashtar also overrules the president’s authority to advise the speaker for setting up the commission, as the Constitution does not provide for it and the acts of the president are subject to the advice of the prime minister. Ashtar said timing of the move was not conducive for the new provinces although needs in this respect remained there.

When contacted, PML-N Senator Pervaiz Rashid reiterated that his party was not opposed to formation of new provinces, but the PPP was not serious and using the issue as political gimmick. He said after approval of resolution by the PA, no constitutional and moral ground was available to the federal government to go ahead with Punjab division and his party had formulated a strategy if the Centre went to thrust its decisions on them.

About the question of strategy, he said it would be disclosed when required.

While finding faults with the very composition of the commission and nomination of its chairman, he said, “It reflects the mindset of Zardari who wants to stay in power for next term but his party PPP has totally failed to perform in the rule and defeat in the next election is staring in its face.” “Therefore, Zardari is introducing various ploys to hoodwink the people. The Sindh card is for Sindh and language based creation of provinces is for Punjab so that they could be used as play to the gallery for next elections.” He added that the PML-N was the sole target, but claimed that the PPP would fail in its design and asserted the government did not have two-thirds majority to amend the Constitution as Hazara and Fata members would not vote Punjab division as they themselves voiced for their own provinces, a demand to which the PPP did not want listen to. The PML-N leader warned that the country might come to serious harm if the PPP did not mend its ways and shun the politics of confrontation. He said PML-N wanted an independent commission with representatives of all stakeholders who needed change in the geographical boundaries of their provinces to cater to the administrative requirements and the commission set parameters for that purpose.

 Pervaiz said as many as 32 languages were spoken in the country and so as many people would demand separate province if language was made a criterion.

“If backwardness of the people of southern Punjab is the base for a Saraiki province then people in other provinces are more backward and without basic amenities; therefore, first attend to their need of provinces. And if distance is the consideration, every city is far away from another in Balochistan so make more provinces there as well.” “But the government is not serious about creating provinces where they are required and targeting Punjab only as a political gimmick,” he added.