By Sher Ali Khalti –
Demand for more provinces, especially Seraikistan, may not appear as intense as before. But the sentiment is getting stronger day by day
“Pakistan da Istehkam Seraikistan, Ghinte rehsoon Seraiksistan, Bahwalpur Na Multan Sirf Seraikistan.” These catchy slogans were written on the walls along roads and in the streets of different cities of South Punjab. Yet there were areas where walls bore messages like “Bahwalpur Riasat Bahal Karo’’ or “Punjab ki Ghulami se Azad Karo.”
These were the times when the country was bracing for general elections 2013 and demands for new provinces were everywhere. The mass media was providing running commentary on this issue and it seemed that no political party could stay in the race in South Punjab if it did not support this demand.
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) supported it and became the voice of Seraiki belt. PLM-N opposed initially but soon realized that it would be suicidal not to support formation of new provinces. So, it moved a resolution in Punjab Assembly for the division of Punjab province. PML-N won the election though it had to face allegations of pre-poll and post-poll rigging.
As soon as the general elections were over, the issue lost importance and it seemed that the movement for Seraikistan and new provinces had gone into hibernation. Opponents of independent Seraikistan say the issue is blown out of proportion whereas the supporters claim their voice cannot reach the masses as a concerted campaign has been launched against them. They stress a strong movement is there but the mass media which is based in big cities like Lahore and Karachi is not covering it on the instructions of establishment.
Khwaja Ghulam Fareed Koreja, Chairman, Seraikistan Qaumi Ittehad expresses in a special sitting with Pique that Seraikis are a separate nation and their population is 70 million. “Our demand for Seraikistan is based on linguistic, historical, geographical and cultural reasons. Quai-e-Azam had also demanded separation of Sindh from Bombay on grounds that these two provinces were different linguistically, historically and culturally.” we are following the way of Muhammad Ali Jinnah who showed us.’’
He says it was Ranjeet Singh who attacked and occupied Multan in 1818. Multan was never a part of Punjab and became so due to the brutality of Ranjeet Singh, he submits. Koreja blames Punjab for discriminating against Seraikis and says that there shall be separate budget, annual development plan and share under the National Finance Commission (NFC) award for Seraikis once they get Seraikistan. He declares: “Seraikistan will be our identification. We reject the South Punjab province comprising 11 districts only and want a 23-district strong Seraikistan built on linguistic and historical basis.”
Koreja laments that Seraikies are being killed in Balochistan for sins committed by Punjabis. “They tried to disassociate with Punjabis but the violent Balochs punished them for even living in Punjab and depending on its sources, he adds.
According to NFC award formula, the weightage for population of a province is 42 per cent, poverty and backwardness 10.6 per cent, revenue collection 5 per cent and so on. “The Seraiki belt will benefited from this formula as its population is high and the region is overwhelmingly backwardness is in higher form. We are trying to get Seraikistan through a peaceful democratic process. But if our genuine demands are not fulfilled, our young generation will follow the foot step of Bengalies. Our movement for Seraikistan has spread to streets but blacked out by the media,” explains Koreja.
Mir Balakh SherMazari, former caretaker prime minster of Pakistan says sense of deprivation leads to a sense of separation among the aggrieved. He is of the opinion that Punjab must be divided into three parts-North Punjab, Central Punjab and South Punjab.
He says most bureaucrats belong to the Central Punjab and make policies that suit the people of this region. If bureaucrats come from Sindh, Balochistan, KPK, North Punjab, Central Punjab and South Punjab in equal numbers the whole country will flourish and progress will not be a prerogative of the selected few.
Mazari says provinces will get a quota in federal services. Presently, he says, Punjab has 50 per cent quota in the federal services and most of the careers go to the upper and central Punjab as candidates from South Punjab are not qualified to contest for these jobs. The difference in the quality of education in these regions of Punjab is a major cause for this disparity.
He claims that Seraiki belt contributes much to the national economy but hardly receives any dividends. This zone produces 80 per cent of the cotton grown all over Pakistan and the country gets expensive foreign exchange by exporting cotton and cotton made-ups. “It is a tragedy that textile industry was set up in Faisalabad while cotton is produced mainly in these areas. Our people are deprived.” He says Seraikis have to take pains to reach offices in distant areas such as Lahore. “Why cannot we have a high court, a board of revenue, secretariat and other administrative offices in our region?” he questions.
Makhdoom Shahabuddin, former federal minister and president of PPP South Punjab, says his party is not silent rather waiting for it turn. He says they know when it is the right time to strike and it was PPP that got the resolution on South Punjab province passed by the Senate. PPP leadership is clear on this subject and fully advocates bifurcation of Punjab province, he says.
He alleges that politicians from South Punjab are also discriminated against. “When I was nominated for premiership, the establishment got annoyed and levelled baseless allegations of corruption against me. They had sacrificed a Seraki prime minister and did not want to replace him with another,” he says.
Chaudhry Muhammad Jaffar Iqbal, Additional Secretary General, PML-N opposes the idea of new provinces and suggests that Bahawalpur state shall be restored. If a new province is created, he says, it will lead to ethnic differences and every small group will demand a separate province which the country cannot afford at this critical juncture.
He says allegations of discrimination are baseless and adds that this year PML-N has spent 31 percent more development funds than last year on South Punjab. Besides, Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif took immediate action and saved the lives of people in Cholistan when drought hit that region. On the other hand, he says, people are dying in Tharpakr but Sindh government does not care. “Applicants from South Punjab have been given preference in yellow cab and Danish School System has been introduced in the Seraiki belt.
The scribe had a special sitting with MPAs of Punjab Assembly who belong to South Punjab. The MPAs are often criticized for not making demand of a separate province in the assembly. On condition of holding back their names, they say that “we are helpless before Mian Shahbaz Sharif who has zero tolerance for anything said against his will. We can bear insult and abuse by our people for not speaking for their rights but cannot afford to invite his wrath. We are even afraid of recommending anybody from our constituency for a job. Only Hamza Shabaz Sharif can forward recommendations to him.”
Nisar Safdar Advocate, President, Seraiki Graduates (an organization of Seraki professionals) says that Seraiki movement is not recent, abrupt or brainchild of few ambitious intellectuals. It is deep rooted in history. He says Seraiki culture emerged thousands of years back and Seraikis are neither Punjabi nor Sindhi.
Nisar says Punjab lies between the Himalayas and the great desert and that is why it became favorite passage and settlement for all conquerors. On the other hand, the Seraiki region remained culturally unpolluted but economically most exploited.
He says there were 90 projects in the budget but metro bus project was not mentioned in it. In spite of this, the Metro Bus Project was launched. Even the Rs 500 million fund approved for Layyah hospital was diverted to “Jangla Bus” that also devoured the budget of Nishtar Hospital, Multan.
Zahoor Ahmed Dhareja, President, Seraiki Qaumi Council, says they are not demanding their province without any reason. The case is very strong and the demand has overwhelming support of different quarters. He rejects the claim of Jaffar Iqbal that Punjab government has taken care of people living in its southern region.
He says ‘’not less than 67 budgets were presented in Punjab from 1948 to 2014 and 45 of these were presented by democratic governments. Most of these budgets were presented by Muslim Leagues. Eighteen budgets were announced by PML-N while others were presented by other Muslim Leagues.”
He says hardly 16 percent to 20 percent of the provincial budgets were earmarked for the whole Seraiki belt and most of these amounts were only in papers. Similarly, he says 80 per cent of government employees came from central Punjab.
The number of colleges in Central Punjab is 1165 while only 444 lie in Seraiki belt. There were 22 universities in Central Punjab while there were only three universities in Seraiki belt including Dera Ismail Khan. Eighteen medical colleges were present in Central Punjab but there were only four medical colleges here. These are just a few examples and the list of inequalities is too long to be shared here, he concludes.
The writer is a journalist based in Lahore and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org