The South Punjab conundrum

  • People should benefit

In order to garner exclusivity and prominence amongst other princes of India, the nawabs of Bahawalpur have always claimed their descent from the Abbasid caliphs of Baghdad. However, their initial grant was extended by Emperor Nadir Shah. Fast forward to 1833, Punjab witnesses the rise of the Mahraja Ranjit Singh epoch forcing the self-proclaimed ‘Abbasids’ of Bahawalpur to sign a treaty with the East India Company and, thus, accepting the Firangis’ sovereignty.

It is 1941, and “Jinnah, unlike the leaders of the Congress, was not hostile to the ruling princes and had no plans for sweeping them away or curtailing their powers,” in the words of Bahawalpur’s public works minister, Sir Penderel Moon. It is August 15 in 1947, the stage is set and blood waters the Indian soil as partition is underway; the Nawab declares Bahawalpur independent to command more leverage during negotiations and come to “satisfactory” constitutional arrangements with either India or Pakistan. Finally, he signs the instrument of accession in favour of Pakistan on October 3 of the same year.

Come 2018, Salahuddin Abbasi wakes up on May 3 and tells the media that Bahwalpur was promised provincial status by Jinnah and military dictator Yahya Khan receded from that promise. The Siraiki Suba Mahaaz led by Khusro Bakhtiar had already reared its head once more, as is the tradition; with five-year electoral cycles. Enter Nawaz’s incarceration; Khusro-led self-proclaimed knights of South Punjab enjoyed the ruling PML-N’s prowess for five years and switched over to PTI just before the general elections. In their own words, they had realised just before the government’s tenure was about to expire that their demand for a southern Punjab province had not been met and that the region lacked basic amenities. 

Usman Buzdar found a golden ticket and was elevated to the office of the chief minister of Punjab and Khusro ascended to become the federal minister for planning, development and reforms. Buzdar has already displayed his utter lack of competency and he has himself cast a long shadow on his integrity following the Rizwan Gondal-Khawar Maneka business. Khusro is yet to prove his mettle as the planning minister. If one is to look at the man charged with the responsibility to plan initiatives, including those regarding civil service reforms, one does not laugh. One simply sighs at the dismal situation. However, one must also be practical and not an idealist. The newly crowned prime minister of Pakistan must work with what is available and do whatever he can within the given ‘resources’.

Now is there a solution to the problems currently being faced by the people of South Punjab? And is another province the only solution? Is it the most viable solution? One must not harken for a solution which has better optics, rather one must strive for a solution that is logically correct, economically feasible and favourable in terms of welfare of those living in the region.

If the motive is to create another province and no other solution is pondered upon, then it reeks of a power hungry pseudo-statesmen’s’ plot with the stench of a dead conscience. If the aim is to extend equitable public delivery to South Punjab and make the lives of the people living in the region better, then a better solution could be found.

The registry must be staffed with permanent judicial officers and judges. It must function as a subsidiary of the LHC but judges of the high court must always be present at the registry

A sound solution could be to establish a permanent South Punjab secretariat in Dera Ghazi Khan, Rahim Yar Khan or the ‘remotest’ and ‘most backward’ district of South Punjab. Such a secretariat must be staffed with an additional chief secretary powered by joint secretaries from each provincial ministry. Similarly, an additional inspector general of police must be posted in the secretariat. The officers must be given official residences in the same district.

Daily working of the secretariat can be overseen by the chief secretary and his provincial secretaries while weekly reports must be forwarded to a Punjab Assembly committee comprised of representatives that have been elected from the south. The committee must be given the power to summon officers posted in the South Punjab secretariat on weekly basis and issue directions.

In addition to this, local government in the region must be empowered. This can be done by backing it up with the required legislation so it has the power to do what it is meant to do. Moreover, adequate funds must be given directly to locally elected representatives of the south so that they may dispose of it under two specific headings; human development and infrastructure development. This way the MPAs will provide heading and the elected local government will act as an executor and maintainer of balance of power along with the south secretariat.

In addition to a South Punjab secretariat responsible to a Punjab Assembly South Punjab committee and an effective local government, the judicial establishment of the country, along with those sitting in the halls of power, must aid in the formation of a permanent South Punjab registry of the Lahore High Court. The registry must be staffed with permanent judicial officers and judges. It must function as a subsidiary of the LHC but judges of the high court must always be present at the registry with the LHC chief justice visiting as and when required.

Such a solution would help in achieving the required goal, i.e. betterment of the people of South Punjab. Moreover, it will massively save costs as compared to what the creation of a new province will generate, with a new assembly and cabinet. The solution provided can be seen as a move towards a province if it is required later. Imran must be cognizant of the explosive ramifications throughout the country, especially in Sindh and Balochistan, if he were to facilitate the creation of a southern province based on a language, in this case Siraiki, and not on administrative bases.


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