New Provinces in Punjab and Beyond: Why Not?

Posted on April 28, 2011
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Economy & Development, Politics, Society
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Adil Najam

For as long as I can remember, I have heard passionate arguments about whether the four provinces of Pakistan should be divided into multiple smaller provinces. The discussion has, once again, gained momentum. This time its the issue of Karachi as a separate province and the the re-focus on converting Southern Punjab into a separate province (a ‘Saraiki sooba‘).

The political optics of the situation remain in flux, but there seems to be a growing sense that eventually some reordering of the provinces is on the cards. The constitutional changes under the 18th Ammendment also has a lot to do with this and as provinces take on new roles there is a sense of change and politicians are hedging their bets. I think all of this may be for the good – if, and only if, the decisions are taken sensibly and for overall administrative and policy improvement rather than just for political expediency. My question for our readers today is whether — irrespective of political motives — creating a new provinces is a good idea, including in Southern Punjab? And what this may mean, if anything, for other provinces?

First, let me put my own cards on the table. The first time I wrote about this subject was back in the 1980s – in an op-ed in The Muslim I argued for a total of 6 to 8 provinces (each of the current four provinces being redrawn along lines consistent with historic, linguistic and cultural affinities). My most radical idea, then, was to reconsider the provinces not just along the lines of existing provinces but across existing lines (to use language as an example, Hindko, Sindhi, Seraiki, and Pushto speakers all straddle across current provincial lines). My motivation then, and now, stemmed from demographic concerns of concentration of populations, resources and, therefore, power in one province and the attendant feelings of peripheralization felt by other provinces. Importantly, this can – and has – led to a politics of fragmentation and distrust where it becomes too easy to evoke distrust and disdain through legitimate as well as exaggerated fears. There is also the concern about fewer provinces strengthening a provincial group identity at the expense of a national identity as well as of more local identities. Importantly, in the case of the Saraiki belt, the local identity sentiment for a separate province is the strongest reason to support such an initiative.

After writing that piece I remember having protracted conversations on this with the late Dr. Mahbub-ul-Haq who had been arguing for a much more elaborate scheme that would end with there being 16-25 different provinces. Over the years I have become more and more sympathetic to his developmental argument: that creating smaller provinces will also de-centralize power and localize opportunities – each provincial capital requires a provincial capital infrastructure and create local employment and opportunities and therefore development opportunities get spread around the country rather than being centralized in a few locations.

I tend, therefore, to lean towards this idea. However, practical realities have tended to mute my enthusiasm somewhat. But, only somewhat. I realize, of course, the fractious politics that will be unleashed in the process of redrawing provincial lines, even though my hope has been that the coalitional politics that will emerge for having more units will be, in fact, less fractious than our current provincial frictions. There is also the practical matter that while in most of the country the affinities have long historical and cultural roots the demographics in urban Sindh are ‘modern’ and constructed through the traumas of sudden migration patterns. Not surprisingly, the resultant identity politics also tends to be more traumatic.

So, my own leanings on this are clear and I would support a Seraiki province, even if a more elaborate redrawing of provincial units across the country were not possible at this time. Three reasons would make me support such a move: (a) it is a deep demand of the area itself and (b) it begins to balance out provincial distributions and (c) amongst the various cases for provincial redrawings this is clearly the strongest case for the clear cultural and historic affinities and this could serve as an important first step.

I have been in this debate long enough to know that there can, and will, be many arguments against mine. So, lets please hear them. Is there a logic to redrawing provincial units? If so, why? If not, why not? I suspect it will not be so, but I hope people will focus especially on the longer-term national logic of such a move rather than whatever short-term political gains or losses this might mean to particular political operatives.

P.S. This post is an updated version of an earlier post published on July 3, 2009. It has been updated to reflect the current issues around this topic.

78 responses to “New Provinces in Punjab and Beyond: Why Not?”

  1. Khwaja Aftab Shah says:

    Pakistan’s Ignored Rural Areas
    By Khwaja Aftab Ali
    Florida. U.S.A.

    Five regional cities should be upgraded within the provinces in Pakistan: Dera Ismail Khan in NWFP, Gawadar/Qalat in Balouchistan, Sukkar/Larkana in Upper Sindh, Jehlum/Rawalpindi and Multan in Punjab province.
    These cities have been ignored by the federal and provincial governments although they have their own history, culture and languages. Dera Ismail Khan in the South of Pakhtun khwa/MWFP is under siege, Multan/DG Khan in the south of Punjab is the next target of religious extremists, Sukkar/Larkana is being ruled by criminals, Gawadar/Qalat appears troublesome. The people of these regions have to travel to provincial capitals trivial reasons.
    A good number of people are also forced to travel to big cities to earn livelihood as the local feudal who own majority land treat the common man as their virtual slaves.
    Creation of regional government and upgrading of regional cities will save a lot of money and time of the poor people of these areas. Circuit benches of the High Courts are already functioning in these places and what is required is additional staff to beef up different departments engaged in additional work at the provincial capitals.
    The concerned authorities should immediately consider to upgrade the regional cities. And immediate attention should be given to upgrade/build the airports, TV stations, civic centers, libraries, hospitals, educational institutions and bolstering investment opportunities for Pakistanis living abroad. Foreign firms should be encouraged to create jobs in the areas as the majority population in rural Pakistan does not have enough resources to survive.
    In this context I am reminded of the conditions obtaining in Iran before the Islamic Revolution when rural Iran continued to be ignored and the capital Tehran was developed and called the ‘Paris of the Middle East’. A couple of big cities, including Isfahan, and the Caspian Sea area were developed because of the attraction they possessed for foreign tourists but the rural area was ignored and plagued by problems of sorts as it was ruled by ruthless police and intelligence forces. It was but natural that the rural population supported the Islamic Revolution and moved to Tehran and other big cities and later ruled the cities. After the revolution, the new government was motivated to develop the rural areas of Iran.
    There is thus a pressing need to set up a fund to upgrade/build the regional cities in Pakistan under the aegis of the public and private sectors. Our foreign friends and Pakistanis living abroad could be asked to participate in this singularly important developmental effort.
    ———————————————— —————————
    Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
    © 2004 . All Rights Reserved

  2. Habiba says:

    Pakistan is facing the lot of problems one of the major problem is ‘Terrorism’so as far as my opinion is concern its necessary to make new provinces not only in Punjab but also in other three provinces.

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