Parties making no effort for consensus on new provinces

ISLAMABAD: After keeping the issue of new provinces in the cold storage for over the past many years and not discussing the matter throughout the five-year tenure of the PML-N government, the debate has resurfaced as political parties are coming up with bills and claiming they were the first to raise the issue.

Besides claiming credit, the parties are also blaming each other for doing politics on the issue, but none has made any serious attempt to forge a consensus on such a sensitive matter.

The ongoing debate shows that there were differences of opinion on the issue even within political parties.

The differences were exposed during a debate after PML-N’s Rana Sanaullah introduced a bill seeking creation of South Punjab and Bahawalpur provinces in the National Assembly last month. Some legislators did not like the idea of two provinces, whereas others came out in full support of the bill.

Malik Amir Dogar, parliamentary leader of the ruling party and lawmaker from Multan, had said the PTI supported the bill, but believed that only South Punjab province should be created. He said his party had promised to the people of South Punjab that it would work for the creation of a new province.

Difference of opinion within political parties hinders progress

As a first step, he added, the PTI-led government had decided to set up a civil secretariat for the new province.

The PTI’s parliamentary leader, however, faced opposition not only from his coalition partners, but also from within his party.

First, federal Minister for Housing and PML-Q MNA Tariq Bashir Cheema declared that the people of Bahawalpur did not want to live with the people of the proposed South Punjab province, recalling that the two members of the National Assembly from Bahawalpur had not signed the 1973 Constitution in protest when they found no mention of Bahawalpur province.

Opposing his party’s parliamentary leader, PTI MNA Farooq Azam Malik also spoke in support of Bahawalpur province and even finished his emotional speech with a slogan, Bahawalpur Sooba Zindabad (long live Bahawalpur province).

The PML-N’s bill was on the agenda of the National Assembly committee on law and justice on Wednesday, but members did not get an opportunity to debate it as they consumed most of the time in discussing some other legislation related to the changes in family laws.

The PML-N, which ruled the country from 2013 to 2018 with a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, did not make any effort to get this bill passed from parliament even though the party had promised before coming to power that it would work for creating new provinces in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) had managed to get passed a constitution amendment bill seeking creation of South Punjab province from the Senate in 2013, but only days before the National Assembly was about to complete its five-year term.

The Pakistan Muslim League-N said on Wednesday that it had already submitted bills in the National Assembly for creation of new provinces.

The party made the statement in reaction to a news conference by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi earlier in the day in which he had presented salient features of a constitution amendment bill moved by legislators belonging to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) in the National Assembly last week, seeking creation of a new South Punjab province.

Ahsan Iqbal, the PML-N’s secretary general, alleged that when PML-N members moved the bill, PTI legislators opposed it.

A PTI MNA from Bahawalpur, Makhdoom Syed Samiul Hassan Gillani, introduced a constitution amendment bill during the National Assembly session last week, seeking the creation of a separate province out of southern Punjab.

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