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Friday, July 12, 2024

South Punjab province: Is it even needed?

Rustam Shah Mohmand analyses that South Punjab Province is only a "PTI Pipe Dream"; it has no backing inside the system, will not solve anything and decentralisation through other means is the way forward. Is he making much sense? Should PTI surrender its election promise? Are new provinces not needed?

The creation of a new province will open the Pandora’s Box, wrecking the federation and creating a crisis where there is none — something the PTI government is adept at doing.

As if the formidable challenges the government confronts on a daily basis are not enough, in its naivety it has announced that a new province called South Punjab will be created by making a suitable amendment to the Constitution.

No government in Pakistan has managed to create such huge frustration and despondency in the lives of millions of impoverished Pakistanis in such a short time.

The mayhem that the country faces today, whether in the form of the ever-escalating prices, currency devaluation, closure of factories, rising unemployment, or relations with neighbouring countries being at an all-time low, are all attributable in large measure to the preposterous and wholly unrealistic policies that are being pursued by the current dispensation.

Regardless of the motives, there is clearly an awful lack of vision, experience and competence.

The public anger at the worsening economic situation could have been handled with foresight and a pragmatic approach. The situation demanded a thoughtful and calculated policy steeped in objective reality. Instead, there was greater emphasis on rhetoric and hurling wild accusations against all former governments.

The PTI government needs to put its house in order and save the federation from fragmentation otherwise it will be easy to wreck the federation if this madness continues

In a bizarre move, the government has announced its intention to create a new province in South Punjab, with complete disregard to the spreading acrimony on account of the above stated problems.

So what will the new province deliver to the people? Decentralization or the devolution of power is an ongoing process that could be strengthened.

The new province, which is not really rooted in the aspirations of the people, would mean more residences and offices, and more staff and ministers — all at the expense of development which will in turn take place at the expense of the broader goal of socio-economic emancipation of the masses.

Billions of rupees would go into creating new department buildings and tens of millions on their maintenance. This would inevitably incur a cost on the environment, the value of which would be difficult to assess.

The creation of the South Punjab province will set the ball rolling for more provinces. The bill for the creation of the Hazara province has already been submitted to the Senate Secretariat and the demand for the province will now get a powerful boost.

Fast on its heels, there would be a demand to declare Karachi as a separate province. The dying ethno-linguistic movements would also get a new lease on life.

There would be a campaign for a separate Baloch province too. Similar demands would emanate from other parts of the country, like the Dera Ismail Khan division and the Tribal areas.

Read more: PTI keeps an election promise: South Punjab Province Bill to be tabled in NA

For the next few years the energies and resources of the government and political parties would then be invested in confrontations over the creation of new provinces with critical nation-building issues like quality education, healthcare, communications, industrialization, climate change and agriculture taking a back seat.

The debate for new provinces is likely to generate acute polarisation in the society and cause deep schism at all levels in national politics.

It would promote more distrust and hostility and deliver very little. Precious resources would be squandered on unproductive schemes that will bear no value to the common man.

Before the contagion spreads it needs to be stopped. If not, the politicians will soon find a new favourite topic to raise alarm over, and by so doing attract attention.

Read more: Will MQM-P’s idea of eight provinces work?

Can the country afford such futile ventures at such a great cost to the exchequer when resources are shrinking and the population is fast expanding?

The PTI government needs to put its house in order and save the federation from fragmentation otherwise it will be easy to wreck the federation if this madness continues.

Rustam Shah Mohmand is a specialist of Afghanistan and Central Asian Affairs. He has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan and also held position of Chief Commissioner Refugees for a decade. The article originally appeared at The Express Tribune and has been republished with the author’s permission. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.