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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

South Punjab province or Saraikistan; what do Saraikis demand?

The additional chief secretary (ACS) and the additional inspector general of police (AIG) have been appointed for the south Punjab secretariat. But Saraikis demand something more; a name to protect their distinct ethnic identity.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has expressed gratitude to Prime Minister Imran Khan over the government’s recent steps towards the realization of South Punjab province. Notably, the additional chief secretary (ACS) and the additional inspector general of police (AIG) have been appointed for the south Punjab secretariat. The said the two officers will establish their offices in Multan and Bahawalpur to address the problems of people.

Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the practical realization of the dream of south Punjab province has begun today as people of southern areas of the province will not have to travel to Lahore to get their administrative issues addressed.

He said administrative issues and those related to police will now be resolved in Multan and Bahawalpur, terming the devolution of powers to the grassroot levels a crucial step. Mr. Shah stressed a need for a Provincial Finance Commission (PFC) award on the pattern of the National Finance Commission (NFC).

Read More: South Punjab province: Is it even needed?

The foreign minister said the PFC will help disburse funds to all districts according to their population, needs, and deprivation. Like the past, South Punjab’s funds will not be squandered for the purpose other than they are set aside for, he added.

South Punjab Province: Background and Some Facts

The people of South Punjab, comprising of Bahawalpur, Multan, Dera Ghazi Khan, Layyah, and Bhakkar, allege that they are living in a backward and underdeveloped area of Pakistan’s largest and most populated province Punjab. The residents of South Punjab speak Saraiki. They have often complained that they were being exploited by the upper and central  Punjab’s political elite. Analysts believe that some of the demands of Saraikis are genuine and need government’s immediate action.

According to a report by Dunya News, in budget 2017-18, the gap between what was proposed to be spent in Lahore and South Punjab got widened. “Punjab government has earmarked a whopping Rs36.75 bln for Lahore’s medical colleges and hospitals in budget for the FY 2017-18, whereas a petty Rs17.75 bln has been reserved for the provision of medical and health facilities for the residents of  Southern Punjab, thus widening the budgetary allocation gap by over 100pc,” read the report.

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

It is often argued that a major portion of the budget is spent on Lahore and other urban areas and South Punjab is ignored by the political elites sitting in the provincial capital. There was a joint effort by the representatives of South Punjab before the election who created a Janoobi Punjab Suba Mahaz (JPSM) which was led by Khusro Bakhtiar. Later on, the group joined PTI before the general election after getting assurance by its chief, Imran Khan, that the new province will be created to safeguard the interests of the Saraikis.

Stance of PTI Government

Last month the government representatives agreed to form a parliamentary committee on the issue in order to seek political consensus from all stake holders. Foreign Minister Mr. Shah Mehmood Qureshi assured the house to form the committee and look into the matter in order to reach out some logical conclusions. Moreover, on Jan 16, National Assembly Speaker, Asad Qaiser, said that steps were being taken to implement the plan to give South Punjab the status of a province.

“The people of South Punjab would be soon given good tidings.” He had expressed these views while talking to members of the National Assembly, belonging to Multan and Dera Ghazi Khan Divisions who met him in Islamabad.

Read More: Naya Pakistan and South Punjab Province: What do Saraikis demand from PTI?

There is another challenge for the incumbent government to deal with. In Pakistan, provinces are named according to cultural composition and social origins of communities living there, on these grounds, Saraikis demand the South Punjab province to be named “Saraikistan” since they constitute more than 90% population of the region.