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Why does PML-N want government to create South Punjab Province?

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News Analysis |

In an interesting development, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has submitted a constitutional amendment bill in the National Assembly for the creation of “Bahawalpur and South Punjab provinces”. Addressing a press conference alongside former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and PML-N spokesperson Marriyam Aurangzeb, Ahsan Iqbal said the PML-N had achieved another milestone by submitting a constitutional amendment bill in the National Assembly to create two new provinces of South Punjab and Bahawalpur provinces.

On behalf of his party, Mr. Iqbal extended full support to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government in creating South Punjab province. “If the government is serious on the matter of creating the province, then the opposition will unconditionally second it,” he added.

The people of South Punjab, comprising Bahawalpur, Multan, Dera Ghazi Khan, Layyah, and Bhakkar, allege that they are living in the backward and underdeveloped area of Pakistan’s largest and most populated province Punjab.

It is important to mention here that the PML-N announced on the December 20th that it was ready to extend its “full cooperation” for the creation of a South Punjab province and the restoration of the Bahawalpur province in Punjab.

The Leader of Opposition in the NA also said that the government promised to create a new province and it was the priority of the PTI. As a matter of fact, the PTI had included it into its manifesto that it will create a new province on an administrative basis if elected to power. Now opposition wants the government to fulfill its promise. He also assured the government of his unconditional support for the project. “We are ready to establish the southern Punjab province with our heart and soul,” he added.

Read more: Will South Punjab be a Province?

Interestingly, the government accused the opposition of political game scoring but the later has completely rejected the allegation and maintained its position.

South Punjab Province: Background and Some Facts

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

According to a report of 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 whooping Rs36.75 bln for Lahore’s medical colleges and hospitals in the budget for the FY 2017-18 whereas a petty Rs17.75 bln has been reserved for the provision of medical and health facilities to the residents of southern Punjab, thus widening the budgetary allocation gap by over 100pc,” read the report.

“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.

It is often argued that most 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 the PTI before 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

It is also important to note here that earlier the government representatives agreed to form a parliamentary committee on the issue in order to seek political consensus from all stakeholders. 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 conclusion.

Moreover, On Jan 16, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser had said steps were being taken to implement the plan to give South Punjab the status of the 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: Will PTI fulfill its promise of creating “Janoobi Punjab Suba”?

Analysts also argue that although the opposition is using South Punjab card to give a tough time to a government that is already facing many challenges yet it is extremely important for the PTI to deliberate on what it has promised for. It is also argued that since PML-N is in majority in Central Punjab, therefore, it wants PTI to exclude from the areas it enjoys popularity in by creating new provinces.

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