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New Provinces in Punjab: Division and Devolution?


Dr. M. S. Shafique


Abstract: A well orchestrated campaign has been launched by many main-stream political parties to divide the existing province of Punjab into 3 to 4 provinces on the following grounds: (a) language /and ethnic factors; (b) historic reasons; (c) Punjab being too large to be governed effectively; (d) references to neighboring and global contexts; (e) perception of Punjab’s domination  in Pakistan; (f) unfair spatial distribution of resources and (g) factors based on demands for devolution of powers to smaller units. This paper presents view points of different experts on these stated points.

Whether the referred pretext is just a myth or reality, jury is still out. However, before we take such a strategic decision, we must be aware of  the following required legal, organizational and physical infrastructure on ground: (i) securing two-third majority votes in the national assembly, the senate as well as provincial assemblies; (ii) constitutional changes and legal support systems; (iii) working out new rights and responsibilities under a revised  national finance award and (iv) institutional and physical infrastructure like high courts, public service commissions, different secretariats, service rules for the employees of new provinces, other facilities for many provincial and federal entities. 

In spite of counter arguments and serious consequences of such division of Punjab, most political parties seem bent upon breaking up        the hydraulic, geographical, cultural, linguistic, historic and political unity of Punjab. If such division is unavoidable, for a harmonious and peaceful change, a logical process should be followed to provide prerequisites like: (1) prior agreement on the boundaries of new provinces; (2) consensus on a formula for creating new provinces at the present as well as in the future; (3) agreement on new national finance award; (4) new water apportionment accord with new provinces on board; (5) new composition of the Indus River System Authority (IRSA); (6) consensus on new senate membership; (7) addressing reservations of Sindh for the supply of river water from Chashma and Taunsa barrages; (9)simultaneous devolution of powers to lower tiers as per Article 140 of our constitution; (10) commitments to have devolution of power along hydraulic lines as per PIDA Acts; (11) construction of new link canals and barrages to avoid perpetual conflict with central Punjab; and (12) to avoid ethnic / linguistic tensions, prior agreement to allow each community to have a choice to opt for any dialect of Punjabi as its official source of initial learning.

This paper also presents a strategic proposal which achieves all the aforementioned objectives under the potential division of Punjab with bare minimum costs and changes in legal, organizational and physical infrastructure. This proposal has the following main points: A. Devolution of powers (political, financial and administrative) to lower tiers as per Article 140 without any delay; B. Implementation of  proportional system of electing representatives to eliminate a built-in conflict of interests between the members of parliaments and local governments under the current voting system; C. Immediate recognition of mother tongue as official medium of instruction at primary level with English and Urdu joining and taking over after primary education in mother tongues; D. Empowerment of ethnic and linguistic communities, under local government system, to have their own choices about dialects; and (E) Capital of Punjab to be shifted to a well-connected location at the intersection of central Punjab and Saraiki Wassaib.




Actual, intended or demanded devolution of many federal powers to provinces, devolution of many provincial powers to grass root levels and potential division (portrayed as a kind of devolution) of existing provinces are all targeted, on the surface at least, to secure mainly two objectives: (1) seeking access to more authority and financial resources and (2) ensuring enhanced and effective participation of all stakeholders in addressing their day to day problems. There is no dispute over the stated objectives under all modalities of governance; commissionerate system of control by unelected staff on behalf of provincial government, either with or without further divisions, or local governance by the elected representatives at the district and lower tiers; but difference lies in the expected outcome where one system is relatively more beneficial for the provincial elite classes and another for the people of our four provinces. Without genuine devolution of powers to the grass root levels, mere devolution of powers to provinces or any future provincial division will make people’s plight even worse. For example, the relief supplies could stay piled away in faraway places like Lahore, Karachi, Quetta and Peshawar. If the transfer of powers from federal government to provincial governments does not provide intended relief at the lower levels, a community’s plight gets only worse, because it adds an extra hoop to jump through for the relief measures to reach the needy, not to mention an extra hole where the approved funds could be siphoned off by the corrupt officials, it would be like falling from frying pan into the fire.


On one hand, all political parties of Pakistan in power got together to pass the 18th constitutional amendment with special provision for devolution of powers from the federal to provincial levels. But the same provinces shut their gates tightly to block constitutionally awarded devolution of powers to grass-roots level by re-imposing a colonial tool of control through the commissionerate system. If this system were so wonderful, why hasn’t the United Kingdom, being founder of this administrative modality, opt for it? Why all civilized nations prefer local governance as compared to the colonial system that was devised only to subjugate people of conquered territories? The real devolution of power to lower levels means, like in the United States, the local officials like judges, prosecutors and police chiefs to be elected directly by the local populace. What is being proposed here is the bringing in of their own cronies, at local levels, by feudal and tribal families with perpetual hold on power. Democracy without devolution of powers to grass-roots level is a barren and futile slogan that is, of course, a wonderful camouflage for civil dictators and the hand-in-glove elite to enjoy unlimited power and perks.

According to the referred 18th Amendment, devolution of more powers to provinces has already been achieved. So, at present, do we really see any significant positive change in governance than before? Yes, authority and powers of each chief minister are enhanced further.  Has this devolution impacted on the wellbeing of the people? Not much or the benefits of such devolution have yet to trickle down to the grass-roots level.  Obviously, there cannot be any impact if participatory mechanisms are not devised to channel this devolution of powers to solve people’s issues and grievances better than before.

Now that powers are bottled up at the provincial level, thoroughly frustrating citizens, people in power have come up with this diversion of devolution through division- but only of the Punjab. Obviously, the proponents will never accept that it is just a diversion, a tactics to protect their vested interests and bad governance. Instead, they present new “facts and figures” in selective and emotive manner to keep people running after a mirage. With utter disregard of effects of this proposal on other provinces, peace and prosperity of the country, they do not hesitate even in stoking fires of ethnicity and linguistic passions.


Arguments for Dividing Punjab:


Here are the most common arguments advanced for dividing Punjab into smaller units:

       I.            Linguistic and ethnic factors;

    II.            Historic reasons;

 III.            Punjab is too big a province to be governed effectively;

 IV.            New provinces in the context of neighboring and global context;

    V.            Punjab’s domination;

 VI.            Unfair resource distribution, deprivation and underdevelopment within different regions of Punjab; and

VII.            New winds of Devolution.

As the demand for the division of Punjab is marketed for securing peace, prosperity and participation of the people of Punjab, there is no controversy over the stated goals if the modality proposed is capable of delivering desired goods. For certain circles, there are serious reservations and skepticism expressed about real intentions of the people who are perceived playing politics to ensure success in the upcoming elections. On the other hand, their motive could be noble and sincere and apprehensions are just misgivings aired to discourage such development. In either case, it is required that we briefly go through some pros and cons being presented for the potential division of Punjab.


Linguistic and Ethnic Factors (Argument # I):  

There are  major groups who want their identities be recognized as having different languages and races in their respective areas commonly known as Saraiki belt, Bahawalpur and Potohar. This demand can easily be addressed through genuine self-governance in these areas. In the case of Bahawalpur division, however, demography is slightly in favor of Punjabi immigrant and settlers. According to Hussain Ahmad Khan (NCA), only 6 districts in southern Punjab namely Multan, Lodhran, D. G. Khan, Rajanpur, Muzaffar Garh and Leiah / Layyah where Saraiki Wassaib commands a clear majority of the population. Of course, two districts of Bahawalpur division; Rahim Yar Khan and Bahawalpur; have majority of  Riyasti dialect, very similar to Saraiki, but they apparently wish to have their own province on administrative basis.

There is another view point that our identity lies with the land served by five tributaries of the Indus that is historically known as Punjab. Within country, when innocent Punjabis are dragged out from buses and shot dead based on identity cards, no one cares to bother whether the person being killed is Saraiki, Riyasti, Doabi, Majhi, Potohari, etc; their real identity being Punjabi stays a fact of life. Similarly, those who migrated to a neighboring province and have been there for generations, when ethnic cleansing started, they could not run away from their original identity of being Punjabi; they are either being killed or made to leave their assets behind while rushing to Punjab to save their lives.

Linguistically, Punjab is one entity.” as stated by Kunwar Idris in his recent article in the daily Dawn; he goes on to elaborate this point by stating: “The regional dialects of the Punjabi language smoothly merge into each other in their long journey from the borders of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to Sindh. Hindko of Peshawar, Potohari of Rawalpindi, Seraiki of Multan, Jangli of the intervening wilderness and the hard-core Punjabi of Lahore are understood, if not spoken, with equal ease across 1,000 miles. In short, language is no barrier to unity nor can it be a plausible ground for dividing the province.” So, there is no need to keep on manufacturing new identities instead of addressing real life issues that remain neglected because of such diversionary tactics thrown in by the people in power.

In London itself, there are so many dialects of spoken English that sometimes people who grew up on one end of the city complain about being unable to understand the English spoken on the other end. Yet no one will accept them as different languages. There is only one kind of English that is taught not only in England but throughout the commonwealth countries. Had the English engaged in dialect warfare, they could have never conquered the world. Our tragedy is that Pakistani Punjab is only place in the world where we are ashamed of teaching our mother tongue to our children.

One notch higher, there is another identity called Pakistani that becomes evident when we visit foreign countries and are made to stand in long lines together as Pakistani citizens for special embarrassing treatment; being Sindhi, Balochi, Pathan or Punjabi does not make difference. How many more identities do we need?

This view point pleads that any one born in this land of five rivers, who speaks any dialect Punjabi language, is a Punjabi, period. Like Waris Shah, Bulley Shah and Mohammed Bakhsh, our other Sufi poets from southern Punjab like Ghulam Farid and Bahoo are revered as great Punjabi poets and saints even by Sikhs in Indian Punjab. However, every region has sub-groups and there should be systems in place to ensure their direct participation and self governance in addressing their day to day problems and grievances.  There are at least three distinct linguistic and racial groups in Sindh but all insist for unity of their province and being Sindhis; this is one important lesson to learn for Punjabis of all shades.


Historic Reason (Argument # II):

Selective historic events are irrelevant in the present context as we all agree through votes to demand a country called Pakistan. Pakistan did not exist before 1947. It is a historical fact that rulers and ruling centers kept changing in the sub-continent as well as in Punjab. If we go along with that logic then how can we deny the Dravidian, Aryans, Arabs, Afghanis, Iranian, Central Asians, Sikhs, British and Indians to claim their historic right to rule us? Leaving aside with history of brutal force, even those princely states that merged in India and Pakistan will have a hard time getting revived as provinces because time has created new ground realities after 1947 that are difficult to reverse.


Punjab is too big a province to govern effectively (Argument # III):

By such statement, it is hypothesized that smaller provinces ensure better governance. If that is true, governance in smaller provinces of Pakistan should be superior to Punjab. Of course, there is a lot of room for improvement in the governance of Punjab, but can anyone say that the governance in all three smaller provinces is better than Punjab? Even in the United States of America, populations of Vermont and South Dakota are around half a million or so. Comparison of the populations of different states of the USA shows that New York. Florida, Texas and California are found 36, 38, 50 and 74 times larger than either Vermont or South Dakota, respectively.  In a recent article in the Daily Times, Dr. Manzur Ejaz puts it: “does this mean that South Dakota is being run more efficiently than even New York City?”  

Of course Punjab population’s, as per census of 1998, is 2.4, 4.1 and 11.2 times larger than Sindh, KPK and Baluchistan, respectively. Is this a large difference? Yes. But population disparity is much lower when compared with the United States. Leaving a distant country aside, right on our next door, Uttar Pradesh is 328 times larger than Sikkim and much larger than the entire population of Pakistan. What would pundits say regarding such an astronomical disparity? These kinds of skewed disparities are everywhere because of many factors and ground realities. This disparity, however, should not be made the only reason to divide or break up a political, historical and hydrological entity. Of course, this is one of many options but without proper planning to handle resulting negative externalities making changes will result in many unimaginable difficulties.


New provinces in the context of neighboring and global contexts (Argument # IV): Those who support division of Punjab, give examples from the neighboring and global contexts to support their prescription for better governance:

·         Indian Punjab, although smaller than west Punjab was further divided into three provinces;

·         At the time of independence, India had only 14 provinces but that number has climbed to 28 provinces and 7 union territories;

·         Bangladesh with almost the same population as Pakistan is divided into 64 “provinces.”

·         Afghanistan, with a much smaller  population, has 34 provinces;

·         Iran, again with a smaller population, has 31 provinces; and

·         United States of America, with population of around 310 millions, has 50 states.

If the division of Punjab is an unavoidable and foregone conclusion, so be it. However, the given examples in support for the argument for division of the Punjab are misleading. Let us take each point one by one:

·         As for as the division of East Punjab goes, contrary to the stated goals, the hidden agenda was to marginalize Sikhs in India. Through their hard work, Sikh excelled in agriculture. Through their emphasis on good education, they held more than their share of prominent jobs in government and industry, not only in East Punjab but throughout north India. Although both Hindus and Sikhs in East Punjab spoke perfect Punjabi, to achieve this end, Punjabi Hindus were encouraged to declare Hindi their mother tongue, without which the devious scheme to divide East Punjab into three states would have not succeeded. To be fair, some religious sections of Sikh community, namely Akali Dal, also facilitated this division. However, there is realization among Indian Punjabis that such division was a mistake as stated by Kuldip Nayar (The Express Tribue, 25 September 2011): “After the lapse of nearly four decades, we, the Punjabis, feel that dividing the state was a mistake.”

·         Actually, as it turned out, there was another sinister purpose of dividing East Punjab into three states. It created twice as many more ministries and government jobs. Even to the dismay of Hindus, these newly created positions were filled in by the relatives, friends and cronies of those in power or those who got enough money to bribe to get these jobs. This brought in the so-called “culture of corruption” which was almost non-existent in pre-partitioned East Punjab.

·         Don’t we have already enough corruption in our part of Punjab? Don’t we need to learn lesson from the neighbors to confront hidden agendas of greedy elite class comprising of rich shrine custodians and feudal lords?  

·         While true that at the time of Indian Independence, there were 14 states of India and this number has gone up to 28 with 7 union territories, in reality, Pakistan has 6 administrative regional units, four provinces plus AJK and GB, 7 agencies and one federal area. Similarly, on the administration side, Pakistan has 133 districts and on the Indian side, there are 640 districts. With India having almost 7 times more population, using the principle of proportionality, India should have 42 states and about 931 districts to get on even keel with Pakistan. As a matter of fact, there are five states in India with larger population than Pakistani Punjab and 5 more states that are slightly behind. While comparing Pakistan with India, one must keep in mind that Indian struggle for independence was based on diversity in linguistic, racial and cultural heritage whereas the touchstone of our independence was to protect our uniformity.  So, it is not relevant to quote India in this context.

·         Certain people quote that Bangladesh, with almost similar population numbers, got 64 provinces to strive for better governance. In the first place, Bangladesh is a unitary government without an entity such as the senate to manage internal territories on an equitable footing. Any statement referring 64 districts as provinces is simply a misleading proposition. As a matter of fact we got twice the number of districts for administration purposes in Pakistan.

·         Next two examples are about the number of provinces in Iran and Afghanistan. It is reported that with lesser populations as compared to Punjab, there are 31 and 34 provinces in Iran and Afghanistan, respectively. As matter of fact, Walayat is a term used for province that is very similar to a district in Pakistan. There is a slight difference as administrative head of Walayat is governor in Iran and Afghanistan and Deputy Coordinating Officer in Pakistan; both representing the central government in either case. So, we cannot compare apples with oranges as the cliché goes.

·         Last case scenario is about the United States of America with 50 states with population around 310 millions. Although the number of states is correct but presenting this as an impression that 13 states at the time of independence in 1776 became almost four times in numbers as if those states were further divided is not true. Yes, 2-3 states were adjusted just after independence but rest of the states were mainly added through defeating (or purchasing from) France, Spain, Britain, Mexico and Russia. Alaska and Hawaii were last two states to join about 52 years back. So, an often quoted reference of the USA does not lend the required support in our context either.

Punjab’s domination Factor (Argument # V):

 Obviously, smaller provinces resent domination of Punjab because of political clout, larger economy, more salaried people and 55.6 % population of entire Pakistan. As it produces 70 to 80 % of almost all major crops, its domination in agriculture sector comes from 77% of total irrigated area of Pakistan. Basically, political clout factors in because of large population, and higher number of Punjabis employed by the army and civil services.

If, however, oil and gas resources in Baluchistan become the main stay of Pakistan’s economy; Baluchistan will start playing a dominant role. Sindh, with Pakistan’s financial hub in Karachi, is already playing an equally dominant role in politics and economy; with additional coal resources on board, this role will be further enhanced. We must keep in mind the role of Quebec in Canada few years back and now other provinces are there to grab that leading role.

Dr. Manzur Ejaz has presented his view point about the reality about the political domination of central Punjab as follows:  “Presently, the PPP is ruling the federation having won seats in smaller, as well as the largest province. At the moment, the highest political posts in the Centre are held by politicians from Sindh and the would-be Saraiki area. Even the governor of Punjab belongs to the Saraiki area. Furthermore, Punjabi politicians are very diverse and have never been in one party to influence the Centre in one direction. Therefore, the notion of size being the basis of Punjabi influence is false. However, if the central Punjab has the largest chunk of population, then that cannot be changed even after creating the Saraiki province.”

Based on what is argued by Dr. Manzur Ejaz and the fact that the PPP, having leadership from Sindh, even in its earlier three stints to power in Pakistan has always been because of more seats won by it from Punjab. In the stated context, this domination theory in practice does not hold ground. Instead, in many circles of Punjab, a perception is getting credibility that such statements are only designed to sustain an established voting pattern in Punjab over the last 41 years.

Whatever the case may be, it is in the interest of our federation as well as for people of Punjab to address these concerns in a way that presents a win-win solution for all. Trying to force a solution or creating a win-lose situation would be a harmful outcome for all.

Unfair resource distribution, deprivation and underdevelopment within different regions of Punjab (Argument # VI): When we point out about glaring disparities about resource distribution and development projects from one region in Punjab to other causing a sense of regional deprivation, we are reminded that these spatial differences in socio-economic development in the context of other provinces are much worse. Unfortunately, such kind of knee-jerk reactions cannot justify an unfair resources distribution over different regions of Punjab.

Only for records sake, those public representatives from under-developed regions of Punjab who are crying foul were either themselves or their forefathers remained an integral part of different governments and members of Punjab assembly and national assembly after every election.  How can they deny their share and responsibility in allowing it to happen? Either they were extremely incompetent to discharge their commitments with their constituents or they themselves did not want any development to begin with. While we must protest against discriminatory development in a province without any reservation, we should also question ourselves that why development is shy to go to those areas where either feudal or tribal leaders have birth right to call all shots?

To present an example, I come from Vehari district where I spent my childhood until high school education. I used to see a signboard just outside of this small city about a venue for Almas Textile Mill rumored to be owned by the most famous feudal politician of the area who played an active role in the movement of Pakistan. Why this textile mill never became a reality remained a mystery to me at that time but now it does not seem too difficult to comprehend. It is interesting to note that this politician was known for his progressive reputation, being all powerful in Punjab; however, he could not get his middle school upgraded even to high school level during his life time. If a progressive politician of feudal class can be so helpless in getting socio-economic development within his/her own constituency, how about those areas where conservative feudal lords rule like Nazis? You can read many similar stories in Shahab-Nama written by a former ICS/ CSP officer.

My purpose of looking at the other side of the story is not to malign anybody or a class but to point to a fact that certain conditions are by nature anti-development and without creating an enabling environment, developmental activities are hard to pursue. In this context, I refer back to Dr. Manzur Ejaz who pointed to a missing link in underdeveloped areas by stating the following:  The role of the middle classes of Punjab has been crucial in the present Pakistan’s democratic movements. It is this area where persons from Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry to Mukhtaran Mai find supporters. The fear is that the oppressed people of the feudal belt of Punjab will lose their supporters like Pakistan did when East Pakistan broke away; Pakistanis lost the best vanguard of democratic rights.  If it sounds too far-fetched, have a casual look at the coalition partners of federal government and track record of those public representatives who are now singing sad-songs of under development in the feudal belt of Punjab.

New Winds of Devolution (Argument # VII):

There is a strong wind blowing for devolution of powers and equally reactionary forces are trying equally hard to hold it tightly within the exclusive realms of the provincial capitals. After the passage of the famous 18th Amendment in our constitution, everyone is happy for securing more powers for the provinces. So much so that Chief Minister of Punjab threatened to go to court if the devolved ministries were not transferred as per the letter and spirit of the referred amendment. Of course, the chief minister is right as tampering with constitutional provisions is like making mockery of the law of the land. However, we conveniently forget that the same stated amendment has provision to devolve powers to lower levels as per Article 140 that reads:


140A. Local Government. — Each Province shall, by law, establish a local government system and devolve political, administrative and financial responsibility and authority to the elected representatives of the local governments.

(2) Elections to the local governments shall be held by the Election Commission of Pakistan.

Contrary to the law of the land, every province is rushing to implement an old colonial administrative system and coupling it with the toothless local body system of General Zia, as against local government. Under pressure from the MQM, Sindh allowed the local government system first for Karachi and Hyderabad and then another ordinance was issued to extend its scope for the entire province. However, this is just a temporary political move to buy some time but counter actions are already initiated to reverse such decision sooner than later. Apparently, all provincial governments are bent upon imposing the commissionerate system in a flagrant violation of constitutional provisions that they themselves have passed in 2010. The most surprising aspect of this drama is that not a single party or institution is taking any action against such violations.

Such an above stated contradiction reminds a similar situation that arose after all provincial assemblies, with the exception of Baluchistan, passed a law about Provincial Irrigation and Drainage Authorities (PIDAs) to replace an old provision called Irrigation and Drainage Act of 1873. All provinces were making their best efforts not to implement reforms under PIDA Act in its true letter and spirit. However, Punjab went a step further and instead of allowing genuine participation of water users, new committees of cronies of irrigation department were initied within different canal commands. As a team leader of training project of UNOPS, I asked the secretary of irrigation: Is this a Nizam-Sakka’s Raj that we chose to ignore laws recently passed and opted to follow that law which was discarded? Mr. Secretary turned red but he was kind enough not to throw me out. I did not get any response from the referred secretary but in 2008, a new irrigation minister opened this secret while addressing his departmental officials: “we do not want these reforms but we do need this project’s funding to meet our budget deficit.” No wonder that outsiders can pass derogatory remarks about us about our lust for money and get away with.

People need to take a serious note of the fact that why in both cases where powers were to be devolved to lower levels; our leaders are bent upon depriving them even by breaching laws and constitutional provisions? No wonder that we are demanding new provinces and some people have decided even to go beyond this demand. Further tragic part of this episode is that even if new provinces are carved out from the old ones, few additional elites will be the real beneficiaries in the shape of new Chief Ministers and their new cronies. Why does one see every day new posters about the sons of the people in power as new candidates for such potential powerful positions?   

However, whether we like it or not, over the past few years, the people got the taste of direct democratic participation in self-governance; it is going to be very hard to deprive them this birth right for any longer. It is possible to hold back people’s right of participation through devolution at the lower levels for short time but it would, in reaction, make people to take such extreme positions that may become very hard to change like. Did we not experience the consequences of this denial of people’s birth right during 1971 in East Pakistan and are now seeing repeated in Baluchistan? The façade of transfer of powers from one elite club to another is not a real devolution of powers but de-evolution of democracy and people’s exclusion in essence.  If people are serious about democracy and the welfare of the end-beneficiaries, devolution of powers to provinces must be accompanied with devolution to the end-beneficiaries, the people, simultaneously. Whatever the weaknesses are in the old model of local governance, all parties can deliberate and decide by stamping their own version as an improved package of the local government system as per the Article 140. Have a heart to look at the writing on the wall: “sooner we take devolution to lower tiers, better it would be to avoid balkanization of Pakistan.


Boundaries of Saraiki and / South Punjab:


Jury is still out about the exact boundaries of the new province being proposed. Pakistan Institute for Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT) issued a paper in November 2010 about South Punjab where a map shows its boundaries covering 11 districts of three divisions: Bahawalpur, Dera Ghazi Khan and Multan. The same entity in another discussion paper on demand for Saraiki Province has quoted Saraiki intellectuals that the new province will have 22 districts, the following 11 districts in addition to the 11 districts already mentioned under south Punjab: Dera Ismael Khan, Tank, Bannu, Bhakar, Mianwali, Khushab, Sagodha, Jhang, Toba Tek Singh, Sahiwal and Pakpattan. Some others have talked about 18 districts of Punjab only excluding Toba Tek Singh from Punjab and three districts of KPK. Most realistic maps that you see while surfing the internet describe Saraiki Province of 9 districts: 3 districts of Bahawalpur Division, 4 districts of Dera Ghazi Khan and two districts of Multan. As a matter of fact, in the context of majority areas of Saraiki speaking people, Bahawalnagar does not fit in this scheme anyway as it has only 1.2 % Saraiki population [Hussain Ahmed Khan]. However, when hydraulic boundary is super-imposed, defined by link canals from Chashma to Mailsi siphon connected to Bahawal Canal, parts of Khanewal and Vehari districts will fall within this potential Saraiki province also but without the entire district of Bahawalnagar and Hasilpur Tehsil of Bahawalpur district (area above of Mailsi-Bahawal Canal command) . In spite of all this political engineering, around more than 40 percent of total population of the proposed Saraiki province will still remain non-Saraiki. Mapping it out with any of the other additions of districts will only marginalize the Saraiki population as a minority with the majority being the other non-Saraiki groups.

According to a news item in the Pakistan Today (18 August 2011), Saraiki nationalists claim 25 districts, an area larger than the existing Punjab. These listed districts are: Bahawalpur, Khanpur, Liaquatpur, (Khanpur and Liaqatpur are tehsils of Rahim Yar Khan) Bahawalnagar, Rahim Yar Khan, Multan, Khanewal, Vehari, Pakpattan, Sahiwal, Lodhran, Muzaffargarh, Layyah, Dera Ghazi Khan, Rajanpur, Jhang, Toba Tek Singh, Mianwali, Bhakkar, Khushab, Dera Ismail Khan, Bannu, Tank, Ghotki, Jacobabad and Dera Murad Jamali (Dera Murad Jamali is not a district but a tehsil of Nasirabad District and how about other Saraiki speaking districts -- Dera Bugti and Barkhan?). Perhaps the news-reporter forgot to include Sargodha and Khushab in this list and added two tehsils to complete a list of 25 districts. Following are few claimed boundaries of new provinces entitled as Bahawalpur and Saraiki / South Punjab but confusion prevails all around:     



Clearly, there is a humongous confusion about possible boundaries of this potential new province either named as south Punjab or Saraiki province. A street-smart political move that was initiated to partition of Punjab to corner PML (N), it has generated so much heat that it has now getting too close for comfort and is haunting all coalition partners. As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for.  Sooner or later, it is expected, the initiators of diversionary project will take another somersault by switching to the creation of south Punjab province with an intention to camouflaging their real plan of having a Saraiki province restricted only within the boundaries of the Punjab. In either case, it has now become a no win situation for the initiators as there are dozens of new voices for many other provinces throughout Pakistan. As the land underneath the feet of initiators has started getting hot, this limited division related move appears to have backfired. Interestingly, the original targeted party stands to gain sympathies of non-Saraiki voters whereas the Saraiki vote-bank will have many contenders who jumped into this bandwagon of the Sairaiki Province.

For creating a province, Kunwar Idris (The Dawn: 16 August, 2011) has crisply defined prerequisites as follows: “The province is a constitutional and legislative entity. It also represents, or is supposed to, the cultural, racial and linguistic homogeneity of the inhabitants in the context of a historical background. Systems or institutions to administer the province can be evolved to suit the convenience of the people by dividing the territory, howsoever sprawling or densely populated, without mutilating its unifying characteristics.” Because of the consequences of partition of sub-continent and earlier development of irrigation canals, huge influx of migrants and settlers of different dialects has changed the demography to such an extent that the ground reality does not support homogeneity in the focused region. By declaring Lehnda Punjabi dialect as Saraiki language in the 1980s, a special gift of General Zia under his policy of divide and rule, this concept got a fatal blow. Moreover, dividing a historic entity because of 90 million population of Punjab does not hold ground as population of Uttar Pradesh (UP) is more than that of the entire Pakistan. In UP, there also exist even two different scripted languages known as Urdu and Hindi side by side because they are mutually intelligible.

Carving out new provinces on administrative basis does not make any sense either. As demand is not to seek delegation of financial, administrative and political powers to say districts, tehsils and union councils within an existing province; new provinces within the same old administrative mold can hardly make any impact on the stated grievances.  A provincial entity requires autonomy like other such entities where a homogeneous community thinks and acts alike for securing a common and shared vision. Just drawing an arbitrary line to create an artificial province would only create some new top jobs for regional elite.  Without ensuring rights of different groups of varied backgrounds, there will always be a serious danger lurking around like the one we witness in Karachi in most parts of such entity. A province that produces almost 70-80% of all kinds of agricultural produce, playing with divisionary fire is too risky a game in the context of national survival.

Requirement of Legal and Physical Infrastructure for new Provinces:

 If people in power have gone too far to listen to anything being stated, rational stakeholders must make them realize that certain prerequisites are a must to allow such divisions to take place to reduce the destructive turbulence that will occur. Obviously, all decision makers need to sit down together and work out all issues that have potential to become too complicated to solve after haphazardly crafted new realities take central stage. Mr. Khuda Bukhsh (The Jang: August 20, 2011) has pointed out certain requirements in the way of creating new provinces that point to the following issues for collective leadership to resolve:

·         Changes in Article 1 of the Constitution of Pakistan (CoP) where there is mention of federal units/ provinces;

·         Changes in Article 51 (CoP) about members of National Assembly from each province;

·         Changes in Article 59 that is about members of Senate from each province;

·         Changes in Article 106 (CoP) for fixing new number of members of all resulting provincial assemblies;

·         Agreement about a new National Finance Award with the succeeding provinces ;

·         Provision of new physical, organizational and legal infrastructure for operating the new provinces Like:

o   Provincial high courts;

o   Public service commission for each new province;

o   Provincial service tribunals;

o   Provincial ombudsmen;

o   Provision / construction of new provincial assembly secretariats;

o   Provincial civil secretariats;

o   Secretariats of new provincial Chief Ministers;

o   Secretariats for governors of new provinces;

o   Service rules for provincial employees;

·         Establishment of new federal entities for new provinces;

·         Consensus about two-third approval for new provinces from the parliament (national assembly and Senate) and respective provincial assemblies as per Article 238 (4) of the Constitution of Pakistan (Babar Sattar, The News of August 20,2011); and

·         Most difficult and costly job would be to draw boundary-lines in the following provincial map of Punjab with a huge network of canals:

One of the most important challenges for all provinces would be to work out a new river-water distribution accord on an equitable basis. As the resulting Saraiki and Bahawalpur provinces will mainly depend on river-flows from Chashma-Jhelum and Taunsa-Panjnand link canals, an amicable settlement with the Government of Sindh will also be required.  

Strategic Queries and Concerns:

Even before proposing and initiating actions under all the above stated steps, we need an honest and serious debate among all stakeholders to reach a general agreement on the following aspects: 

·         Selection of the boundaries for new province/ (s) that are politically acceptable, demographically homogeneous, geographically feasible and hydro-logically appropriate without harming their unifying characteristics;

·         Creation of awareness that agreeing on a criteria for further division/(s) in one context means that the same will apply as a precedent to the entire country for all non-homogeneous groups, perceived or real, if they wish to do so;

·         Collectively, identify real reasons as well as perceptions for regional deprivations and prepare a menu of alternatives for public debate and deliberations;

·         If long distance from the provincial capitals is a perceived a real concern, is it just for a particular province or more than one province to focus on?

·         There should be debate about the nature of our political parties, whether we want genuine political parties or just political mafias, owned by few powerful families, as they are expected to control all powers for the welfare of all citizens of the country;

·         Review is in order about the role of feudal and tribal elite in the prevailing under-development and regional deprivation;

·         Contribution of other factors for under-development such as built-in suppression by tribal and feudal elite, misuse of religion, sub-nationalism, and nationalism, etc;

·         Lack of participation of all stakeholders;

·         Compulsions of constituency politics under the current election system; 

·         Dysfunctional nature of institutions and functional personality cults; and

·         Creation of creative and conducive environment for rational discussion and deliberations on a strategic subject of carving out new provinces in Pakistan.

In other words, the decision to divide existing provinces or by readjusting boundaries is too strategic, too serious and too sensitive a subject that demands extra care, fore-sightedness and vision for bringing change to achieve objectives as envisioned. If we allow opponents to run free hurling threats of blood-letting if Saraiki province was not created as per their desires, we as a nation are drifting exactly towards what they are forecasting. Instead of seeking participation and consultation with all stakeholders that are going to be impacted, we start issuing one-sided, casual and illogical socio-political solutions without taking  all targeted segments of a non-homogenous community into confidence. Bear in mind that we may or may not arrive at the same conclusion if all stakeholders are consulted for securing a sustainable and peaceful outcome.

Most political parties in Pakistan use all means, legal as well as illegal, to get voted into power,” as stated by Babar Sattar (The News: August 20, 2011),” to secure access to the resources of the state and then use/abuse state- power and distribute resources amongst its voters and supporters to strengthen the personalized system of patronage of party leaders.” If this is so, how can we define political mafias differently?  However, this is a ground reality and we need to address this anomaly as this may be creating a sense of deprivation and left-out syndrome.

Different Points of Views about New Provinces:


While discussing PML (N)’s stand on administrative division, Ejaz Haider (The Express Tribune, August 15, 2011) has presented a valid argument by saying: “The problem is, whether we like it or not, people are most comfortable when they are among their own — those who speak the same language, come from the same ethnic stock, and, in most cases, practice the same beliefs.” For starting a rational debate, we need to ask ourselves in an honest way if we really have the same language, same ethnic stock and same beliefs in the current sectarian environment within a region when we want new entity to emerge. We did not get Pakistan the way old states in this part of the world, or anywhere for that matter, used to emerge. As consequence of that democratic outcome, whether we like it or not, it is difficult to find such prerequisites available for creating new provinces anywhere in Pakistan.

The role of feudal and tribal elite in under-development and regional deprivation is lost in this ongoing debate for creating new provinces as a quick fix solution. More surprising part of this story is that those families who should have moral courage to accept their own responsibility in the stated regional deprivation are trying hard to be the cheerleaders for this political movement. However, there are political analysts who believe that their own feudal and tribal leaders are the main culprits in causing such under-development in the Saraiki belt or south Punjab. For example, Dr. Rasul Bakhsh Rais (April 19, 2010) has described these troubles as: “They (referred troubles) are primarily because of feudalism, semi-tribal social structure and monopoly of landowning families over political representation. This class has misused its power and continues to do so. There appears to be an unbreakable nexus between the civil bureaucrats heading different government departments at the district level and the elected representatives both of local governments and the members of provincial and federal legislatures. Again, with few exceptions, they have joined hands to misappropriate development funds by spending very little on projects and pocketing most of the money. During the Musharraf years, Southern Punjab witnessed greater plunder than perhaps any other region of the country.” In this same context, a statement of Mr. Fakhr Zaman (The Daily Times, August 10, 2009), Chairman Academy of Letters, merits due consideration when he holds the local feudal class responsible for the poverty and illiteracy in southern Punjab. Based on this hypothesis, he demands: “feudalism should come to an immediate end to save Punjab from disintegration.”

Saraiki Wasaib will, undoubtedly, challenge the phrase “save Punjab from disintegration. If East Punjab can be divided into three parts and, historically, this region remained divided among different rulers till Sikhs established their own empire, why should there be alarmist statements over the demand for carving out a province as Saraiki or southern Punjab?  If Langahs could rule from Multan over a part of the present day Punjab and east Punjab could be divided into three states in India , what is wrong dividing west Punjab of Pakistan as well?

The other side of the story is also an equally solid argument to ponder about. They say that division of east Punjab resulted to preserve religious identities and to put in place a strategic arrangement  for cornering the Sikhs. Sure, in history, Langahs and other similar dynasties governed the region of Multan but historic events lead this region to be part of the present day Punjab; first through Sikh empire that was eventually overtaken by the East India Company. Most of the referred rulers, including local kings, came in power through brutal force and were removed by the same rules without any consent of the local people. Whatever the case may be, all these historic events ended up in a geographical entity we call Punjab.

New Ground Realities:

There was a time, about 150 years back; this almost entire arid and semi-arid region of the Punjab was no different from the remote pockets of Cholistan desert except for a few inundation canal command areas. From the mid of nineteenth century, weir-controlled canals started appearing in this area. Over the last one and half century, we see the largest contiguous canal irrigation system developed in our part of the Indus Valley. This huge web of canals was developed in a way that Sindh and Punjab resulted in becoming separate hydraulic entities.

As a consequence of independence in 1947, a couple of canals left their off-takes in India. To overcome this dependence, Pakistan had to go through a long process of negotiations and then replacement works to provide alternative supply infrastructure along with new link canals to keep two dysfunctional rivers, the Ravi and the Sutlej, as functional sources for their respective canal networks.

Because of the division of the Indus Basin, rivers got divided and hence a huge system of link-canals became am unavoidable necessity. These new link-canals and dozens of other irrigation canals, many taking-off from central Punjab to serve the central and southern parts of Punjab, have tied this geographical configuration into one hydraulic entity that would be extremely difficult to divide. For example, just one canal that takes off from Sukkar Barrage and serves both Sindh and Baluchistan has become a perpetual bone of contention between the two provinces. Similar difficulties, after getting multiplied many times, are bound to haunt in the divided Punjab forever if it gets divided into more provinces. It is, therefore, not very hard to visualize a perpetual conflict being orchestrated by the politicians, who always play to the gallery for strengthening their vote bank.  On-ground manipulations by many greedy parties will also have extremely dangerous consequences for the economy and polity in Pakistan.

The above scenario is a possible perpetual inter-provincial conflict among the proposed provinces of Punjab. There is even a more serious concern for intra-provincial disharmony between locals and non-local communities in a non-homogeneous population resulted as a consequence of earlier division of Punjab in 1947. One can imagine violent scenarios, like in Sri Lanka and Karachi, happening everywhere in the proposed provinces of the present Punjab. In addition to stated heterogeneity, water disputes will add fuel to fire for such ethnic tensions. If our decision makers are so much sold to the idea of dividing Punjab into different provinces, they must have to make a practical move to address such fears in advance before it is too late.

Leaving aside all such concerns, the most important issue would the reopening and renegotiation of Water Apportionment Accord (WAA) of 1991. Those who know the history of inter-provincial water dispute among the direct stakeholders may wish to avoid opening this Pandora’s Box again. It is easy to talk about creating new provinces but it would be extremely difficult to manage the resulting spillovers that demand careful handling.     

Responsibility for Regional Deprivation in Punjab:

  Lack of participation, in provincial decision-making and resources allocation, creates a regional bitterness of being left-out. Such a political deprivation incites people to take extreme positions that become too difficult to untangle at a later stage even though they are proved to be illogical and irrational. However, it is difficult to say if there is such a thing as lack of participation of Saraiki leadership in the context of sharing powers at federal as well as Punjab levels. To the best of my knowledge  the following Saraiki families remained in power and assemblies since independence:

·         Legaris,

·         Gilanis,

·         Mazaris

·         Daultanas,

·         Mamdoats

·         Sardars,

·         Gurmanis,

·         Gardezis,

·         Maliks,

·         Khars,

·         Noons;

·         Khosas,

·         Qureshis;

·         Mizaris,

·         Hashmis,

·         Jatois,

·         Abbasis,

·         Nawabs,

·         Tareens;

·         Kanjus

·         Hirajs,

·         Pirzadas;

·         Sahabzadas;

·         Nawabzadas,

·         Tawanas,

·         Duranis,

·         Buddan Shahs,

·         Bhabas

·         Manhais,

·         Khichis,

·         Sarganas,

·         Mitrus,

·         Khaggas,

·         Watoos,

·         Makhdooms,

·         Syeds,

·         Dastis,

·         Khakwanis, etc.

The above given list is by no means complete. There are other tribal leaders and feudal lords who participated in this power game. It is good topic for researchers to shed more light on the myth of lack of participation by Saraiki leadership at federal as well as Punjab levels. We all know that, even former and current chief ministers of Punjab are elected from the Saraiki belt, Moreover, having Gilani as the prime minister of Pakistan and Latif Khosa as the governor of Punjab; it is obvious that Saraiki representatives are holding all the levers of powers in Pakistan. Why then with more than their due share of power by their representatives, the Saraiki belt is still a relatively underdeveloped area of Punjab?

As a matter of fact, for most part of the civilian rule, the feudal lords enjoyed full powers and had full control over all resources of Punjab. Isn’t it obvious that the Saraiki feudal lords are the main roadblock in the way of developing southern Punjab? Why then the same people are shedding crocodile’s tears for injustice to the southern region of Punjab? One explanation of this could be that after 1971, this class feels a real threat from the emerging middle class in central Punjab to replace them for good. To protect their vested interests, these tribal and feudal leaders will do anything and everything as they did in getting rid of East Pakistan after seeing similar threat to their power, perks and privileges.

The Daultana family of Vehari is an example of their class character. To be fair, the Daultana family is known for its broadmindedness and progressive appearance when compared to other feudal lords of this area. Mumtaz Daultana was a famous politician who was known for such stated qualities and it is said many feudal lords were unhappy for his non-traditional “behavior.” However, the progressive politician inherited a primary school in his home-town, Luddan. A major player of power game in Punjab, even Mumtaz Daultana was so “powerless” that he could not get this school upgraded in his life time. It got; however, upgraded only recently by either a mischief or gesture from another local feudal family, Khakwani, just like many similar stories mentioned in Shehab-Nama many in the same context. Of course, there are fewer schools in the Saraiki belt but the real cause of mal-distribution of public goods is a feudal environment, not the people living in other parts of Punjab. 

Unfair Distribution of Public Goods:

Proper allocation of financial resource is another aspect that needs to be addressed. If there is unfair allocation of financial resources from one region to another, it should have been rectified years ago. The following table shows per capita  less allocation of 11 districts of south Punjab to the entire population of Punjab. Instead of including some additional allocations to address higher poverty and underdevelopment found in southern Punjab (or any other part of Punjab for that matter), the allocations suggest that there are no set rules followed in this process. Had the provinces followed the recently agreed formula of resource allocation among provinces to distribute annual development funds among districts, there would have been significant progress made eradicating past injustice.


Total ADP

(Millions Rs)*

Allocation for 11 Districts of South Punjab

(Millions Rs)*

Percent Allocation to 11 Districts of South Punjab

Percent Population of 11 Districts to total of Punjab









































 *PILDAT’s discussion paper (2010) appears to state ADP in millions but it sounds like billions. However, the given ratios will remain same as quoted.

Rather than  justifying the lopsided distribution of provincial financial resources,  our universities, researchers and intellectuals should challenge themselves to address the following questions:

Ø  What is a resource distribution status regarding urban areas versus rural areas of all provinces?

Ø  Do we have uniform distribution in feudal dominated rural Sindh versus majority Urdu speaking urban areas?

Ø  How is resource distribution influenced within feudal, tribal and relatively non-feudal and non-tribal environment?

Ø  What is the percentage of feudal versus commoner representation in national and provincial assemblies?

Ø  What is the ratio of actual versus “ghost” schools within feudal, tribal and emerging middle class context?

Ø   Why is the nationality “stick” so handy to protect feudal and tribal interests as compared to the interests of an emerging middle class?

Ø  Why with extra heavier representation of Saraiki Wassaib, the Saraiki belt in Punjab is still poorer and relatively less developed?

Ø  How far the creation of new provinces will influence the fairer and more uniform resource distribution at district, tehsil and union council levels?

Ø  How the location of a provincial capital affects resource distribution and utilization as compared to different districts?

Ø  What are the main factors in the way of fair distribution of financial resources in all districts, tehsils and union councils?

Unless we have credible answers of the above stated questions, it is difficult to have rational deliberations on the subject in hand. Focusing on the issues raised, it is hoped that PILDAT type entities will issue more discussion papers like in-depth reports (by PILDAT) about south Punjab and Saraiki demands. If at all we feel it necessary to seek some constitutional changes, we should do all at once for all possible new provinces to save time for solving other day to day issues instead of keeping the whole nation in a vicious and perpetual cycle requiring constitutional changes.

Arbitrary Linguistic Policy and Demands for New Provinces:

This ongoing crave to carve out more provinces by dividing Punjab is an eye opener and the sooner we acknowledge it, the better it would be for Pakistan in general and for Punjab in particular. These division related demands point to a blunder that our seniors have committed by not opting Punjabi as an official language of the Punjab. In this context, Sindhis have been wiser and visionary in having Sindhi being taught from the first grade. As a consequence of this proactive strategy by Sindhis, there is no noise from Sukkar and Larkana division for joining into the demanded new province for Saraiki Wasaib as we witness a serious yearning from D.I. Khan Division of KPK.

Let us have courage to acknowledge that the ethnic card is the only tool left for elite classes to use to protect their feudal and tribal vested interests. In this vested pursuance, they will not hesitate to invent more and more new ethnic groups to perpetuate their rule as Gen. Zia did by declaring a dialect called Lehnda Punjabi as Saraiki language in 1980s. If proactive steps are ignored,   more such ethnic groups in the near future will emerge to cause further disintegration Punjab.

 As Punjab produces 70-80 % of total agricultural products, division of Punjab, if not managed properly, will spell disaster for the entire national economy. This outcome is feared because carving out more and more provinces from Punjab with huge network of canals from north-east to south west will create a perpetual dispute between different old and new provinces of Punjab. Moreover, the on ground reality that the Ravi and the Sutlej rivers are kept functional only with link canals of the central Punjab can give birth to an unending blame game and crisis to cripple the engine of agricultural economy in Punjab.

In addition to Sindh, there is no harm in learning from Indian Punjab where division of the Indus basin brought in all Punjabis of different dialects like Riasti, Multani, Potohari, Pahari, Doabi, Majha, etc (altogether about 29 dialects of Punjabi given in the Appendix). Leaving aside another division after independence, with hidden aim to cut Sikhs’ expected domination to a manageable size, the teaching of the Punjabi language in schools has helped to develop a standard language for the entire state.  In India, they don’t face a self-made ethnic threat anymore. On the other hand, in the absence of declaring and teaching Punjabi at school level, like the kind of bind we are in today after 6 decades of failed efforts to enforce one language at the country level, different dialects in East Punjab could have been used by Hindus to do the same as the Pakistani feudal and tribal leaders are using against west /Pakistani Punjab.

In order to avoid inventing 29 languages in Punjab, it is still not too late to revisit our old language related old myths and present realities  to set our direction right to face off brutal facts on ground. It is quite evident that any further delay in not opting Punjabi at the school level will turn out to be a serious threat to the integrity and agricultural economy of Pakistan in general and for Punjab in particular. People need to ponder over this hypothesis in a rational manner.

 Admit or not, Pakistan is suffering from the identity crisis. This psyche is most prevalent in Punjab. It is not very hard to understand why. In every other country, the language spoken by majority is the national language. In Pakistan, the teaching of majority’s language is denied even to its own speakers. Of course, it is at the behest of ruling elite. The elite itself has all means to send its children abroad to study, while general populace is not allowed to learn even its own language. It serves perfectly the rulers of this country to ridicule this sweet rich language of great saints as rural language.


Furthermore, efforts are on the way to marginalize it even more by labeling its dialects, total about 29 as given in the appendix, which are no more diverse than English spoken within the city of London, as separate languages. The British were not the only one to employ “divide and rule” Policy; a Punjabi General with “doabi” dialect perfected this art to stay in power at any cost.


There is no lesson learned from the loss of East Pakistan.  If Pakistan has to survive as a nation, the least all the well-meaning Punjabis need to do is to push for adoption of recommendations by SPELT (Society of Pakistan English Language Teachers) and the British Council. Unlike our ruling elite, this council has no axe of its own to grind. Below is the summary of the report issued on 24 October 2010:


·         “Nursery Education: Learn to speak mother tongue language.


·         First 3 years: Introduction to alphabets, learn to read and write in their mother tongue (Scripts for local language and Urdu are either same or very similar).


·         Class 3-5: Urdu is introduced and gradually replaces regional language as the language of instruction. By grade 5 this transition is complete. Regional language is a subject not medium of instruction but still taught as a subject.


·         Class 6: Children should be confident and fluent in Urdu by now. Roman alphabet and English are introduced. English is studied as a main subject for four years (grade 6-9).


·         Class 10: English becomes medium of instruction; Urdu and regional languages become subjects.


·         Entrance exams for civil service, other employment and universities will require that candidates are good in all 3 languages (Urdu, English, regional language). This will help them serve their people better and oblige elite schools to teach local language.”

As the ethnic genie is already out of bottle, it is going to be extremely hard to lock it back. The entire political class is responsible for letting this genie out to venture for short-term political benefits. Now, the least we can do at the present difficult stage is that we should provide leadership to do proper damage control. Our policy line should be that we are willing to support such eventuality (of the division of the Punjab province) if the fair interests of all stakeholders are ensured by putting in place all required prerequisites in place for a peaceful and sustainable outcome. In this context, we need to remove certain road-blocks in the way of  conflict-free divisions of Punjab, if it becomes inevitable, by putting in place the following prerequisites:

1.      Agreement on the national financial award with required adjustments to be achieved to incorporate all provinces created as new stakeholders;

2.      Water Apportionment Accord to be agreed before new players get on board after developing consensus with old and new entities;

3.      Agreement on new composition and representation of Indus River System Authority to provide representation to the newly created provinces;

4.      Senate membership is going to change and that change has to be agreed upon;

5.      Deciding the boundaries along with need for new barrages and link canals to avoid constant bickering between new and old left-over units as is the case between Sindh and Baluchistan witnessed today;

6.      Seeking consent from Sindh for not objecting to the withdrawals of water from Chashma and Taunsa barrages for south / Saraiki and / Bahawalpur Province/(s);

7.      Devolution as per Article 140 to ensure proper distribution of developmental funds to each district, tehsil, union council and village council;

8.      Provincial Irrigation and Drainage Authorities (PIDA) Acts passed by three provinces must be implemented in their true letter and spirit by allowing devolution along hydraulic lines through local governance system;

9.      Guaranteed devolution of self-governance for “local” as well as “non-local” communities through financial, political and administrative powers to ensure non-discriminatory conditions for all ethnic groups in each unit of Punjab; and

10.   To avoid ethnic violence, if Saraiki is declared as medium of instruction within new units, Non-Saraiki population should be offered Punjabi as an alternative to choose.

Strategic Proposal for Consideration:

Over the last two centuries, the geographical unity of this region, served by the mighty Indus and its five tributaries, has developed into such a hydraulic entity with huge inter-dependent irrigation and drainage infrastructure that its division will be like opening a Pandora’s Box of so many extremely difficult issues and conflicts among resulting new provinces.  It would be easier to create division by stoking ethnic fire, but it is going to be next to impossible to keep this inter-dependent region conflict-free. As a consequence, the result would be that the optimum capacity of this food and fiber machine’s productivity will be blunted for good.

Punjab is no more a simple land being served by small inundation canals; it is a complex network of canals that creates interdependence that no other province or country can claim. The Ravi and Sutlej rivers are left dysfunctional depressions only to dispose of excessive monsoon spills from India and urban effluents from many cities of Punjab. To keep these rivers alive, oxygen is channeled through different link canals connecting rivers like the Jhelum and Chenab. Moreover, so many major canals from these rivers originate from central Punjab and go on to serve central Punjab and upper parts of south Punjab with still undetermined boundaries. As a consequence of referred interdependent physical arrangements, Punjab has become like a human boy; you can’t cut into pieces without killing all its parts.

Bahawalpur is in a much more precarious situation; its two and half canals receive water through link canals of central Punjab and remaining two and half canals by the link canals that originate from Chashma and Taunsa barrages after flowing through the area known as Saraiki Wasaib. One does not need rocket science to understand the complications that will emerge for these divisions being contemplated.

Potohar is the only region in Punjab that is not tied to hydraulic complexities as described for the rest of Punjab. It is mostly a plateau area with a population of around 7 millions compromising of four districts. With a patchy rain-fed agriculture and sparsely distributed population, its separate identity as a new province is not in the strategic interest of this region. This region stands to benefit a lot by staying as a part and parcel of united entity of Punjab. For the rest of Punjab, Potohar is the most important strategic region to sustain its development in irrigated agriculture. Frankly, Potohar is the only area where off-channel storage facilities can be built as presented in the following figure to turn this region into a land of reservoirs and lakes:

 Potohar plateau can become a land of reservoirs and green through pressurized irrigation but only if it stays part of Punjab as such massive projects need collective resources and readymade available “market” for such hydraulic “goods.” In the given context, the entire Punjab, barring one tehsil of Eisa Khel and two districts of D. G. Khan, is indispensible hydraulic entities unlike Sindh where left and right banks give birth to separate hydraulic entities and Karachi zone being different anyway.

Most important reason for not dividing Punjab is that the present Punjab, including Saraki belt, has become a heterogeneous society. Since mid nineteenth century, there has been humongous change in the composition of population of this land served by the Indus River and its five tributaries. With weir-controlled irrigation through barrages and large gravity canals, People of Punjab the present Punjab found it attractive to move the province. Earlier, it was like a desert land, but after canalization of west Punjab, the government of that time and feudal lords encouraged people to move around to utilize their skills in developing command areas of new canals for growing crops.

As a consequence of partition of this Indus basin in 1947, millions of migrants came to settle in the entire west Punjab. At present, demography in former Bahawalpur State is has slightly shifted in favor of Punjabi settlers and Punjabi immigrant population. Excluding Bahawalpur Division, the remaining 6 districts of south Punjab have majority of people who speak the Saraiki dialect. Even here, non-Saraiki population is around 40 percent. If claims about Saraiki province for 18, 22 or 25 districts are considered, Saraiki majority changes into a minority around less than 40 percent, not a favorable situation for Saraikis.

If the above reality is combined with a huge canal network, Indus Water Treaty of 1960, Replacement works, Water Apportionment Accord of 1991, Sindh’s reservations about Chashma-Jhelum Canal and Taunsa-Chenab Link Canal, IRSA’s new membership, reopening of National Finance Commission, new geographical and hydrological boundaries of new provinces, creation of new province/(s) is fraught with colossal dangers and difficulties. Unless we address the already stated prerequisites, there is every possibility that such division/(s) will add so many everlasting conflicts among different entities in this land of five rivers.

Such potentially perpetual conflicts will also be used by the politicians to keep their vote-banks intact.  The worst fears are that we end up witnessing many Karachi and Sri Lankan type killings everywhere in Punjab. God forbid such scenario but if it is even a remote possibility, we will have a disaster written all over in Punjab as well as in Pakistan. This appears to be a scary scenario but how can such eventuality be ignored after seeing what is happening in Karachi? We should keep in mind that stakes in Karachi are not as critical as compared to what can happen in Punjab – after all, the brutality of 1947 has already set such a precedent in our not- so-great past history. Let us hope that Amrita Pritam’s is the last poem written on the tragedy of this beautiful land – called Punjab – land of Fiver Rivers.

Strategic Solution Package:

Without hiding behind statements that an extreme skewed distribution of public goods also exists in other provinces, within the urban and rural divide or from one region to other region within every province; Punjab is not an exception. Moreover, trying to bridge gaps thorough special provincial and federal awards, when hell is raised, is not a permanent solution. Letting devolution to stop at provincial level is an even worse solution as the chief minister may become too powerful and may tend to flout all principles of fairness. In the  context of Punjab, as per the facts provided earlier, further divisions are fully laden with serious consequences. Therefore, we are challenged to come up with less costly but innovative alternatives that address grievances on permanent basis.

Before discussing a solution package, we lay out some important objectives to provide a package of strategic solution. Essentially, these are the same objectives that the promoters of new provinces are claiming to achieve:

·         Fairer distribution of financial resources at least as per population ratios;

·         Self-governance by different regions and communities;

·         Recognition of ethnic identity/(ies) with unity in diversity; and

·         Enhancement in the pace of development by providing effective and accessible governance.

At present, elite class supports new provinces by dividing only Punjab. This seems a more attractive option as it provides more opportunities for the regional elites to control perks and privileges without sharing with “outsiders.” Babar Sattar (The News: August 20, 2011) has eloquently described this exclusive option as:The debate over the creation of more provinces is just a fight over the distribution of spoils between competing elites and bears no relevance to the ordinary Pakistani.” This statement supports my view point that creation of new provinces by dividing Punjab is not in the interest of left-over Punjab in general and new provinces in particular. So, people should put their heads together for a collective analysis of all available alternatives to achieve their set objectives for the welfare and development of all stakeholders of all regions of Punjab.

There could be so many alternatives that can be presented, but one option that has already been discussed in details is to create new provinces as promoted by political parties after prerequisite agreements and arrangements, at least 10 points in this context presented earlier, are put in place. Although devolution of powers is part of this package as per Article No. 140, other agreements and arrangements may take many years, if at all, to mature.

In view of the ground realities stated earlier in this paper, a quick and sustainable way out to achieve all the stated objectives is to bring in an improved version of local governance by elected, not appointed bodies. It is not a solution to open a Pandora’s Box of unmanageable complications by stoking fire of ethnicity in heterogonous demographic conditions while trying to disturb the existing provincial boundaries. As the legal infrastructure is already in place, Article 140, putting a stamp of a democratic era in devising an improved interpretation of devolution can do all that is desired and much more by the following means and modifications:

As per law, Article 140, each province is bound to establish a local government system by devolving political, administrative and financial responsibility and authority to the elected representatives of the local governments. No doubt that such a legal framework is the best guarantor for ensuring fairer allocation of annual development funds and other development activities that will not held back at the provincial level as there will be additional social and political pressure from the lower tiers and electorate to demand their due and legal share.


Although there is already a formula that can come handy to ensure fair and uniform distribution of funds across provinces but some modifications may improve distribution of funds if we apply the same formula that is embedded in the National Financial Commission to allocate funds to provinces to all the tiers under each provincial government. By adding poverty and level of under-development, in addition to the primary yardstick of population, most of the grievances can be addressed in a much fairer way. By having intra-provincial funds allocation committees say at district, tehsil, union council and even village council (potential new tier) levels; outputs and performance will become the only indicator for different tiers to compete among themselves.


When devolution stops at the provincial level, the flow of resources mainly depend on the discretion of the provincial chief executive and bargaining powers as well as nuisance value of respective representatives from different districts. These kind of monopolistic and almost unaccountable transactions take place in a system that is less transparent, holds no integrity and with hardly any meaningful participation of intended recipients. As a matter of fact, this is the unique environment in which corruption flourishes as it is defined by an agency of the United Nations (UNDP):


  Corruption = (Monopoly + Discretion) – (Accountability + Integrity + Transparency)

The corruption is expected to be more in case of commissionerate system compared to local government system having lesser monopoly and discretion of resource allocation at lower tiers.  As the electorate has the power to punish the corrupt elected officials, by voting them out of power at the next election, the local governance also brings in relatively more interactive accountability, integrity and transparency. This difference can be further enhanced by putting credible watch-dog systems in place along with local scrutiny and accountability by local electorate.

Second objective is ensuring self-governance. In non-homogeneous provinces with different ethnic groups having majority in different parts of the province, it will be very difficult for any group to dominate. With devolved political, administrative and financial responsibility and authority, each lower tier will have self-governance whereas under the commissionerate system,  unelected civil service is designed simply to rule as per the wishes of provincial elites.  With even the smallest unit, self-governed by locally elected representatives system, there cannot be a better system for self-governance by each ethnic group in a heterogeneous demographic contexts.

Third possible objective is to establish ethnic identity/(ies). Of course, for a homogeneous demographic setting, seeking a provincial status makes sense. However, we need to be honest enough to recognize that ground conditions are different as compared to ones that existed centuries back.

 In Punjab, there was no ethnic politics anywhere until Saraiki dialect was branded as language by those in power in order to divide us and rule. In spite of irresponsible politics of electioneering, country-side is still devoid of any ethnic tension whatsoever. Had this been a Saraiki versus non-Saraiki issue, with the ongoing ethnic campaign, we would have expected violence spilling in the streets. Credit must be given to the Saraiki culture where even a protest over some unfair incident begins with good wishes like: Shala Jawanian Manain, bachey theevan, ---. Isn’t this enough proof of harmony between Saraiki and non-Saraiki people? It is hard to find a single incident of ethnic violence in Punjab over the last 6 decades. Unfortunately, this is not the case in other provinces of Pakistan. However, this does not mean that there are not people in Punjab who are bent upon adding fuel to this fire just to suit their own short-term vested interests.

To create a win-win outcome for all stakeholders and to avoid disharmony among those who speak different dialects of the language in the wonderful land of five tributaries of the great Indus River, we must find a solution by addressing ethnic grievances to blunt attacks by outsiders as well as feudal and tribal leaders of Punjab. Whatever economic and political reasons, it should be recognized that we cannot afford to ignore the efforts that are directed to create ethnic divides in Punjab to hurt its people. If the power circles of Punjab do not take proactive actions in time, outsiders and their agents may succeed in creating disharmony sooner or later.

One aspect to satisfy all ethnic groups is self-governance at all levels as discussed earlier. Second important thing is to accept due role of the language in a way to neutralize the ongoing political maneuvering meant to benefit only the feudal lords. As proposed by a joint report, referred earlier, learning should begin with learning mother tongue. Like Sindh, had Punjab also facilitated primary education in mother tongue, ethnic issue would have been addressed long time back. If Saraikis of Sindh consider themselves Sindhis more than Saraikis, there is an excellent lesson for those still have power and capacity to mend this situation before it is too late.

Some parts of East Punjab had dialects no closer to the Punjabi of central Punjab than that of Saraiki belt. But even the East Punjab adopted the Punjabi of central Punjab as standard medium for learning. This decision paid off handsomely. There is now no warfare in Indian Punjab. Moreover, thanks to the mother tongue being medium of instruction, at least at lower level, the literacy rate among the younger generation in Indian Punjab is almost 100.

Another irritant that adds to a sense of isolation, discomfort and alienation is the remoteness of the capital city for many parts of Punjab. Sure, the same can be said for other provinces but still two wrongs do not make one right. Since Saraiki belt is too far away from Lahore, it will be strategic and wiser move on the part of Punjab to shift its capital to a central location like Khanewal, a non-congested small town unlike Lahore and Multan, which is a junction of all road and railway networks of Punjab. Being in almost in the suburb of Multan, an access to a major airport is also available. Khanewal is located at the intersection of Saraiki region and the rest of Punjab, this choice may suit all concerned.

 The last assumed objective is to enhance pace of development by effective and accessible governance. What could be a better alternative to local government by elected bodies that brings governance to lowest possible level? Why not go for it?

Alternative is the so-called commissionerate system devised by the colonial masters in the past to ensure their full control over people from a remote location. Since independence, this monopolistic civilian administration has virtually ruled the country and its people on behalf of an elite club with unlimited discretional powers and with little concern for accountability, integrity and transparency. As a consequence, of course, the pace of corruptions gets enhanced instead of local development.

In reality, this civilian façade is no different than the military rule where a civilian elite club is replaced with GHQ club. Both modalities have little knowledge and stakes in site-specific developmental needs in a fairer and uniform manner.     


Perceptions about Weaknesses about Local Government System & Potential Solution:

Of course, no system of governance is perfect and local government model is no exception either. However, sometimes people fail to distinguish between inherent weaknesses or weaknesses made to appear by those who do not wish this system to succeed. Let us list those fair or unfair weaknesses attributed to the local government system:

a.       Indirect elections of tehsil and district Nazims and naib Nazims;

b.      Almost redundant roles of many village representatives;

c.       Possibility of getting elected inexperienced district and tehsil Nazims and naib-Nazims in managing law and order situations;

d.      Constituencies of  district and Tehsil Nazims and Naib Nazims are too large to allow competent / knowledgeable but financially not-so resourceful candidate to compete in direct elections;

e.       Constituency conflict between MPAs and MNAs versus Local Government representatives in undertaking developmental work; and

f.       To keep MNAs and MPAs happy on their side, Prime Ministers and Chief Ministers, respectively, provide hefty funds for their constituency related works mainly because of local government system being perceived as a way of preventing them claiming full and exclusive credit in the eyes of electorates.

A glaring weakness of the local government system was that Nazims and Naib-Nazims at tehsils and districts were elected through Electoral College of Nazims, naib-Nazims and councilors who were directly elected from respective union councils. This mechanism let lose every kind of manipulation to bring cronies into power. Obviously, it was designed to the needs of a dictator in power that damaged the credibility of otherwise a good system of governance. Instead of removing this anomaly of the local government system, rejecting the entire system, which brought governance to the door step of common masses, is like throwing away a baby because it has a running nose.

Let us take second weakness of the LG system as rendering whole flock of village representatives almost redundant. What was the purpose to have representation of general, farmers, ladies and minorities from villages without any roles, rules, rights and responsibilities allocated to them? There is a need to establish village councils comprising of these members to benefit the rural masses. They should not be left at the mercy of these kinds of vultures all around, like “Thanedar”, “Patwari”, middle-man and feudal mafias.  

An added advantage would be to serve as an electoral college for selecting their farmers’ representatives at secondary canal, main/branch canal and provincial levels as per the PIDA Act  (Provincial Irrigation and drainage Act) of late nineties passed by three provincial assemblies. This way, farmers get organized according to hydraulic horizontal-lines to ensure participatory irrigation and drainage management in a transparent, participative, responsive and cost-effective manner. At present, all provincial irrigation departments are trying their level best to fail these institutional reforms to keep their “royal” perks and privileges intact. 

Moreover, this elected body could be that farmers, women and minorities can get organized vertically to serve as lobbies to promote an effective say in agriculture related policy and planning matters as per interests of their basic constituents. This will, however, require some legal support system from the government side.

Proportional Representation and Local Government System:

There could be an argument that large constituency at district and tehsil levels for direct elections only suits financially resourceful elites already in power. But we must not replace one pitfall of the system with another of the same system. So, we need to promote an election system that allows all,  competent, sincere and dedicated persons, financially resourceful or not, to get an equal opportunity and level playing field to serve the people in the best possible way. One of such innovative option is the proportional representation system that is common to many countries. To initiate discussion, we can present a rudimentary scheme for such an election system. But the details needed to be worked out by constitutional experts.

 Constituency conflict between MPAs and MNAs versus Local Government representatives in undertaking developmental work is usually pointed out as another weak point of the local government system. Many intellectuals brush it aside on the grounds that MNAs and MPAs have no business in getting involved in actual developmental work in their respective constituencies. In theory, intellectuals are right as these elected members of respective legislative assemblies, federal as well as provincial, are mandated only to legislate. However, the legislative work for these elected representatives has become a rather unavoidable liability and secondary in nature whereas their main task, without any legal support, is to seek funding to undertake mainly civil works as means of getting themselves re-elected and also an opportunity to seek lucrative “business” to get back their actual “investment” with hefty “profits.”  So, both compulsions, distributing public goods among their own supporters and rent seeking for their own selves, creates a serious conflict of interests between the legislatures and the members of the local government system.

The above stated conflict has jeopardized this local government system as the chief executives at provincial and federal levels are at the mercy and support of provincial and federal legislators, respectively.  Thus is why this district government did not function to its full potential because of the concerns, interference and open hostility of MPAs and MNAs who put all kinds of roadblocks in the smooth functioning of the LG system. As long as we had a presidential type arrangement, the LG system worked well but with reverting back to the parliamentary system, the LG system started getting derailed with few exceptions like Karachi and Hyderabad.  However, the real reasons for the stated exceptions are well-known as party legislatures and the party LG representatives cannot afford to sabotage each other in the referred places.

To keep MNAs and MPAs on their right sides, prime ministers and chief ministers provide large sums of funds for their respective constituencies’ works to ensure that the elected representatives get full and exclusive credit in the eyes of their electorates. But this happens even in democratic countries like USA.

Election method and constituency demands are the main drivers in democracy. Unless we find an election system that provides incentive for legislative members to focus on their job of legislation and leave the civil departments and the LG system to manage the developmental activities, our dream to make Pakistan as a California of Asia will remain a mere pipedream.. 

To an analytic thinker, it should be obvious to detect:

·         Main fault with present system of electing constituency-based MPAs and MNAs is that it has an embedded conflict of interest between legislature and members of local government system;

·         Traditional election system suits well to tribal leaders, feudal lords and capitalists to get into power positions to plunder the public resources for their own benefits;

·         Middle and lower middle classes hardly got any share in these elections except becoming stooges of an elite class in power;

·          In the traditional election system  those candidates are successful who represent a small fraction of people who vote;

·         Current modality of electing persons is a serious road-block in establishing institutions and instead it helps to promote personality cults, gives importance to a person and his family over party and allows political parties to become fiefdoms of a few resourceful families;

·         Most of the time, the election system encourages war-mongering and emotional statements like carving out new provinces, character assassination/defaming opponents, demands for separation instead of presenting real solutions to the problems;

·         Election system in focus allows maximum exploitation of ethnic divides, caste system, money charms, vote rigging, tactics based on fear and favor plus it allows an easier official interference; and finally

·         The present voting system is so much money and power oriented that only the established fiefdoms can get elected. The huge majority of the commoners, even if more educated and experienced than those usually getting elected, find themselves permanently excluded  from the  process.

Advantages of the Proportional Representation System:

This is a system designed for every vote to have an equal impact at every level of government.   This would bring changes that people think would not occur without a bloody revolution under the present election system.

Another benefit of proportional representation is that simultaneously people can elect  representatives at all tiers of provincial as well as federal levels elected. In this process, all political parties provide 100% list of candidates for say village councils (Councilors and chairman & vice chairman), union councils (Nazim and Naib Nazims), tehsil councils (Nazim and Naib Nazims), district councils (Nazim and naib Nazims), provincial assemblies, national assembly and senate. On the principle of proportionality, each party gets its due share. There will be no need to pick favorites and mostly relatives in the name of quota for women, minorities and professionals. For representation of women, minorities or professionals/intellectuals, each party will be obligated to prepare a complete list by giving due consideration to the stated categories anyway. No one should be allowed to seek more than one office in a given election.

Since this modality costs less, provokes little upheaval and incites minimum negative emotions as compared to the current election practice in hand, the country can easily afford to hold elections every 3 to 4 years. This reduction in mandated tenure will force parties to perform faster and not to test patience of the electorate.

The most important benefit of this election modality is that it eliminates the built-in conflict of interest between legislature and district government as constituency based performance is replaced with party performance to attract voters. This is exactly required for delivering self-governance at the lower tiers without any fear from the provincial and federal tiers of governance. Rather all governance levels get synchronized as the evaluation process shifts to party performance instead of individual and site-specific constituency manipulation and juggleries.


More than any other province of Pakistan, Punjab is such an entity where the development of hydraulic infrastructure has knitted all its regions into an indispensible and interdependent one geographic unit. Balkanization of Punjab will risk the very sustainability of irrigated agriculture of every region of Punjab in general and food security of Pakistan in particular. Without having a paradigm shift in an agro-based provincial economy, further division of Punjab is not an option at all.

In a superficially heterogeneous community, exploiting the issue of different dialects of the same language has a serious potential of implanting a perpetual ethnic and linguistic violence like in Karachi and Sri Lanka at a very larger scale. Punjabi dialects are mutually intelligible. During un-divided India, from Khyber to Delhi and from Abbottabad to northern region of Sindh, even illiterate persons understood each other with ease. As there is no communication barrier among various dialects of Punjabi; therefore, there exists hardly any rationale to divide this province on  the basis of its dialect. To call dialects languages is a pretext to divide and rule by the ruling elite.

 The stated anti-division factors support a dire need to address all grievances and concerns of all regions within Punjab on urgent basis. If the demand of new provinces is based on seeking fair distribution of developmental funds, ensuring participatory self governance,  seeking unity in diversity and enhanced pace of development through accessible governance; devolution of powers to lower tiers is an easiest, efficient and cost-effective way out. This change can be brought without creating more fiefdoms through an already tested local government system by incorporating additions like: (i) Police reforms with ensured accountability and neutrality; (ii) Proportional system of representation; (iii) LG reforms to include village councils; (iv) The primary school education in mother tongue; and (v) Self-governance at lower tiers.







Appendix: Different Dialects of Punjabi (Source: as given below and Wikipedia)

   Classification of Punjabi Dialects according to the Punjab University of Patiala.

1.       Bhattiani,

2.       Rathi,

3.       Malwai,

4.       Powadhi,

5.       Pahari,

6.       Doabi,

7.       Kangri,

8.       Chambiali,

9.       Dogri,

10.   Wajeerawadi,

11.   Baar di Boli,

12.   Jangli,

13.   Jatki,

14.   Chenavri,

15.   Multani,

16.   Bhawalpuri,

17.   Thalochri,

18.   Thali,

19.   Bherochi,

20.   Amritsar-Lahore (majhi),

21.   Kachi,

22.   Awankari,

23.   Dhani,

24.   Ghebi,

25.   Hindko,

26.   Swaen,

27.   Chacchi,

28.   Pothohari, and

29.   Punchi.

Reference:: Sikh Philosophy Network

Distribution of Punjabi Dialects

Punjabi University, Patiala, State of Punjab, India takes a very liberal definition of Punjabi, the University has issued the following list of dialects of Punjabi:

  1. Awankari
  2. Baar di Boli
  3. Banwali
  4. Bhattiani
  5. Bherochi
  6. Chacchi
  7. Chakwali
  8. Chambiali
  9. Chenavri
  1. Dhani
  2. Doabi
  3. Dogri
  4. Ghebi
  5. Gojri
  6. Hindko
  7. Jatki
  8. Jhangochi
  9. Kangri
  10. Kachi
  1. Lubanki
  2. Malwai
  3. Majhi
  4. Pahari
  5. Pothohari/Pindiwali
  6. Powadhi
  7. Punchi
  8. Peshori/Peshawari
  9. Rathi
  10. Swaen
  11. saraiki/multani
  1. Thalochri
  2. Wajeerawadi