Commission hears arguments for new provinces
ISLAMABAD, Dec 18: Former information minister Muhammad Ali Durrani has supported the demand for restoration of Bahawalpur province and creation of a Seraiki province comprising other areas of the region.
Mr Durrani was among the five prominent figures from south Punjab who were called by a controversial parliamentary commission on Tuesday to give their viewpoints on the issue of creation of one or more new provinces in Punjab. Others are Ghazanfar Mehdi, Masroor Baig, Iqbal Pitafi and Ashiq Khan Buzdar.
The Parliamentary Commission on New Provinces in Punjab, headed by Senator Farhatullah Babar of the Pakistan People’s Party, recently started its regular in-camera meetings, ignoring a boycott by the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N.
Briefing reporters after the meeting, Mr Babar said Mr Durrani had stressed the need for restoration of Bahawalpur province whereas the others favoured the formation of one Seraiki province.
He again requested the PML-N to end its boycott and said the commission would hear viewpoints more stakeholders, including Taj Muhammad Langah, when it would meet next week.
Mr Babar said PML-Q’s Kamil Ali Agha had requested the commission to also invite the people of Hazara region in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa who had been struggling for a separate province.
But he said the commission could not take up the issue of Hazara province because its mandate was limited to the Punjab province only as the commission had been formed in the light of a letter sent to the speaker by President Asif Ali Zardari after the passage of two resolutions — one in the National Assembly and the other in the Punjab Assembly.
When contacted, Mr Agha said he had suggested that the commission should request the president to widen its scope so that it could discuss the formation of new provinces wherever the people were demanding it.
When pointed out that the commission had been constituted in the light of two resolutions adopted by the National and Punjab assemblies, he said the PML-Q had also submitted a resolution in the National Assembly in support of Hazara province, but it had not been taken up by the speaker. The resolution was still pending in the assembly, he added.
In his presentation, a copy of which he provided to Dawn, Mr Durrani gave historic perspective of Bahawalpur state and said that it was the first sate to sign the instrument of accession with Pakistan on Oct 3, 1947, as a province of the newly-born country.
On April 30, 1951, he said, a supplementary instrument of accession had been signed and Bahawalpur became the only state in Pakistan which was given the status of a province.
Mr Durrani said the first elections in Bahawalpur were held in 1952 to elect 49 members of the provincial assembly, of which 80 per cent members belonged to the middle class. Bahawalpur had a provincial assembly, an election commission, a provincial secretariat, revenue board, an independent public service commission, a high court and government’s printing press with defined provincial boundaries and there were more than 40,000 state employees.
In the draft constitution of 1954, he said, Bahawalpur had been given the status of a province with four seats in the Senate of 50 members, seven seats in the National Assembly and a provincial assembly of 49 seats.
Bahawalpur was merged with the West Pakistan one-unit, and not in the Punjab province, on Dec 17, 1954. However, he regretted, when the one unit was abolished, Bahawalpur was not restored as province and martial law administrator Gen Yahya Khan merged Bahawalpur with Punjab as a division of the province through the Province of West Pakistan Dissolution Order issued in March 1970.
Mr Durrani said the promises made by the Quaid-i-Azam and the agreements signed between the State of Bahawalpur and the Pakistan government in 1947, 1951 and 1954 were disregarded and not given any importance.
As a result of this injustice, a restoration movement under the banner of ‘Bahawalpur Muttahida Mahaaz’ started in which two persons were killed and thousands imprisoned.
In the 1970 elections, he said, 85 per cent people voted for the candidates fielded by the Bahawalpur Muttahida Mahaz and MNAs Nizamuddin Haider and Makhdoom Noor Muhammad did not sign the 1973 Constitution in protest against no-restoration of Bahawalpur as a province.