by: MANZOOR CHANDIO, Karachi, SINDH
Courtesy: daily dawn, Saturday, 27 Jun, 2009
THIS refers to Maria Malik’s letter, “Restoration of Bahawalpur’s status” (June 20) written in response to Ayesha Siddiqa’s article, “South Punjab ‘movement’” (June 12).
Defending former minister Mohammed Ali Durrani’s demand for restoration of the state, she sabotages a case for Seraiki province. She also wrongly claims that there is a popular demand for the restoration of Bahawalpur state. People with myopic view of history like Mr Durrani and Ms Malik have always raised the issue of Bahawalpur whenever movement for a Seraiki province gains momentum. We should keep in mind that Seraiki, one of the representative languages of the Indus Valley civilization, besides Sindhi and Punjabi, is the country’s largest spoken language. Seraikis are concentrated in South Punjab and Dera Ismail Khan division of the NWFP — their historical abode from time immemorial. The area has been a separate administrative region for centuries and has a separate cultural and linguistic identity from other areas. Unfortunately, the Seraiki belt has been severally neglected in the past 62 years and no significant development work has been done for the uplift of people and to preserve their language and culture.
There is no representation of the language and culture on the national level because the area has no separate territory.
Administratively, Seraiki districts are far away from the capitals of Punjab and the NWFP and this makes difficult for the people to benefit from the provincial resources.
It is an irony that the biggest nationality of the country has no geographical identity. The only language which is spoken in the four provinces has no official status.
The establishment has always followed the policy of overcentralisation on the pretext of oneness. Actually this artificial oneness is aimed at usurping the rights of smaller nations.
All major taxes are levied and collected by the Centre and distributed on the basis of population among the provinces. Punjab being the largest province grabs the lion’s share in the revenue. The creation of the Seraiki province is the only solution to growing disparity among Punjab districts because most of the provincial budget is spent on Punjabi-speaking districts.
Recently MPA Makhdoom Syed Ahmed Mehmood told the Punjab Assembly that “Rahimyar Khan, with a population of 3.6 million, has just four degree colleges each for boys and girls, while Gujranwala, with a population of 2.6 million, has 16 colleges for girls and 21 for boys”.
Seraikis’ mandate, who overwhelmingly voted for the PPP, is not being recognised in Lahore. The PML(N) is a party which not only stands for the status quo in the country but also wants perpetual deprivation of the Seraiki belt.
The previous PML(Q) governments in Punjab did nothing for the Seraiki districts, paving way for recruitments of jihadi militants from the Seraiki belt.
For centuries, Seraiki areas were part of Sindh. Multan was a separate pragna (province) during the Mughal era. It was Ranjit Singh who annexed Seraiki lands and merged them into Punjab.
The British merged Dera Ismail Khan with the NWFP. There is no wrong if Seraikis have their own province in Pakistan.
According to one of the proposals, Seraiki province should be carved out of Seraiki-speaking areas annexed by Ranjit Singh and the erstwhile Bahawalpur state and Seraiki-speaking areas merged into the NWFP by the British Raj.
Definitely, Seraikis will benefit from their own province. The area is not as industrialised as the central Punjab, but it contributes most of the raw material (cotton) for Pakistan’s main exports — fabric, yarn and garments.
The area is also rich in mango orchids and other crops. Above all, the Seraiki area is the heart of the country.
The creation of the Seraiki province should not be seen in the context of separation. Punjab has heavily industrialised only the central districts, depriving Seraikis of prosperity.
With the creation of the Seraiki province, they would get their own share of revenue which would ultimately result in their prosperity. There is no wrong if a province is carved out of a big province according to the wishes of Seraiki people, who historically own this land.
The demand for the province is not tantamount to grabbing others’ land but Seraikis are demanding the revival of an administrative unit which existed there from time immemorial.