By Dr Tariq Rahman
Since the debate about the Seraiki province began it is being assumed that anybody who is writing in support of creating it is jumping on the political bandwagon and making a new demand which is the product of some sort of an agenda and not an issue that has been seriously thought about.
Let me remind readers that I have been a supporter of dividing Pakistan along linguistic/ethnic lines for the last 15 years. I have always supported a Seraiki province as well as other linguistically based provinces in the interest of the inhabitants of those areas. My only agenda is to reduce conflict.
Briefly, my proposal is that not only Punjab but other provinces of Pakistan should also be divided into linguistic units. This would mean the division of Punjab into a Seraiki-speaking area and two other provinces. The exact map could be determined by the government in consultation with Seraiki leaders.
The other two provinces would be the central Punjabi-speaking areas and the hilly districts speaking Pahari Hindko and Potohari. Apparently, Punjab stands to lose but if it is taken into account that it will no longer be perceived as a hegemonic, dominating mammoth then it will gain in psychological terms. Such a move will strengthen the federation by removing the mistrust of the smaller federating units.
There can also be a Pushto-speaking province which may be called Pakhtunkhwa. It will include the Pushto-speaking parts of Balochistan but exclude the Hindko and Khowar and Pahari-speaking parts of the NWFP. It will also include the Pushto-speaking agencies whether controlled federally or by the provincial authorities.
In time the whole area will have a uniform law and a similar, equitable level of development. What the present NWFP loses in terms of its non-Pushto-speaking areas it will gain if the Pushto-speaking parts of Balochistan are included. This will certainly be a good bargain and much of the tension with the Hindko and Khowar speakers will vanish.
There will be Hindko-speaking minorities in the cities but formulas to please them can be found. Balochistan will have Baloch and Brahvi-speaking areas but areas taken from Punjab and added to Balochistan during British rule will be excluded. It will also lose its Pashto-speaking areas to the Pakhtunkhwa province mentioned above. This is a proposal with which many Baloch nationalists have agreed in the past and it will reduce Pathan-Baloch rivalry and conflict in Balochistan politics.
The Northern Areas and Chitral can be divided into Burashaski-, Shina- and Khowar-speaking regions. These can be small units which need not have the same structure of rule as the provinces but sufficient autonomy to fulfill the desires of their people.
Now we are left with the province of Sindh. In my book Language and Politics in Pakistan published in 1996 I said that the consequences of creating an Urdu-speaking province in Sindh could prove worse than ‘the present tension between Sindhis and Mohajirs’. I am glad to say that the tension appears to be less but I still repeat that Sindh is a special case. If the province is divided there should be consensus between the Sindhis and Mohajirs on this move. If consensus is not there then it is best not to divide the province.
I do not say this because I support Sindhis more than other ethnicities in Pakistan. On the contrary, my goodwill towards all ethnicities of the country is equal. However, Sindh has seen ethnic conflict between the Mohajirs and Sindhis in the past and no easy solutions can be prescribed because of the volatile politics of this region. What may be suggested is dialogue and peaceful negotiations which will either accept the de facto division of the province or find some other solution of unity in diversity.
The aim of the linguistic division of federating units is to reduce ethnic conflict, prevent Punjab from dominating the smaller federating units, make administration efficient, ensure that people do not have to travel long distances to get justice, and give all units a stake in the system.
Having smaller provinces is not a new idea. The Ansari Commission once proposed as much. Earlier, in 1942, the Communist Party proposed to divide India into 17 ‘nationalities’.
In India the Report of the States Reorganisation Commission, 1955, did take the bold step of dividing the country along roughly linguistic lines. I said ‘roughly’ because there are always speakers — and pretty large groups sometimes — of other languages in a certain linguistic state. In Andhra Pradesh, for instance, the city of Hyderabad has a large Urdu-speaking population. The needs of these minorities can be catered for provided the leadership wants the happiness and welfare of the people.
The linguistic states of India have solved some problems — the south is no longer at loggerheads with the Hindi-speaking north — but not all. Ethnic issues using symbols other than language still remain in Kashmir and the northeast. Conflicts are a product of perceived injustice and exploitation and merely re-adjusting borders does not help unless real justice and freedom is given to all. However, even if some problems are solved, the solution is worth considering in Pakistan also.
While writing the above I have not taken the politics of the PML-N and the PPP into account. Political parties and their short-term interests are transient. The inhabitants of this land are a permanent feature and their long-term interests are eternal. In my view, if creating several smaller federating units can reduce ethnic tensions and increase efficiency then this is what we should be considering seriously. After all, the aim of all policies — more provinces or less or the status quo — is to increase human happiness. Is there a more worthwhile goal?
Courtesy: daily dawn, Thursday, 09 Jul, 2009