Seraiki nationalism in focus – by Riaz Missen

Abdul Qayyum Jatoi, a PPP MNA from Muzaffargarh and also federal minister for defence production, has asked the government to create a Saraiki province by August 14 and has threatened to launch a movement if the demand was not met. “The Punjab Assembly should pass a resolution for the establishment of the Seraiki province because the division of the largest province would not only strengthen the federation but also end complaints of small provinces,” he said in Multan recently.

Mr Jatoi’s statement reflects the frustration of the PPP workers of the Seraiki-speaking region who fear that the more the PPP remains out of power in Punjab the more it will lose support in the region. Only a week ago, civil society and literary groups from the southern Punjab had gathered in Islamabad to put pressure on the government for a separate province for the Saraikis. Dr Sher Afgan gave a pledge on the occasion to start a protest movement from Mianwali.

Meanwhile, Begum Abida Hussain has floated the idea of separating the military-industrial districts from the agrarian regions of Punjab. Earlier some circles had been advocating converting the administrative divisions in Punjab into provinces. Whatever the case, the PPP is just riding over the popular passions and the craving of the nationalists to have a separate province.

The PPP had never opposed the idea of dividing Punjab into more provinces in the past. It stopped supporting the idea only after it became clear that the PPP’s chances of forming a government there in case the Seraiki province comes into being are not very bright. Had this party not swept Punjab in 1970 elections, it would have certainly opposed the merger of Bahawalpur province into Punjab.

When the leaders of the Movement for the Restoration of Bahawalpur Province met Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the chairman of Pakistan People’s Party, in connection with their demands, he kept silent for a while and then said, “Think big”. At a conference held in 1976 at Multan and attended by a large number of delegates, there was a consensus on the name of language spoken in the central parts of Pakistan. So the Bhutto era gave boost to nationalism in southern Punjab. But the imposition of martial law frustrated people’s hopes for a separate province. The struggle, however, continued due to the efforts of Ustad Fida Hussain Gadi who had formed Saraiki Lok Sanjh in mid-1980s to promote literary and cultural activities.

Thus, the movement for the restoration of Bahawalpur province turned into the demand for Saraiki province and was now led by Pakistan Saraiki Party backed b y a dozen of parties. In fact, Saraiki nationalism was born on the very day when the One Unit was created and Bahawalpur was made part of Punjab. The history of the state shows it had resisted the consistent attempts of Takht-e-Lahore to occupy it as it (Lahore) had done in the case of Multan and Derajat in 1818. The move to merge the province into West Pakistan was resisted but was suppressed with iron hand.

The rulers of princely states had signed the documents of accession to the newly-independent Pakistan on the condition that there would be no interference in their internal affairs. Bahawalpur was one of a dozen of such states. Then, it had the distinction of being a prosperous state in terms of agricultural produce. A large number of tribes, guided by a clan of the Abbasids, moved outside Sindh and carved out a state from Rajasthan alongside the banks of Sutlej and Indus rivers.

The One Unit scheme was no doubt an effort to bring West Pakistan at par with East Pakistan in terms of representation in the legislature and distribution of resources. However, the objective of the move was lost when Ayub Khan imposed martial law and abrogated the 1956 constitution.

Certainly there was resentment among Balochs, Pukhtoons and Sindhis about the loss of their provinces. The Bengalis also were not happy and supported the concerns of the people of non-Punjabi regions in West Pakistan. However, when Yahya Khan revived the defunct provinces by ending One Unit, the princely states ceased to exist. The four provinces divided them among them. Sindh took over Khairpur state while the Balochistan States Union went to Balochistan. Bahawalpur was handed over to Punjab.

The One Unit Scheme was seen by the leaders of the NWFP, Balochistan and Sindh as an attempt to ensure Punjab’s dominance in the decision-making process of the state, and became suspicious about Punjab’s intensions when it insisted on the Islamic identity of the state and making Lahore the capital of the West Pakistan. The One Unit was violation of the instrument of accession signed by the princely states. It also gave birth to ethnic politics in the country and the Saraiki nationalism.

It is worth mentioning that the nationalists stand for a state with pluralist identity and want it to cast off its ideological burden. The movements to this end have been seen by the Centre with high degree of suspicion; their leaders have been termed traitors in the past.

Going by the agenda of the Pakistan People’s Party and the ethno-nationalistic orientations of its allies, one can hope that Pakistan may become a pluralist state, though there are remote chances of the state dropping its religious identity. The redrawing of provincial boundaries will certainly be a step forward as it will end ethnic hatreds that have once caused the dismemberment of Pakistan.

Endorsing pluralism as a philosophy of governance automatically will change the relationship between the state and the people and has implications for the country’s foreign policy. The state will not have to rely on religion to forge unity among the people but on the cultural diversity in the society. It is like returning to the roots and a history of 5,000 years.

Dawn, 02 May, 2009



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s