Furore in Sindh as Shahbaz calls for Karachi province
DERA GHAZI KHAN / KARACHI: The Sunday calm was shattered by the pronouncements of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif who finally broke his party’s silence on the demand for a Seraiki province.
Mr Sharif, who has been known to issue and later retract controversial statements, said the PML-N would soon formulate a comprehensive policy on the creation of new provinces within Punjab and elsewhere in the country.
He then made the explosive suggestion that Karachi should be separated from Sindh and made a province.
“Not only should new provinces be formed in South Punjab, Karachi should also be made a new province,” he said while talking to newsmen in Dera Ghazi Khan after laying down the foundation stone of a public school.
He said this in response to questions about the growing calls for making South Punjab a separate province.
This was PML-N’s first public reaction to the idea of partitioning the Punjab province since Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s recent announcement that the demand for a Seraiki province would be made part of the PPP manifesto.
Although the PPP is yet to formally accept Mr Gilani’s announcement, the prime minister’s words created additional pressure on the PML-N.
The latter cannot publicly support the demand for a province in south Punjab – not only will a separate province affect its seat numbers at the national level and the resources it has access to while ruling in Lahore, the party’s leadership from central Punjab is also not in favour of the idea.
This is why Mr Sharif’s statement on Sunday was seen to be a gentle warning to those pushing for Punjab’s division.
He was pointing out that the creation of new provinces in Punjab would open a Pandora’s box – other linguistic and ethnic groups in other provinces would also want their own administrative units.
And by mentioning Karachi, Mr Sharif was trying to make sure that his message was being heard by those the PML-N views as being behind the demand for a Seraiki province, especially the PPP.
No wonder then that the reaction from Karachi was swift and decisive. Both the PPP and MQM rejected the division of Sindh in general and Karachi’s separation in particular.
Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah said that there was no need for a new province in Sindh as there was complete harmony among the people and their representatives in the assembly were striving for the welfare of the people.
He said this to a group of journalists who had drawn his attention to Mr Sharif’s statement.
Mr Shah pointed out that the two provinces were different. “There is a vast difference between Sindh and Punjab. Punjab is two or three times larger than Sindh and there was a demand by people in Punjab for carving out a new province.”
In contrast there was no such call for a new province in Sindh, he said and added that “as far as Karachi is concerned, it is part of the Sindh province.”
The MQM did not lag behind either and a provincial minister, Raza Haroon, said: “We condemn the statement of Shahbaz Sharif… We see his statement as a conspiracy against Sindh and an attempt to create ethnic riots.”
He told reporters that Mr Sharif had no mandate to speak about Sindh. “The PML-N has no MPA in the Sindh Assembly and it has been rejected by the people of Sindh. He is the chief minister of Punjab and he should better give all attention to his province.”
The party’s Rabita Committee also stated that it would not accept Sindh’s division.
However, a committee member, Qasim Ali Raza, explained that the MQM had repeatedly said that a referendum should be held to decide on the formation of new provinces and the demands of people be fulfilled in accordance with their aspirations.
Even the ANP, a new entrant to Karachi politics, supported the MQM and the PPP’s stand as it said that Mr Sharif had hurt the sentiments of the people of Sindh.
“The demand for Karachi province is a continuation of the attitude of exploitation of small province,” said the ANP spokesman in a statement, adding that Punjab ought to avoid issuing irresponsible statements that could create unrest among people.
The ANP was against a division of Sindh and would never support any suggestion aimed at depriving the smaller provinces of their due rights, the spokesman said.