The recent political developments in the Punjab with the formation of “South Punjab Suba Mahaz” after resignation of members of parliament and provincial assembly has been the attention of the Pakistani mainstream media. To make sense of what the actual development it is need the knowledge of the political dimensions of South Punjab. It can possibly be confused with the Saraiki movement started back in 1970's. But this may not be the case, To understand the Seraiki phenomenon the demographic realities of the region must be known about. There are primarily four clans with thousands of offshoot castes having majority in Southern Punjab. The Syeds and Makhdooms, Khawaneens or Pathan tribes, Saraiki Baloch tribes and the Rajpoot tribes. The Syeds and Makhdooms have long been residing for centuries, their services has not only been greatly recognized across south Punjab but had got immense political influence in the province. Personalities from all of these major clans of the province have remained in the power corridors in the past but failed to serve the best interest of people of South Punjab due to personal vested interests of consolidation of power, failure in alleviation the deprivation of the people of Southern Punjab and reluctance of leadership to sincerely looking into the problems of South Punjab.
As an unfortunate fact, South Punjab has been neglected for many decades in every sector. Relatively, it has been lagging behind in socio-economic development as against the rest of the province. There is 51 % poverty in region as compared to 27 % in rest of province. The main source of income is agriculture which is in declining phase for many years. The exploitation of agriculturists at the hand of Sugar Mills is another problem. Southern belt had remained industrially under developed. Only Multan district have few industrial installments that are even unable to meet the district’s own requirements. These economic indicators show the miserable condition of South Punjab. Clean drinking water, lack of quality education and good infrastructure have also been major problems for the people of southern Punjab. The unfair allocation of developmental budget is the root cause of all of the problems prevailing in Southern Punjab.
A study by Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) on Punjab’s 2016-17 budget 58 percent of provincial budget went only to Lahore district while most populated district of South Punjab; Multan got only 3 percent which clearly shows the unfairness in resource allocation and unutilization of large proportions of budget and diversion of budget to other parts of province. All of 11 districts have the problem of clean drinking water. Rajanpur, DG Khan, Muzzafargarh, Khanewal are the least developed district of the Punjab. If we look into the education sector condition is the same. Lack of quality schools, colleges and universities have deprived them from their basic right. The literacy rate of the area is 12 %. There is a lack of educational institutions. Poverty is the prime factor that kept people of southern Punjab away from education.
Health is another issue of the South Punjab. In 2017-18 budget Rs.17.75 Billion was allocated for the whole south Punjab comprising 11 districts while the allocation for only Lahore district stood at Rs.36.75 Billion, with such huge gaps how can the relative developmental growth be expected? Nishtar Hospital in Multan has a great inflow of patients from the far flung districts of South Punjab as there are no up to mark hospitals in nearby districts of Khanewal, Muzzafargarh and Rajanpur. The THQ and DHQ Hospitals in these districts are not up to the mark. Patients from remote areas and also from border areas of Baluchistan come to Multan for medical facilities as South rubs its shoulders with Baluchistan. Pedestrian hospitals do not exist in South Punjab. The Oil tanker incident which happened last year in Ahmadpur East in district Bahawalpur that claimed more than 219 lives and burning more than 100 at that time the only burn unit in south was in Nishtar Hospital which comprised of 55-bed. Most of victims were shifted to Lahore nearly 400 Km away.
These were the some factual grounds on the basis of which I tried to highlight the socio-economic problems faced by the South Punjab. At the time of partition East Punjab which accounted for one-third went to India and West Punjab which was two-third came to Pakistan. The Indian Punjab was further divided into the Haryana and Himanchal but two-third which is our side of Punjab remained single federating unit. Punjab is home to 110 million people out of which 35 million people live in south and the socio-economic deprivations are prominent in the Southern part of Punjab. Ruling party PML-N in 2012 passed resolution in Punjab Assembly for the formation of South Punjab as another province. It was also included in their manifesto for 2013 general elections but it was never materialized. PPP also tabled bill for a Bahawalpur-South Punjab but it proved to be a mere political platitude to gain political support in South Punjab. The PML-N after winning election, PML-N’s leadership never turned to South Punjab which was a breach of their trust and utter disregard of the mandate of People of South given to PML-N.
People of south Punjab are patriotic and had never remained a part of any violent or armed struggle in the name of identity or ethnicity. They are living under poverty line and demanding nothing more than basic human needs. They are not demanding the province on the basis of language or ethnicity because Seraikis are composed of multi-ethnic groups and Seraiki belt has a different geography. Seraiki is widely spoken language. It is spoken in South Punjab, DI Khan and Tank in KPK and few areas of Sindh and Baluchistan. They are demanding province of South Punjab on administrative grounds which is the need of the hour. The creation of new provinces will have no harm but it will further strengthen the federation of Pakistan. Creation of South Punjab Province will help to govern the Punjab more effectively. The sense of deprivation in South Punjab will come to an end with the creation of new province in Punjab. The people will not be required to travel for 10 to 15 hours to reach Lahore for appearing in cases and for medical or educational facilities.
Being from the southern Punjab region, I believe the demand of the separate southern Punjab Province is a genuine demand more on administrative grounds than on ethnic or linguistic grounds. The federation should think about it and brushing it under carpet, further depriving the people from basic constitutional rights, will not help anymore. Large number of administrative units will improve their efficiency and will strengthen the federation of Pakistan.