Spin doctors and South Punjab province
Posted on 9 months ago
Pakistani politics thrives on differences. Existing differences amongst the population of the country are highlighted; discord and discontent are fuelled by impassioned speeches telling people exactly how they have been discriminated against.
When public emotions run high and logical thought is cast aside, large sweeping statements are issued about how the future will be improved. Forgetting the past and hopeful for the future, an uninformed public re-elects the same people who are the reason for their plight and the whole charade begins again a few years later.
If this description appears to be too harsh or hyperbolic, you have to direct your attention no further than South Punjab to see this political game in action. The Saraiki nationalist movement was for the most part underground and had little traction in the greater scheme of things until the various political parties in the country decided to take an interest in the situation. The creation of a new province has now turned into a hot button topic and many of the largest political players in the country are busy spouting off rhetoric on why this is a good idea.
It is with amusement and disbelief that one watches politicians explain how this region will benefit from becoming a separate province. As has been pointed out elsewhere, many veteran politicians who have been in the National Assembly of Pakistan both as members of the government and opposition over the last six decades are from South Punjab. The most popular point of view being expressed by them is that the region has been ignored during the allocation of funds and development of infrastructure and therefore it should be separated from northern Punjab in order to receive its fair share. Exactly how the creation of a separate province will bring more equality is unclear. Pakistan already has four provinces that routinely argue over budget allocation. If South Punjab is given the status of a separate province, this national squabble will have one more member, nothing else appears likely to change given the present circumstances. The same individuals who have won elections from this region are likely to remain in power in the coming years. Since they have not managed to do anything for their fellow South Punjabis before, why would anything change now?
Even if one accepts that the region will start to receive more funding for infrastructural development, it is foolish to assume that the effects will be felt overnight. Infrastructure cannot be built within days, neither is it likely to have any large scale impact on the rural population of this region. According to news reports, South Punjab has the largest number of ghost schools and hospitals in the country. Rampant corruption at all levels of the government has resulted in the funding being funnelled into private accounts rather than being used for development.
Even when buildings get constructed, the problem of not having enough skilled human resource to staff schools and hospitals remains. Many individuals simply are not willing to work in remote rural areas when better opportunities are available elsewhere. How will this situation improve once the region becomes a separate province?
Another major problem that is getting ignored in this debate is that of higher education. The South Punjab region faces a severe shortage of both private and public universities. As a result, many students have to go to other cities such as Lahore, Islamabad or Karachi to get quality education. Once South Punjab becomes a province, these students will have diminished opportunities since they will probably have to deal with the quota system.
At this point, South Punjab is stuck in a catch-22 situation. The region desperately needs well educated and skilled individuals to staff its educational institutions and hospitals. But since it lacks opportunities, most individuals flock to north Punjab for education and work, leaving the area drained of quality human resource and continuing the never ending loop of under development.
South Punjab is not the only part of Pakistan that is facing these problems. Most of the rural population of the country is stuck in a cycle of poverty out of which they cannot escape. Many parts of Pakistan have not seen any developmental efforts for many decades. However, the spin doctors that lead our country are misdiagnosing its problems for their own benefit.
Separating the country into countless provinces based on what language is spoken in an area will not solve any problems so long as the current status quo is maintained. The basic cause of a stilted democracy, widespread corruption and little or no development in most of the country is this kind of separatist thinking which supports feudal politics. Our country is led by politicians who benefit from having their own posse that identifies with them because they speak the same language or have land in a particular geographic region. In truth, the only time our politicians decide to become part of a particular community is when they are campaigning for votes.
Whether South Punjab as a province proves to be a feasible or not will depend on the attitude of the public. So long as voters expect nothing of their representatives beyond flashy political rhetoric, nothing will come of this exercise except perhaps, more opportunities for corruption for those at the top. For the status quo to change, Pakistani voters and especially the voters in South Punjab need to look carefully at what is being promised to them. They need to ask themselves and their leaders some hard questions and demand factual answers.
The path to greater equality does not lie in creating more divisions in our already fractured society. Before embarking on another quest to divide the country that will probably fuel many more similar movements, the people of South Punjab have to face the facts. The very same politicians promising to uplift this region are the ones who have kept it down trodden for the past many decades. Why have they so recently had a change of heart and started singing a different tune?
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