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EDITORIAL: True to form, Prime Minister Imran Khan made sure to talk down former Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif even when he meant to heap praise on the present Punjab administration at the groundbreaking ceremony of the South Punjab Secretariat. The sad fact of the matter is that such optics are part and parcel of politics in the present day because quite often it is not what one party has to say about its own policies but rather how strongly it discredits others that decides where it really stands in the eyes of its workers and the public at large. And everybody knows that despite all the promises the only reason that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has suddenly put the spotlight on southern Punjab is that the clock is ticking on the current electoral cycle and the next general election is hardly two-and-a-half years away; the final six months of which will be eaten up by the campaign so there’s very little time in which to honour some of the most prominent promises from the last campaign. There’s also the bit about former friend and confidant Jahangir Tareen, of course, as he moves his own pieces – more than a few of them from southern Punjab – across the board. Surely, the PM hasn’t forgotten that these people helped the party win the general election last time only after Tareen flew them in his jet, quite literally, into the eager embrace of the party of change. And the last thing he wants, especially at this time, is for them to take a return flight in the same aircraft.

Still, the PM has a point that southern Punjab has traditionally been deprived of its due share from the province’s resources. Why, after all, should a region that comprises 33 percent of Punjab’s population be allocated only 28 percent of its development funds and get a paltry 17 percent at the end of the day? This practice has robbed the region of about Rs265 billion in broad daylight over the last seven years, not to mention the four percent below-population share in the Annual Development Programme (ADP). Therefore, the PM’s announcement that southern Punjab would get its due job quota according to the size of its population, and that all regional issues would be resolved in the secretariat, would have been greeted with much joy by his hosts. Unfortunately, however, that is about all the light that the prime minister shed on the matter before going back to his favourite topic of continuing to enlighten everybody about just how the rulers of the past looted and plundered precious national resources and left the country worse off for it – southern Punjab being no exception.

Welcome as the secretariat is, PTI took too long to get off the mark and whatever progress has been made so far doesn’t bring the creation of a ‘South Punjab’ province any closer. There just isn’t enough time before the next election to handle all the political and administrative issues that must precede even routine matters like demarcation and choice of the capital city. But not making even these small moves this late in the day would have been political suicide. So the PM is basically only playing the hand that he’s been dealt while doing his best to make it come across some sort of political justice that only he among all the country’s top politicians was capable of delivering. Hopefully, somewhere in this game of thrones something good will finally come for southern Punjab which has, after all, been so badly neglected all these years. Why else would PTI have been drowned in votes from the region right after the usual ‘South Punjab Province’ brigade made it their new home not long before the last general election? There is a lesson in this for everybody; especially for the people who invested their votes in the hope of a province of their own.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021