By Jai Kumar Verma
Pakistan has quite a few major ethnic groups including Punjabis, Pashtuns, Sindhis, Balochis, Muhajirs (Urdu speakers), Hindkowans, Saraikis and Chitralis. Besides these main groups there are numerous smaller ethnic groups too.
However, all of them except Punjabis feel that they are discriminated against and considered as second rate citizens even in their own homeland. Consequent upon the 1971 war a sizable portion of the country seceded and a new nation with the name of “People's Republic of Bangladesh” emerged.
Several of these ethnic groups including Pashtuns, Balochis, Sindhis and Saraikis have launched separatist movements in the past due to deprivation and maltreatment, although their struggle was crushed but no honest effort was made to redress their genuine grievances.
The Saraikistan Movement, popularly known as Saraiki Movement (SM), is continuing from the day of creation of Pakistan. The proponents of the movement are agitating for a separate province as well as for an independent state.
This group demands that Saraikistan should include Rahim Yar Khan, Bahawalpur, Bahawalnagar, Multan, Lodhran, Vehari, Khanewal, Sargodha, Jhang, Muzzafargarh, Layyah, Bhakkar, Mianwali, Khushab, Rajanpur and Dera Ghazi Khan from Punjab province and Dera Ismail Khan from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Besides these districts, they also insist on inclusion of some area of northeast Balochistan. The area of Saraikistan is more or less similar to the region of old Bahawalpur Princely state.
Riaz Hashmi Saraiki brought the agitation to the limelight in 1960. The movement continued for a few years, but late General Zia-Ul-Haq crushed the agitation with brute force. Nonetheless, the agitation resurfaced in 1988 after the plane crash of Zia.
Approximately 30 million people speak Saraiki language. The supporters of Saraiki movement constituted several political parties, including Pakistan Saraiki Party, Pakistan Saraike Qaumi Ittehad, Saraikistan Qaumi Council, Saraiki Quomi Movement, Saraiki National Party, Saraiki Soba Movement etc. These parties and groups have following in limited areas and they propagate that there is a threat to Saraiki language and Saraiki identity is in danger.
The movement is basically against Punjabis as Saraiki leaders claim that Punjabis would finish Saraiki language and their identity would be eliminated, hence they must be united and fight for survival of a separate identity.
The leaders of the campaign also included economic issues, including lack of development, deprivation and exploitation of resources of the region. They are able to generate the emotional feelings. However, at this juncture the anti-Punjabi and pro-Saraiki sentiments are not as strong as they are in Sindhis, Balochis, Muhajirs and Pathans.
They also maintain that carving out a separate province from Punjab will not only be beneficial for the development of Saraiki region but will also help other nationalities like Sindhis, Pathans Muhajirs and Balochis to fear less from Punjabis. All the major and minor nationalities in Pakistan are exploited by Punjabis and they want to get rid of the dominance of Punjab.
The opponents of the agitation say that if Saraiki province is created there will be demands for carving out of more provinces in Balochistan and Sindh. Muhajirs who are the largest community in Karachi will also demand to secede from Sindh. Once more provinces are created then very soon there will again be agitation for independent nation in Sindh, Balochistan etc.
The opponents also allege that foreign powers help the protagonists of Saraiki movement with ulterior motives as the intelligence agencies of these countries want to destabilize Pakistan. Punjab is the strongest, peaceful and most populous province of the country and any separatist movement in Punjab province will be very harmful for the economy, peace and tranquillity of Pakistan.
In fact the government of Pakistan instead of blaming foreign countries for creating trouble in the country should plan for the economic development of Saraiki region and redressal of their legitimate grievances, including end of feudalism, reforms in the educational and health system, end of terrorism, generation of employment, to just name few.
Saraiki region is known for production of cotton but the textile industry is in other parts of Punjab. The area is mainly agricultural but there is acute shortage of water. Hence farmers do not get good returns from their agricultural land. The Pakistan government should establish textile factories in Saraiki region so that the raw material of the area can be utilized. It will generate employment and enhance prosperity of the residents.
The dominant Punjabis do not want to lose Saraiki region as it will reduce their supremacy in Pakistan and their prosperity in which exploitation of Saraikis is also one factor.
The despicable Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), which is exporting terrorism to other countries, should stop helping terrorist groups and the government should utilize these funds and resources in controlling terrorism within Pakistan and in upliftment and economic progress of the country and the poor masses.
(Jai Kumar Verma is a Delhi-based strategic analyst. He can be contacted at email@example.com)