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South Punjabi anger feeds militants

It is an irony, says Muhammad Ali Durrani, that while South Punjab region has produced a number of Presidents and Prime Ministers for Pakistan, none has done anything for the region which is considered one of the most backward areas of the country.

world Updated: Jun 17, 2010 23:52 IST

It is an irony, says Muhammad Ali Durrani, that while South Punjab region has produced a number of Presidents and Prime Ministers for Pakistan, none has done anything for the region which is considered one of the most backward areas of the country.

Even today, Prime Minister Gilani and Foreign Minister Qureshi both hail from South Punjab but are silent on the issue of “Seraikistan” — the province which locals demand should be formed here.

“There is a reason why this is so,” says Tariq Ali, a Lahore-based analyst. Unlike other parts of Punjab where businessmen, lawyers and other professionals managed to be elected as MPs, from South Punjab “mostly it is landlords and Pirs who have been voted into power.”

Both Gilani and Qureshi are Pirs — spiritual leaders. They are also big landlords of the areas around Multan.

Their power of religion and land ownership, says local journalist Aftab Ahmed, makes them difficult to challenge.

The interests of landlords do not lie in the uplift of an area, and in fact they end up stopping development schemes like education and health projects because they undermine the power of these feudals and their ability to give patronage.

This has given rise to the popularity of parties like the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), an extremist Sunni organisation, that challenged the power of the landlords, many of whom are members of the minority Shia community.

The SSP won seats from this area after the political campaigns took a sectarian flavour and since then it has continued to cling on to power, which in turn has led to much violence.

So far, three chiefs of the SSP have been murdered in attacks which many say were carried out by political opponents.

In all this, the SSP has spread its tentacles and managed to set up a network of madrassas all over South Punjab, which serve as both political offices and recruitment cented.

In 2002, the SSP was banned by the Pervez Musharraf government but this has not stopped it from continuing its activities in South Punjab. SSP has been deemed a terrorist organisation which has links with parties like the JuD.

Seraikistan is a dream many follow in South Punjab.

Sales of pro-Seraikistan songs have jumped over the past year as the local media champions the cause of a province that is “separate from the rest of Punjab.”

Local sentiments are that Lahore, which is the provincial capital “is too far away from us in distance and in spirit,” according to student Zahid Hussain.

Intelligence officials worry that the SSP may come closer to the Seriakistan movement, headed by local politicians like Durrani, who once belonged to the right-wing Jamaat-e-Islami party.