The days before Independence Day in Pakistan are usually marked by resounding calls for national unity, but this year, it is the chatter for greater division that is growing louder.
Over the past two weeks, leaders from all corners of the country have called for the creation of a slew of new provinces to add to Pakistan’s existing four.
While dividing existing provinces into smaller units may make administrative sense, most demands for new provinces have been based on ethnic or linguistic differences, further exacerbating the fractious nature of today’s Pakistan.
“Creating provinces on the basis of language is not necessarily a sound step,” wrote the News in a recent editorial. “It may lend credence to the idea that people who are different cannot coexist. Given the ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity that characterises Pakistan’s population, this entire concept is exceedingly dangerous.”
From its creation 64 years ago, Pakistan has struggled over how to divide itself.
A 1950s attempt at merging all these subdivisions into a single entity known as One Unit was short-lived, and today Pakistan finds itself carved into a patchwork of four provinces, a capital territory, tribal areas in the northwest, a semi-autonomous region in the north and the disputed territory of Kashmir along the Indian border.
The issue of new provinces flared up again last year when North-West Frontier Province was renamed Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. It gained further momentum last month when some Mohajirs asked for a separate province out of Sindh and later when PM Yousaf Raza Gilani declared himself open to the creation of a new province in the south of Punjab.
That has opened a Pandora’s box, and now every political party and ethnic group has weighed in and either demanded its own province or the redrawing of the existing ones to its own advantage.
“It’s really a vote-getting tactic,” said Cyril Almeida, an Islamabad-based political analyst.
Almeida said he doesn’t see any new province created before the next national elections scheduled for 2013.