By: Khalid Hashmani (McLean, Virginia, USA)
Washington DC, August 24, 2008: A group of Washington DC Sindhis and Ayaz Palejo, a young political leader from Sindh, met at a local restaurant and exchanged views about the current affairs of Sindh and Pakistan.
Ayaz Palejo is a prominent Sindhi lawyer, intellectual, nationalist, and a key leader of AWAMI TAHREEK. His recent book QANOON SABHNEE LAE” (Law for All) has received critical acclaim in Sindhi press for its clear explanation of laws governing human rights, rights of women, and rights of laborers.
The discussions covered a variety of subjects but mainly were focused on the protection of Sindhi interests and Sindhi rights. The following are the key take-aways from the meeting:
PPP GOVERNANCE and SINDH
* For Sindh to overcome poverty and Sindhis to advance, it is imperative that the present Sindh government maintains highest standards of integrity and strives to reduce poverty and corruption and promote merit.
* There is a general perception among people that much more improvement is needed in governance with rumors that some ministers are charging fees for jobs and influence paddling remains key currency as was in the previous government. Some PPP operatives and government officials have taken over government lands and profiting from them in a variety of ways. Any government officials who complain about such actions are simply transferred.
* Many people are unhappy about re-structuring of Sindh coal agency that has effectively give control of coal resources of Sindh to federal government officials. Most Sindhis see the transfer of three highways in Sindh to the federal government for maintenance and toll fee collection as another usurpation of provincial jurisdiction by the federal government.
* Except for the chief leader of PPP, there is a lack of clear chain of management in the Sindh government. Multiple persons have become mini-decision- making centers. This often confuses government officials resulting in a lot of inaction, hesitation, re-issuance of orders and re-work.
* There is a substantial migration of people from rural Sindh to Hyderabad. This has put tremendous pressure on real estate market in Hyderabad, particularly in the Sindhi neighborhoods, where the real estate prices have skyrocketed. In contrast, Karachi is seeing a downturn in the real estate values.
* In Sindh, none of the top government officials (Chief Secretary, Inspector General Police, etc.) are Sindhis. Some people say that Sindhis are being asked to continue to accept non-Sindhi top officials to enable PPP to gain more ground at the federal level.
* An improvement that was mentioned at the meeting involved appointment of government officials with better reputations as District police and administration officials. However, conflicts between honest officials and corrupt local PPP chieftains are also seen having some negative affect on good governance.
* Longevity of a government where Sindhis have some say in the decision-making process should remain the most important goal. To achieve this goal, it is important that intellectuals and writers do not hesitate in criticizing the government for good governance.
SINDH POLITICS – PPP and MQM
* In the last government, MQM succeeded 15.000-20,000 persons recruited in police. Thus, the armed presence of MQM and its sympathizers is quite large. The PPP government has to start addressing these issues if they wish to see survival of their base.
* In previous government, MQM had a control of almost everything. Now, their control is limited to their share and PPP controls their share. This has encouraged community to slowly start moving back from other towns to Karachi to look for better job opportunities.
* There is a consensus among Sindhis in Sindh that they are better off under the present government than they were under the previous MQM/General Musharraf government. People have started seeing some relief. More important is the emotional relief that Sindhis have started feeling.
FEDERAL and SINDH POLITICS – PPP and PML-N
* The general impression is that this is the last chance for PPP to remain as a federal party. PML-N operatives are slowly succeeding in reducing the PPP popularity in Punjab, where restoration of Chaudhry Iftakhar as Chief Justice of Supreme Court remains has become a popular demand.
* In Sindh, PML-N remains largely unpopular, as it has very few seasoned and experienced Sindhi politicians in its ranks. Most people of smaller provinces consider PML-N as a Punjabi patriotic party and do expect them to have politicos that are friendly to small provinces. However, recent appearance of Ghaus Ali Shah could help PML-N to show some presence in Sindh.
* One interesting contrast is that Nawaz Sharif and some of the top leaders of PML-N appear to be little progressive but their grass root membership and followers are conservative and follow Punjab-first policies in the name of Pakistan. The people of smaller provinces do not expect PML-N to have policies that will be friendly to smaller provinces. On other side, grassroots membership of PPP is more progressive and prefers fair and equitable policies for all provinces but PPP leadership is acting more conservative, cautious, and fearful of taking any bold actions that they think will not be perceived well in Punjab or by MQM leadership.
* The big risk for small provinces is that if PML-N gets into power solely because of its dominance in Punjab, it will not be good for Sindhis, Baluch, and Pashtuns. PML-N is almost like Pakistan military except that only Pashtuns have reasonable presence in military.
* An observation was made that in the previous coalition government, all PML-N ministers were from Punjab (none from Sindh, Balochistan or Pushunwa provinces). On the PPP side, most powerful ministries and a dominant number of ministers in the federal cabinet were also from Punjab.
OTHER KEY TAKE-AWAYS
* A striking observation was made that it appears that PPP’s leaders are keeping mum about defending PPP and talking about PPP’s progressive policies. It seems that only the office of the top PPP leader is half heatedly defending PPP in the face of criticism. The net result is that attacks against PPP in media and other forums largely go unanswered further fueling anti-propaganda.
* The actions of the present PPP government display more business brinkmanship and shrewdness but is short on “principles” in dealing with friends and foes. This may work well in the short term but abandonment of principles will prove harmful in the long run.
* The support in Sindh for Chaudhry Iftikhar is largely on account of his standing up to the military and saying NO to its arbitrary governance as Military dictatorships are perceived as tools to deny rights to Sindhis and Baluch.
* In Sindh, there is a strong dislike for fundamentalist forces. It is not only because of the traditional Sindhi values of secularism and tolerance for religious differences but increasingly because Sindhis are viewing “fundamentalism” as their enemy. Many Sindhis hold “fundamentalists” responsible for the assassination of their hero Benazir Bhutto.
* In Northern provinces of Pakistan, fundamentalism is securing more ground. The latest tacit used by terrorists to recruit suicide bombers is to tell them that as soon as they die, Prophet Mohammed and his friends will welcome them at the gates of heaven. They are being told that any loss of innocent lives is actually good for those people. They are told this is only a transitory life and since most people who will die in a suicide attack are living poor lives anyway; their accidental death is doing a favor to them. It shortens their wretched lives and takes them quickly to a better world, where their lives will be much better than what they can hope to ever get in this world.