Roots of nationalism in Sindh

By Zulfiqar Shah

The writer is provincial coordinator of South Asia Partnership Pakistan and he can be reached at

[Encounter page, daily Dawn, March 29, 2008]

A POLITICALLY mature reaction by the people of Sindh was witnessed after the murder of Ms Benazir Bhutto. The mobs torched government property, destroyed the means of communication and banned vehicular traffic in every corner of Sindh. Before attacking trains, buildings, trucks and trawlers, they provided safe passage to the security guards, drivers and passengers placed inside. Food and shelter were provided to the stranded passengers.

The discipline witnessed even in such an abrupt burst of anger became possible only due to deep roots of nationalism in Sindhi society that first rose against the British occupation in the nineteenth century. To understand Sindh’s nationalistic mass psyche, we need to explore the past and unfold the process of its development.

Sindhi nationalism can be divided into pre-partition and post-partition waves. The pre-partition wave consisted of early resistance period (1842-1900), transitional period (1900-1930) and Hur War II period (1930-1943), whereas, the post-partition nationalism consisted of cultural nationalism (1947-1970), transitional nationalism (1970-1980), resistance period (1980-1987), degeneration (1988-2000) and revival period (ongoing).

In the mid-nineteenth century, the Talpur Emirs’ kingdom was divided into three administrative regions. The major one was ruled from Hyderabad, while the others from Khairpur and Mirpurkhas. Their armies joined forces in a last desperate stand against the British invasion at Miani in March 1843. That battle proved to be the Talpurs’ waterloo. Ten thousand Sindhi combatants were slaughtered.

The invasion was aimed at using Sindh as a launching pad in the first Anglo-Afghan war. After this occupation, a series of liberation wars in Sindh dominated the next decades, commencing with the first post-invasion uprising of Ranas in Tharparkar, a south-eastern desert district under Karan Singh on April 15, 1859 in which hundreds of fighters lost their lives.

The insurgency went on for six months, and finally, routed the British forces. The last commander of rebels, Rooplo Kolhi, was hanged publicly in the Nagarparkar town. In 1857, Sher Mohammed Khan of Mirpurkhas gave the British a good fight and was blown from cannon-mouth at Rambagh in Karachi. Darya Khan Jakhrani, another resistance fighter, was expelled to Aden.

After Napier’s departure in 1850, Sindh was attached to the Bombay Presidency, with Sir Bartle Frere as its first Commissioner. There was no infrastructure in Sindh at that time. Frere in 1850-1859 changed the face of Sindh. In 1853, he gave Sindh its first English school, in 1858 the Sindh Railways started work on the Karachi-Hyderabad railway track, irrigation was developed and Sukkur Barrage planned. In the era of British occupation Sindh transformed from a medieval to modern society.

Rabindranath Tagore once described Hyderabad as “the most fashionable city in India”. Shikarpur became the banker of Central Asia. And after Russian revolution, it became the banker of south India.

The fight against the British rule was not yet over. The Hur Jama’at under Pir Pagara Syed Mardan Shah waged guerilla warfare against British Indian Army in 1890. This liberation war is known as Hur guerilla warfare-I, which went on the whole decade. Hundreds of fighters took part in the warfare; however, three of them, Bachu Badshah, Peeru Vazir and Gulu caught public eye.

This was followed by the Hur guerilla warfare-II which erupted in early 1941. About 25,000 sq kms area was the battleground between the guerillas and British forces. To counter this, some 35,000 troops of Baloch and Punjab regiments were deployed in Sindh, while thousands from Frontier Force, Air Force, Parachute Force and Sindh Rifle Police were also provided to the Anti-Hur Command. The Heavy artillery was also used. The first martial law in the subcontinent was imposed on Sindh.

By changing its entire class composition, the partition changed the face of socio-political course in Sindh. Hindus formed middle and urban class in the Sindh society. In 1947, they migrated to India and left a vacuum of middle and urbanised class. Peasant and feudal lords were the remaining classes forming post-partition Sindhi society.

Immediately after the creation of Pakistan in 1947, the Sindh government invited the central government of Pakistan to establish its capital in Karachi. This offer was accepted gladly. After becoming the capital, Karachi was separated from Sindh and handed over to the central government. This separation took place on July 23, 1948 under the orders of Mr Jinnah. The Sindh Assembly passed a resolution against this decision and the Sindhi public opinion also turned against it. The separation of Karachi caused financial, cultural, educational and linguistic setback to Sindh.

On October 14, 1954, One Unit scheme was introduced by the centre in order to confront the numerical majority of East Pakistan. Under this plan, Sindh, Balochistan, Pakhtunkhawa (the NWFP) and the Punjab, which had been distinct cultural and geographic entities for centuries, were merged into so-called West Pakistan, which could then claim parity with East Pakistan.

In 1970s, Prime Minister Bhutto started to transform Sindh society by developing its middle class. The emerging middle class began becoming foundation stone of the nationalist movement in Sindh. Almost all major nationalist parties were founded in this era. After Bhutto was executed, Sindh took to resistance against the military. Hundreds of civilians as well as armed personnel were killed.

If we analyse the situation in that period, we will find that MRD in Sindh was more a nationalistic reaction against the military than simply a movement for democracy. In 1990s, the middle class in Sindh inclined to be accommodative as the PPP was twice in power. Consequently, nationalist tendencies in Sindhi society became relatively milder. Contrary to this, during Musharraf era, the picture has entirely changed.

The nationalist movements in Sindh and Balochistan are somehow inter-related. If there is a resistance in Balochistan, the morale of the nationalist movement in Sindh becomes high. Therefore, what is going on at present in Balochistan has influenced Sindh, given that the Musharaf government’s policies have escalated the sense of deprivation in Sindh. Besides, the murder of Benazir has further aired the flame of separatism in Sindh, which is spreading day by day.

In these circumstances a new dialogue between the federating units and the centre has become essential to create a new point of agreement between the provinces and the federation regarding political contract in the federal structure of the country.

3 thoughts on “Roots of nationalism in Sindh”

  1. Well article by Saen Zulfiqar Shah Sahib.

    Thanks for sharing such informative article.


  2. The original founder of pakistan was pir syed sibghtullah shah Rashadi and with hir’s

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