By Khalid Hashmani
Washington DC, September 16, 2009 – Sindhi American Political Action Committee (SAPAC) was inaugurated in Washington DC. This is a milestone step for the Sindhi American community that community hopes will help in restoring and preserving Sindhi Rights. The inaugural session was very well organized and in fact turned into a Congressmen’s Town Hall meeting and Sindhi Katchahry, which is a traditional village gathering where village elders and town folks share their hopes, concerns, and sorrows. The meeting was held at the Washington Court Hotel near the US Capitol Bulling. The moot was addressed by Congressman Gary Ackermann, Congressman Brad Sherman, Selig Harrison, and Marvin Weinbaum. The guests were welcomed by Dr. Maqbool Halepota and Munawar Laghari, President Director of SAPAC respectively. After formal addresses, a lively Town Hall meeting (Sindhi Katchahry) was held with Congressman Sherman and Sindhi participants. The meeting was admirably moderated by Leila Agha and Hanne Bursch.
Mission, Goals and Objectives of SAPAC
The mission of SAPAC is “To raise Public Awareness and Lobby about Issues Relating to Sindh and Sindhi people, located all over the world”. The primary goals and objectives of SAPAC are (a) to inform and influence the political process in the United States of America about the political and socio economic rights of Sindhis, (b) to positively influence the policies of the US Government towards Sindh and Sindhis, (c) to politically advocate on behalf of the Sindhi people, raising international awareness of the gross human rights’ violations in the context of an individual’s right to education, economic advancement and cultural identity, (d) to act for limiting the influx of outsiders to maintain the majority demographic status of native Sindhis, and (e) to raise awareness in the United States of America of non Sindhi’s efforts to eradicate Sindhi language, culture, and values.
Publications on plight of Sindhis
An impressive publication titled as SINDH MONITOR with the theme of “Peaceful Struggle of Sindhis’ Rights in Pakistan” was published and distributed to the attendees. The publication contained several informative articles on the current situations in Sindh and Pakistan including “Promises not Kept!” by Barrister Zameer Ghumro, “Spiritual Journey (Temples and Gurdwaras in Karachi)” by Gul Hassan Kalmatti, “State of Union of Pakistan 62 years Later” by Khalid Hashmani, and “Inequitable Pakistani Practices bring Poverty to small towns and rural areas of Sindh” in Sindhi by Naseer Memon and its English translation. Another publication on SAPAC listed its Mission, Goals, and Objectives. IT also had summary information about geography, Language, Religion, Music, Poetry, Sports, and Economics under the title “WHO THE SINDHIS ARE”. The SAPAC logo showing “Ajrak” (traditional Sindhi cloth) with “Save Our Sindh” printed on it enshrined all publications distributed on the occasion.
Key Organizers of SAPAC
MUNAWAR LAGHARI in his opening remarks briefed on the purpose and objectives of SAPAC and lauded the help by Dr. Ikramullah Ahmadani, Dr. Halepota, and others in the formation of the organization. He said that he guided by his spiritual guru Shah Abdul Latif, greatest poet of Sindh and added that the world will be a much better place if it understood the poetry of Shah Abdul Latif. He said that Pakistani establishment has massive armed assets and Sindhis will succeed in securing their rights with love, tolerance and cooperation of All Sindhi people and their organizations including Sindhi Association of North America (SANA) and World Sindhi Congress (WSC).
MAQBOOL HALEPOTA, President of SAPAC welcomed the participants and gave an eloquent summary of the issues of Sindh ad Sindhis. He talked about the reasons for forming SAPAC and how America could play a role in helping Sindhis to secure their rights and preserve their language, culture, and identity. He traced ancient and modern history of Sindh. He highlighted Sindhi plight in terms of Ecological, destruction caused by insufficient water that is allowed downstream, social, cultural, language, economics and poverty.
Remarks by South Asia Policy Advisors
SELIG HARRISON is the Director of Asia program at the Washington DC Center for International Policy and a Senior Fellow of the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars. He began his address by saying that he is happy to see the formation of SAPAC as the voice of downtrodden people of Sindh needs to heard louder. He said that the same evening he was also invited to a Iftar dinner at the Pakistani Embassy given in the honor of a senior leader of MQM and Governor of Sindh. He chose to attend SAPAC event because of the importance that Sindhis and Baloch communities can play to stop Jihadi ideology from spreading further. He said that the real control in Pakistan is held by Punjab-dominated military. Sindhis and Baloch face constant challenges in Pakistan. The discontent of Sindhis is growing each day with Punjabi domination of federal institutions and Mohajir control of Karachi. Faced will domination, Baloch and Sindhis have formed an alliance with the aim of getting rid of that domination. He said it is ironic that the Pakistan movement was neither started nor nourished in the parts that constitute Pakistan today. It was largely started in those parts of India that have remained as a part of India. Dr Harrison added that the creation of Pakistan had much to do with the 1940 Resolution that promised autonomy and sovereignty to its constituent units. Dr. Harrison each succeeding government in Pakistan had been worse and increased the plight of Sindhis and Baloch. He added that even the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) which promise to return taxes taxes to provinces and ensure equitable representation of jobs to Sindhis and Baloch has forgotten those promises. He urged President Zardari to protect minority rights and full-fill the promises that PPP made to the people of Sindh and Balochistan.
MARVIN WEINBAUM is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at University of Illinois and is currently scholar-in-residence at the Middle East Institute, Washington DC. He started his remarks by saying that like Selig, he too was invited at the Pakistani Embassy function in honor of MQM leaders but chose to attend this people’s gathering. He said that one must forget that under the present circumstances common Punjabis have also suffered a lot. He said that inaugural of organizations such as SAPAC will ensure that voices of Sindhis who marginalized in Pakistan too will be heard in Washington DC and added “I wish SAPAC very best in its endeavors”. He added pursuing one’s own rights one must not forget that non-constructive nationalism can lead to racism and denial of rights to others. He emphasized that it is up to the people of Sindh to work on strengthening their rights and eliminating social and tribal lapses among themselves. It is not enough just to say we have great traditions of tolerance and sufism but these great practices must also be followed. He added that the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) largely won the vote from rural Sindh. Now if this party is doing very little forthe rural Sindhis, Sindhis must ask why isn’t its own party helping to alleviate poverty from rural Sindh. Sindhi organizations must ask and demand land reforms and women’s rights. Indeed Sindhis are not extremists but they must come forward and show the world by example and demonstrate those traditions and values.
Addresses by Representatives of US Congress
Congressman GARRY ACKERMAN belongs to several committees in US House of Representatives, including the Committee on Foreign Affairs. He is Chairman of Subcommittees on the Middle East and South Asia, Asia and Pacific, and Global Environment. He is also member of Committee on Financial Services. Congreeman Ackerman congratulated SAPAC and said “I welcome arrival of SAPAC to the US politics. We are proud of your participation in US politics and policy making. Out of Many, we become One.” He talked about culture and political conditions in Pakistan and said that five major languages of Pakistan shows its diversity and that it can become strength of the country. He said before the financial and expert help was provided to strengthen Pakistan’s political institutions, the situation was exteremly instable. Unfortunately, very little progress has been made to stop terrorism. We need your help, advocacy, and knowledge to succeed in achieving prosperity and stability of Pakistan and to make the world a better place. The destiny of Sindhi Americans is now tied to this country and Sindhi Americans have an important role to play. As Sindhi Americans, he said ” You also know the delicacy of situation in Pakistan and how it directly affects you. A major disturbance in northern part of Pakistan has immediate affect on Sindh as tens of thousands of displaced persons come to your province. The future of the USA is connected to future of the world. As Sindhi Americans you must participate in this debate and help find better solutions – Out of many – we become one”.
Congressman Brad Sherman is a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Financial Services, and Judiciary Committee. He also member of Subcommittees on Middle East and South Asia and, Asia, the Pacific and the Global Environment. Congressman Sherman said his family’s association with goes for many year as his grand paratens and their family lived in Karachi establishing the office of International Labor Organization (ILO) in Pakistan. He also said that his wife has spent about three years in South Asia and knows Sindhis and their culture. He said he and his wife have great friendship with the current Pakistani Ambassodor and his wife. Congressman brad added that the recently passed bill provides for US $1.5 billion US Aid to civilian sector of Pakistan.
Town Hall Meeting and Sindhi Katchahry (Village Gathering)
After the speaches, a lively hour-long Question-Answer session followed. Interestingly, it took the form of a town hall meeting or Sindhi Katchahry (Village Gathering), with candid information exhange between the Sindhi-American audience and the Congreeman Sherman. The following are the key points made in that portion of the event:
* Sindhi-American community must get involved with mainstream community for the betterment of their new country and their original homeland.
* Sindhi community must become dyamic ensuring that Sindhis in Pakistan get a fair share of grants from the US Aid approved by US Congress.
* Sindhis must hold Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) accountable for the continued poverty in Sindh’s small towns and villages.
* There is a cultural gencide going in the Pakistan. For example, through consiracies, the government-run educational system in Pakistan has been failed. The state through direct and indirect means is encouraging private organizations to run schools. These schools are not only engaged in brainwashing students and steer them away from sufi philosophy but also discourage learning of Sindhis. In spite of the laws passed by Sindh Assembly, these private schools do not follow those laws and do not teach Sindhi as a mandatory subject.
* The Federal government collects 91% of taxes levied in the country and the provincial governments collect between 6 to 7%. In fiscal year 2009-10, Pakistan government will collect about 1,352 billion rupees in revenues. However, 52% of this revenue will be kept by the federal government and only 48% (569 billion rupees will be allocated to the provincial divisible pool . From this divisible pool, 326 billion rupees are allocated to Punjab and Sindh would receive 135 billion rupees.
* The federal government has forced itself on becoming the sole collector of sales tax in Pakistan. Sindh contributes about 300 billion rupees in sales taxes (approximate 60% of all sales taxes receives back only a fraction of this amount.
* The federal system of Pakistan works in such a manner that Punjab also comes out beneficiary in different ways. For example, this year 115 billion rupees will be spent on military personnel, 70% of whom come from Punjab. In addition to this, Punjab is also the primary beneficiary of jobs and other economic benefits a substantially high employment through the huge corporations such as Fauji Foundation.
* Islamabad munciple corporation receives 28 billion rupees as the capital of Pakistan. About 70% population of this city are Punjabi-speaking, 9.5% are Pushto-speaking, and Sindh- and Balochi-speaking population account for only 0.56% and 0.06% respectively.
* The representation of Sindhis in the federal departments and semi-autonomous corporations is only a fraction of their population ratio (Sindhi-speaking people constitute about 15% of Pakistan’s population). The examples are as follows:
– Federal Archeology Department – only 10 out of 96 are Sindhi-speaking.
– Pakistan Television Corporation – Only 10 out of 270 producers.-
– Among 37 federal secretaries – only two (2) are Sindhi-speaking
– Among 25 Grade 21 senior officer – only two (2) are Sindhi-speaking
– Among 248 Grade 19 senior officers – only 11 have domicile from Sindh
* A member of audience asked the Congressman that he should ask Ambassodor of Pakistan as to how many Sindh-speaking persond were among the 200 or so staff members. He urged him that what he would observe at the Pakistan Embassy in Washington DC is exactly what is happening inside Pakistan.
On a question about how Sindhis of North America could help SAPAC, an official of the organization said “You ou can help Sindh and Sindhis” .
* By volunteering your time to contact members of US Congress, Senate and officials of the Executive branch and urging them to support Sindhi rights!
About Author: Mr. Khalid Hashmani is a Washington DC-based veteran human rights activist. He is the founding President of Sindhi Association of North America (SANA) and Chief coordinator of Sindhi Excellence Team (SET) that participates in advocacy activities on behalf of rural Sindhi.
* You can donate to SAPAC and be assured that your donations will be invested in the preservation and promotion of Sindhi rights!
* SAPAC can be contacted at:
700 7th Street, NW, # 218
Washington, DC 20024: USA