NRO Annulment – Opportunities and Challenges for Sindhis

By: Khalid Hashmani

The recent voiding of National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) by the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) has generated an intense debate among Pakistanis. Among Sindhis, much of the debate on this topic is happening informally and on off-the-record forums as Sindhis find themselves torn between two opposing interests. On one hand the annulment of NRO has a potential to destroy the current leadership of PPP and hence eliminate what ever little say Sindhis have in the decision making process of Pakistan.

Yet, the performance by PPP’s Sindhi leaders has been a cause of great hurt to Sindhi masses. They have seen very little development in rural areas since PPP came to power for more than one and half year. Sindhis have neither witnessed any progress in their areas nor do they feel that their grievances are being addressed. People also feel that PPP instead of weakening feudal rule in Sindh, the feudal become stronger during PPP regimes either due to the indifference of PPP’s top leaders or even with their tacit approval. Although, the allocation of resources for Sindhi towns and villages has increased, they also see that a bulk of these funds is disappearing due to corruption, misuse of authority, and poor work ethics. The desperate conditions of Sindh’s small towns and villages clearly show that very little is reaching to the Sindhi masses. While they understand a possibility that the annulment of NRO might result in actions that would reduce corruption and bring some tangible improvement, they fear that like the past non-PPP regimes, a new regime that has only token Sindhi presence in its leadership would not care for their well-being. This is a serious dilemma as it entails substantial opportunities and critical challenges. Many Sindhis are concerned whether or not they would succeed in maintaining a unity ensuring that a clear majority of Sindhis pursuing Sindhi interests from one platform. There is also a hope that the NRO annulment opportunity could help in wiping out corruption and ensuring that economic and political growth reaches to the heart-land of Sindh.

PPP and Sindhis

Four decades ago, Zulfiqar Bhutto touched the hearts of Sindhis and other Pakistanis. With his inspiring oratory, insight into the world politics, and ability to communicate with educated elite and mostly uneducated masses, he became very popular with the grass roots. In spite of his mistakes of showing reluctance in acceptance of the parliamentary majority of Awami League and supporting Pakistani military to bomb parts of Balochistan, he remained popular with people. Even though Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto negotiated honorable release of 90,000 soldiers and officers of Pakistan Army after they surrender to Indian Army unceremoniously, the ungrateful Pakistan Army engineered a coup against him at the first possible opportunity. Many Pakistanis were unhappy with that disgraceful action of Pakistani Army but Sindhis were deeply hurt. They were distressed with the plot that was engineered against Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who had made Pakistan a prominent player in Asian political scene and brought dignity to Pakistan’s laborer and land tillers. They waited for their hero to return to politics. They were shocked when the Pakistani judicial and military conspirators sent his dead body instead. Sindhis who love their martyred saints revere heroes like Inayat Shah, who too was a victim of a similar conspiracy few centuries ago. In the eyes of most Sindhis, with his death, martyr Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto achieved sainthood to be revered for ever. Till today, Sindhis continue to be adherent of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto legacy and faithfully vote for the political party that he created.

The deep hurt they felt at the judicial murder of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto started healing. The political loyalties of Sindhis seamlessly passed to his daughter Benazir Bhutto as she assumed the leadership of the political party he had created. In spite of the usual obstacles placed on females in a male-dominated society of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto worked very hard and using her competencies earned the trust of Sindhis and other Pakistanis who considered her the rightful heir to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s and the true leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Then, two years ago they received the news that just as Zulfiqar was betrayed, Benazir Bhutto too was murdered. Many Sindhis expressed sentiments that Benazir’s murder was possibly a part of a grand plot to wipe out the influence of Bhutto legacy for ever. The assassination of Benazir Bhutto shocked whole of Pakistan and but Sindhis felt much greater pain and helplessness and their hopes for the restoration of their economic, cultural, and political rights were greatly diminished.

Bestowed with unbound energy to pursue the path of peace and tolerance, they gurglingly accepted controversial Asif Ali Zardari as the rightful heir to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s legacy and his political party, knowing well that Mr. Zardari would be an easy target for the same cruel people who succeeded in murdering Zulfiqar and Benazir. Once again, in the elections that ensued soon after Mr. Zardari assuming the leadership of PPP, Sindhis voted in overwhelmingly for Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) helping it assume power both at the provincial and the federal levels..

Even though, G. M. Syed (father of Sindhi nationalism) was instrumental in creating awareness among Sindhis about their unique identity and nationhood, it was Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who succeeded in convincing Sindhis that they have a better chance of improving their lives by voting for him and political party than Mr. G. M. Syed’s path of nationalism.

What is NRO and implications of NRO Annulment Ruling?

The NRO was promulgated by former President Pervez Musharraf in October, 2007 to grant immunity to all persons against whom politically motivated cases were registered between Jan. 1, 1986 to October 12, 1999 (a period of about 162 months). The charges under NRO involve criminal activity, corruption, financial fraud, and abuse of authority. The NRO was negotiated between Benazir Bhutto and General Musharraf.

An article in the leading newspaper of Pakistan DAWN news paper (http://www.dawn. com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/pakistan/04–nro-qs-10) says that there are 8,041 persons on the NRO list – 97% (7,793) of them are from Sindh. The list released by the government recently shows that a majority of the persons covered by NRO are bureaucrats and other government officials and has only the names of 34 prominent politicians. The article also says that from the total 3, 478 cases, 3,320 cases are in Sindh. The same article quotes a Government minister saying that Nawaz Sharif had himself admitted that most of the cases against President Zardari and PPP were politically motivated.

The list includes prominent PPP leaders such as Benazir Bhutto, Asif Zardari, Nusrat Bhutto, Rahman Malik, Nisar Khuhro, Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, Yousuf Talpur, Agha Siraj Durrani and Jehangir Badar. The MQM members include Altaf Hussain, Farooq Sattar, Shoaib Bukhari, Babar Ghouri, Ishratul Ibad, Imran Farooq, Saleem Shahzad, Waseem Akhtar, and Kunwar Khalid Yunus. Others included are Fazal-ur-Rehman, Hussain Haqqani, Aftab Sherpao, Salman Farooqi, and Zafarullah Khan Jamali.

The charges labeled against President Zardari were initiated during the regime of Nawaz Sharif and mainly involve when he was a federal minister in Benazir Bhutto’s cabinet. The allegations include misuse of authority in granting concessions to shipping companies and a gold importing firm and in the purchase of tractors for a government run program.

What is surprising is that almost all of the NRO cases are registered against persons who are from Sindh. During the 162 months covered by the NRO cases, Nawaz Sharif ruled for about 64 months, Benazir Bhutto was Prime Minister for approximately 58 months, Zia-ul-Haq was the dictator for 29 months and interim governments were in place for other 11 months. It is strange that regardless of who was ruling Pakistan, their primarily filed politically motivated cases against persons living in Sindh. Some one needs to investigate this fact to see if this just a coincidence or a symptom of greater conspiracy.

Some in Pakistan believe that the NRO related campaign by non-Sindhi media of Pakistan against Mr. Zardari was engineered deliberately after their last campaign failed to force Mr. Zardari to resign in the aftermath of against Kerry-Lugar Bill. Some are speculating that a complex government-military nexus that was destabilized by Mr. Zardari’s decisions is supporting this new campaign with the aim to topple him.

A recent article by Asma Jahangir (Chair of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan) while deploring the impunity for corruption and violence under the cover of politics and religion, says that most of the petitioners against NRO would not meet the same standards as the ruling of the Supreme Court espouses. She goes on to say that NRO Annulment ruling has disturbed the equilibrium by creating imbalance in favor of the judiciary over Executive and Legislatives branches.

NRO Annulment Ruling and Challenges for Sindhis

As the annulment of NRO poses immediate threat for many leaders of PPP and particularly to the current chief of the party, it is causing ripple affects among Sindhis. They have not forgotten the memories of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s judicial murder and assassination of Benazir Bhutto and feel that this may be a part of larger plot. Yet they know that Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s PPP is not the same political party. Their economic sufferings have continued as the ray of progress has yet to touch their villages, towns, and communities. When they see that corruption by PPP officials continues to siphon away much of the funding allocated for their welfare and when they observe that even petty jobs are given away to the highest bidders, they feel that they may have their hopes misplaced.

There are not many viable alternatives for Sindhis as there are few small and weak political groups that are no match to the same powerful villains, who have betrayed Sindh since 1947, robbed away their resources for many years, denied them water for too long, and have plots to destroy Sindhi culture, language, and identity. This makes Sindhis really scared and fearful about what future has in store for them. As they cannot defend PPP for its record and as they cannot show any improvement in their own lives. They are ill-equipped to wedge a strong defense of the Sindhi leadership of PPP, thus confining their discussions in off-the-record forums.

It is clear that the both the establishment- military nexus and Peoples Party’s own leadership are responsible for the current quandary of Sindhi leadership of PPP. The establishment finds PPP’s Sindhi leadership, an unnecessary hurdle in pushing their agenda. They no longer want their plans to be slowed down by a party that wants the supremacy of civilian rule and balance interests of all provinces. They fear the possibility that the current Parliament might succeed in doing away with the concurrent list and make constitutional amendments for greater provincial autonomy. They feel that time is right to do away with historical provinces and impose a fully centralized rule by dividing Pakistan into several local units. The Sindhi leadership of PPP is at fault as they seem not to realize that their poor governance and blind eye to corruption, they are making themselves easy targets. They seem not to understand the fact that by deliberately ignoring their Sindhi constituency and showing indifference to the feudal mentality, they are weakening their supporters and constituents and loosing their support in the process as well. They need to ponder over the possibility that Sindhi masses may not come to their defense or vote for them if they continue to be callous and uncaring to the people of rural Sindh.

Indeed, the question as to what will happen if the Sindhi leadership of PPP is dissipated in coming years is forcing Sindhis to think in terms of other strategies and options.

NRO Annulment Judgment and Opportunities for Sindhis

Due to the American and NATO involvement in the region, Pakistan has become a focal point of the world geo-political interests. From super powers to neighboring countries to internal forces, all are watching developments in Pakistan and doing their best to influence outcomes that protect their interests. The intense lobbying activities by Baloch nationalists, MQM leadership, civilian government and military leadership are quite visible in most world capitals and particularly in Washington DC. The senior leadership of every ethnic and interest group in Pakistan is advocating their point of view and attempting to secure support of others for their interests.

There are many, who had been waiting for the right moment to snatch away the PPP leadership from Sindhi leaders. There is a percapti0n that Mr. Aitzaz Ahsan is back with his usual tricks as he did after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, acting like a spokesperson for the .. judges. He is demanding Mr. Zardari to resign and saying that beneficiaries of NRO were part of the movement against the restoration of judiciary. His actions show that he wants to lead PPP. Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan are already campaigning to attract a part of PPP supporters and demanding that all PPP leaders who have NRO cases must resign. There is also a perception that The non-Sindhi media of Pakistan is in full swing blasting Mr. Zardari and PPP. The usual anti-Sindhi and anti-PPP people, web sites and non-Sindhi media outlets have once again forged an alliance against the present leadership of PPP. It should not surprise any one that as soon as Sindhi leadership of PPP is dismantled, the demands to create another one-unit with 32 divisions will be put in a fast-track mode.

At this critical juncture, the Sindhis are have largely adopted a wait-and-see posturing. However, the situation demands that individuals and Sindhi groups keep their petty differences aside and get into the business of articulating Sindhi interests and the approaches in which these interests could be best protected. It would be too late for Sindhis if they opt to take the role of being an audience and simply watch the current drama to unfold as the PPP’s Sindhi leaders are will be disqualified.

It is imperative that Sindhis initiate and participate in a broader debate to assess their future strategy. The plans must also include eradication of corruption, poor work ethics, and in competencies. One thing must be made clear to all that Sindhis will not accept any outcome that leaves Sindhis voiceless at the higher level of the decision-making prism. Sindhis must discuss and be ready to implement tactical and strategic, long- and short-term plans should such actions become necessary.

Several initiatives are already underway. A roundtable on “Sindhi Concerns of Sindh and Solutions” has already been scheduled in May 2010 at the University of London. Many more moots and gatherings, particularly by grass root organizations in Sindh, are needed. Sindhis have no time to be silent or display apathy. True, the use of Sindhi language has suffered in the last three decades and Sindhis have seen some setbacks in loosing out on educational opportunities in Karachi. However, they have succeeded in at least maintaining status quo in many areas. The candle of Sindhiat will not keep burning without the sincere efforts of Sindhi masses. Any future plans must include bringing of a positive revolution to Sindh’s small towns and villages..

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.

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