Press Release: 4th June 2010 – The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (Headquartered in The Hague, Netherlands and with an office in Brussels, Belgium ) held its 10th General Assembly session in Rome, Italy from 27 to 29 May 2010… Sindh is represented at the UNPO through World Sindhi Institute, based in USA and Canada, and is also represented in the 11 member Presidency (steering commitee) as well.
The proceedings of the 10th UNPO General Assembly in Rome was hosted and facilitated by the Italian (Transnational & Non-Violent) Radical Party, which has members in both the Italian Parliament and the Senate. It is also in General Consultative Status with ECOSOC of the United Nations…
On this occasion, the World Sindhi Institute organised a Sindhi women’s delegation to represent Sindh. Originally a 6 member womens delegation was also nominated by the WSI from Sindh , however due to a challenging and time consuming visa approval process this was aborted. The 3 member women delegation that attended the UNPO General assembly consisted of Humaira Rahman Secretary General, World Sindhi Institute, Suraiya Makhdoom, Senior Vice Chairperson, World Sindhi Congress, and Ms Hamida Waheed, a Sindhi social worker based in Canada.
During the 3 days deliberations, the Sindhi Women’s delegations met the delegates of other UNPO members, Italian Senators and many human rights activists and created awareness about the issues faced by Sindh.
Ms Humaira Rahman and Ms Suraiya Makhdoom also made each presentation on Sindh which were very well received. Simultaneous translation into French , Italian and German , ensured that all the delegates from all over the world present at the gathering were infirmed about Sindh’s situation in great detail.
Addressing the august gathering, Ms Rahman’s presentation focused on the detrimental effects of military rule in Pakistan and its specific impact on Sindh’s socio-economic situation. In particular , the denial of Sindh’s rights to waters of the Indus , Autonomy and Ownership of Natural Resources were the highlights of Ms Rahman’s presentation. She said that the Punjab dominated Pakistan military has exploited Sindh, Balochistan and Pajkhtunkhwa’s resources and in the process amassed a huge commercial empire comprising of asset classes such as real estate, banks, insurance companies, cement manufacturing plants , cereal processing plants and steel mills The Army, Navy and Air Force through its various foundations had heavily encroached upon the education, training, transport and logistics sectors all cumulatively worth approximately 40 billion US dollars. She further said due to Pakistan’s external debt amounting to around 48 billion dollars, the citizens of the country had to face debilitating structural adjustment programs and high indirect taxation. Hence if all the military enterprises were to be nationalised or sold to the public, the proceeds could reduce the external debt to a mere $8 billion. She called upon the armed forces to do their patriotic duty and relinquish their business interests and focus on the external and internal threats posed by extremist and fundamentalist elements instead.
Regarding Sindhs natural resources Humaira said that Sindh had the sixth largest deposits of coal reserves in the world, estimated at 185 billion metric tonnes. To give a sense of scale, Humaira noted that the USA exploits one billion tonnes of coal annually to meet 52% of its annual energy needs. Thus Sindh has all the means to lift itself out of poverty and provide each and every one of its residents a dignified life guaranteeing health, housing, education and security of employment to all, but is prevented by Islamabad’s and the military’s control over its land , water and natural resources.
Speaking about the water issue, Humaira said River Indus is the only perennial source of freshwater that sustains the people, local environment and economy of Sindh. The 1945 Sindh-Punjab Water Agreement granted a 75% share of waters to the province of Sindh. However, the implementation of this accord has been ignored by Pakistan. It has also been obscured by the policies, programmes and projects generated by International Finance Corporations, notably the World Bank
Humaira said Sindh joined the state of Pakistan on the basis of a solemn Covenant known as the Lahore Resolution of 1940, where it was clearly stipulated that other than currency, foreign affairs and defense related communications, the provinces would be sovereign and autonomous in all other respects. The state of Pakistan has consistently been in breach of this Covenant, she said, and even refuses to acknowledge its existence.
Ms Suraiya Makhdoom’s presentation focused on the lack of constitutional rights, freedom of expression, religion and the erosion of the Sindhi language and denial of Sindhi culture , by he state of Pakistan
Ms Makhdoom said that Sindhis hardly have any constitutional rights or guarantees. She said most recently Pakistan has passed the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, declaring it to be a step to strengthen democracy. However, Sindh and other smaller by population constituent units will be adversely affected by this amendment. The manner in which the said amendment was carried out is also questionable as Sindhi speaking people were not adequately represented in the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms (PCCR). Therefore, it cannot be called truly representative of the entire ‘federation’, nor can it claim to recommend articles of crucial importance to all the constituent units.
One of the main features of this amendment is the curtailment of the powers of the Senate. Ms Makhdoom pointed out that the National Assembly will now have the sole authority to do whatever it deems fit. Since Punjab is the largest province (by population) than all the other constituent Units put together, therefore, it has the largest number of seats in the National Assembly. Hence in the event of an absolute majority of a Punjab based Party in the National Assembly, Sindh and other constituent units rightly fear the said party and its government can go ahead with plans such as:
i). Building Kalabagh and other dams over the river Indus to benefit Punjab at the cost of all the other provinces
ii). Settling all the refugees and illegal immigrants in Sindh (as was done in 1947 also)
iii). Denying Sindh whatever little control it has on its resources.
iv). Abolishing Sindhi language completely from the official system
Suraiya said that it was important to remember that the Upper Houses in all the major democracies, including the UK and USA enjoy real powers. In UK, such as, the House of Lords has the power to review the bills passed by the House of Commons. It can even send the amended version of the bill back to the House of Commons. This way the Lower House is permanently under scrutiny. In USA the Senate with equal number of members form all the states has a special role to safeguard minority states from large-population states, and to give equal voice to each of its states. Instead of strengthening the upper house , the recent amendment has eroded the powers of the senate and made it weaker.
Speaking about the freedom of expression and political rights, Ms Makhdoom said Sindhi people’s political and civil rights have always been suppressed. Sindhi human rights activists have been put behind bars and subjected to the worst kind of state torture. The latest victims in this respect are Mr Akash Mallah, Vice- Chairman and Mr Noor Mohammad Kashkely, an activist of Jeeay Sindh Quomi Mahaz (a Sindhi nationalist party), who are missing since November 2009. Only a few days ago, Pakistani agencies took Deedar Shaam of the same party and according to a Sindhi newspaper left him after 2 days. On May 21, Pakistani Military Intelligence agencies have taken Ghulam Quadir Boriho from the Coastal area of Thatta and he is still missing.
Regarding language , Suraiya pointed out that in all countries and communities, new immigrants or refugees eagerly learn the language of the host community. But in Pakistan, it’s the other way round, i.e., the host community had to adopt, and learn alien language of the immigrants whilst being forced to give up their own languages. The language of the Indian refugees was thus declared the national language of Pakistan, ignoring all the other indigenous languages, including Sindhi. Due to the protests and struggle of the Sindhi people, Sindhi is now recognized as a provincial language in Sindh, but it is hardly put into in practice. Indeed all the efforts have been made to abolish Sindhi out of the official use. There is hardly any road and other signs in Sindhi in the bigger cities of Sindh, Sindhi medium schools are being closed down and private schools don’t even offer Sindhi as a subject.
Speaking about women’s plight and rights, Suraiya said women are victims of discrimination in almost all the areas of life, such as education, jobs and representation in the public life. Education has never been a government priority in Pakistan, including Sindh. There simply aren’t enough educational opportunities for the population as a whole and for women there are still fewer. Same is the case with jobs and representation in the public life. The number of women in Parliament, in the Ministerial positions and top public and even private jobs is far below their population ratio. Hence serious efforts are needed to uplift the status of women in Sindh.
Ms Makhdoom concluded her presentation by saying that the state of religious freedoms and the status of people practicing religions other than Islam is deplorable. The constitution as it stands does not allow a non-Muslim to be the head of government and is against the basic tenets of democracy.
Alongside the General Assembly, a series of side events also take place, most notably an Interfaith candle light vigil on Piazza Navona recognizing obstacles that Member communities face elsewhere in exercising their freedom of religion (Friday May 28). The Sindhi Women’s Delegation wore their cultural Ajraks at this vigil. The event attracted a lot of media attention and many of the delegates and Senator Marco Perduca was interviewed by many media networks.