By Haider Nizamani
The killing of Sindhi political activists in Karachi on May 22 by masked gunmen laid bare the fault lines that may define the future political landscape of Sindh. That the violence against peaceful demonstrators was not followed by attacks on Urdu speakers in various towns of Sindh shows the perpetrators of violence are still on the fringes.
Politicians issued customary condemnations and formed committees. Some spoke of creating a new province in Sindh, while others vowed never to let that happen. It needs a deeper understanding of the issue by Sindh’s politicians and intelligentsia to tone down the rhetoric that emphasizes differences between Sindhi and Urdu speakers.
Sindh can easily do without antics such as Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s statement that Nawaz Sharif is responsible for the killings carried out by trained snipers in Karachi. The allegation is a dangerous mix of political expediency, incompetence and insensitivity that neither helps us understand the dynamics of politics in Sindh nor instils confidence about the government’s ability to apprehend the real culprits behind the killings.
What happened in Karachi on May 22 indicates enduring features of the city’s politics, but this time it can have repercussions well beyond the metropolis. It was yet another proof of an increasing trend of instantaneously resorting to violence to make a political point.
The rally was called Mohabat-e-Sindh (Love for Sindh) and the participants were unarmed. The stated objective of the rally was opposing the demand for dividing Sindh on linguistic lines and expressing solidarity with the people of Lyari, Karachi’s predominantly Baloch locality. Groups that do not carry weapons are an easy target in Karachi’s violence-ridden political milieu. The message is loud and clear: get armed or get out. The space for nonviolent political expression is fast shrinking. In that way, the attacks on late Benazir Bhutto’s rally in October 2007 and the violence against the supporters of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry on May 12, 2007 were not very different from the May 22 Napier Road incident.
The level of political mistrust between Sindhi and Urdu speaking communities is also very high. Ignoring this reality by meaningless rhetorical statements of an imagined unity will not resolve the problem. What is required is a higher degree of political acumen to bring the two communities together because their fate is conjoined whether they like it or not.
This trust deficit is evident in contradictory perceptions regarding the demand for the creation of more provinces in Pakistan. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM) support for the creation of Hazara and Siraiki provinces and its half-hearted distancing from the similar demand regarding a Mohajir province in Sindh that has appeared on Karachi’s walls prompted the war of words in the national and provincial legislatures. Sindhis perceive this as the MQM’s hidden agenda to bifurcate Sindh in future. Sindhi nationalist parties have no members in the assemblies and have chosen to take to the streets to oppose the demand for a Mohajir province. The MQM has periodically accused Sindhi nationalists of stoking anti-Urdu speaker sentiments in the province.
The talk of a possible division of Sindh in future brings back memories of similar actions of the last 170 years. Sindhi national identity has become coterminous with the present day geographical boundaries of Sindh, at least since the British conquest of the province in 1843. After taking over Sindh, the British made it part of the Bombay presidency. During the first three decades of the twentieth century, the demand for the status of a separate province was the main political issue. The British conceded under growing political pressure and Sindh was separated from the distant Bombay in 1936. The phase lasted little over a decade. Karachi was separated from Sindh after the creation of Pakistan when it became the federal capital territory. The action sowed the seeds of mistrust between Sindh and the newly formed state. In 1955, Sindh was stripped of the status of a separate province and merged into a single administrative unit with the three other provinces of West Pakistan. The opposition to the One Unit unified Sindhi intelligentsia. The present-day Sindhi nationalism owes a great deal to the struggle against One Unit. That is Sindh’s political baggage.
The Urdu speaking population, on the other hand, carries the historical baggage of being the intellectual architects of the Pakistan movement. They left the banks of Ganges River for Karachi, to build the new country. Like many migrants, the post-partition generation nostalgically reminisced about the good old days. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad warned the departing Muslims of Delhi that in their new adopted country they will only be hum-mazhab (religious fellows) but nothum-watan (country fellows) of the locals. The persistent use of the term ‘Mohajir’ (migrant), whether as a name for a party in the 1980s or for a province in 2012, captures the dilemma Azad had identified 65 years ago. The demand for a Mohajir province consisting of a part of Sindh’s territory, in an ironic way, politically and territorially confines scions of rich and syncretistic north Indian Muslim culture to a proverbial corner.
Sindhi and Urdu speakers today are culturally, politically, and economically interdependent. For example, even the Sindhis without formal education can understand Urdu and won’t need an interpreter to communicate with Urdu speakers. The language of Sindhi newspapers is heavily influenced by Urdu idiom. Sindhi nationalists have to acknowledge that complete assimilation of Urdu speakers in Sindhi culture is not only unrealistic but unfair. Proponents of the Mohajir province have to realize that such a demand would unnecessarily widen the wedge between two linguistic groups.
The writer is a Canada-based academic. He can be contacted at email@example.com
Courtesy: The Friday Times