By: Zulfiqar Shah
Sindh is on the verge of widespread political violence due to newly announced local government ordinance. The situation can possibly be disastrous for the future political course of Pakistan and might even have disastrous impact on South Asia and the rest of the world.
SINDH IS undergoing an unending and nerve taking process of political standoffs since the creation of Pakistan, and therefore, has been continuously struggling since last six decades over the rights, sovereignty, security, and interests of the province and its indigenous underdeveloped majority population.
The recent issue of Sindhi-Hindu exodus is still waiting to be concluded positively, yet rise of another issue of People’s Local Government Ordinance (PLGO) promulgated by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) may possibly open a new chapter of popular movement and possibly a slight degree of violence in Sindh. The dilemma of the issue is the violation of citizen’s right to information by the government through avoiding to public the text of the ordinance; however some features of the ordinance have been made public by the provincial information minister.
Peopling of the land
Sindh is a demographically vulnerable province. Its indigenous Sindhi-speaking people are almost at the verge of being converted into the permanent minority in their historical land. The linguistic Urdu speaking people who migrated to Pakistan during the partition of united India in 1947 had mostly settled in the urban hubs of the province, which at that time were evacuated by the Hindus who left Sindh and Pakistan due to fear of violence by these partition-refugees.
The second wave of refugees to Sindh was of ethnic Biharis from Bangladesh who fled the country after supporting Pakistani Army in massacring the ethnic Bengalis. This was followed by the third wave of migration of Pashtuns, which massively began especially after so-called Afghan Jihad against Soviet Union during 1980-90s.
The migration from Punjab was gradual. It came along with every major development initiative, especially during the commissioning of Sukkur, Guddu and Kotri barrages on river Indus, and after development of Sindh Industrial Trading Estates (SITE) near Karachi, Hyderabad, and Sukkur. The other refugees and illegal immigrants in the province are Rohingya Burmese Muslims, Bengalis and various fugitive nationals who came here due to legal loopholes and due to Islamist aspirations of the Pakistan’s state policies; thus Sindh has been peopled in the name of Islam as if rest of Pakistan was a non-Muslim territory.
Ethnic and demographic contours
Overwhelming majority in 1947, Sindhis are reduced to 65 percent in their province. Urdu-speaking Sindhis (Muhajirs) form 19 to 20 percent and the rest are Pashtuns, Punjabis and others. The demographic features of Karachi are more complex. Those claimed to be ‘Muhajirs’ by MQM form 40 percent of the city’s population, which consists of the decedents of Urdu speaking refugees from pre-partition United Provinces (UP) and Central Provinces (CP) of India, Biharis and Bangalis from Bangladesh, Guajarati Memons who speak variant dialect of Sindhi language, Qaimkhani of Rajasthani dialect and a small number of Mapla Malayalam people. If analyzed on ethno-linguistic basis, exclusively ‘Urdu speaking’ people form nearly 20-25 percent of the city, according to rough estimates.
If the indigenous people who have settled in the city from rural Sindh during last sixty years combine the indigenous population of the city (decedents of Sindhis of Sindh and Baloch origin residing there before 1947), they will form majority ethnic population of Karachi. The third ethnically significant group is Pashtuns from Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhuwa (KPK).
Governance and development
It is, academically, a well-known fact that civil and military bureaucracy of Pakistan has been predominantly Punjabis and Urdu-speaking refugees since the partition of united India. Therefore, it is not hard to believe that hostility of Pakistan towards India was basically indoctrinated by those who hailed from today’s India during the partition in 1947, and took refuge in Pakistan due to fear of violence and better future prospects. They, being a major part of statecraft, also developed their communities within the federation of Pakistan at the cost of others. If seen in the context of Sindh, one may find the worst exploitation in the context of development and in the form of discrimination against the Sindhis. If an honest sociological and ethnographical analysis was carried out, the case of Sindhis in Sindh would be the worst in the federal malpractices and ethnic cleansing on the globe.
There are severe discriminations and development disparities in urban-rural, urban-urban, and urban of the urban and rural of the urban context, which are mostly ethnically biased. The decade long, General Pervez Musharraf’s military rule is the worst example of marginalizing, demoralizing, and ethnical devastating of ethnic Sindhis. He carried electoral constituency alterations and engineering in the cities of Sindh in a manner that MQM may win more seats from the areas, where they have even lesser population of supporters.
Politics of ethnically selective options
Karachi comprised of five districts before the military government of general Musharraf. During the military regime, the city of nearly 13 million people at that time was converted into one district, and the city government was given similar powers and in some context, more powers than Sindh government. It was a kind of virtual separation of Karachi from the rest of Sindh. On the other hand, Hyderabad city, which had hardly 4 million population was divided into four districts. Both these actions were carried out for vote bank politics.
Once this was done, the worst forms of discrimination were carried out when the policies were adopted to deny Sindhi students’ admission in higher education institutions of Karachi, whereas Punjabis, Pashtuns, Kashmiris and Gilgit-Baltistanis were allocated a higher number of seats. On the other hand, the century old settlements of Sindhis in Karachi were termed illegal, evacuated and handed over to the land mafia.
Who fears ethnic Sindhis?
Sindhis have a history of non-violence. The only militancy on their part was for the freedom of Sindh during British rule in united India. Two elements fear ethnic Sindhis. The security establishment of the country fears their historical pro-democracy and secular role. Besides, exclusively Sindhi populated areas of the province are largest energy houses as well as hub of natural resources of Pakistan, according to the data of government of Pakistan.
MQM also fears Sindhis due to several reasons, however mainly due to one. There cannot be more influx of linguistically Urdu speaking people in Karachi; whereas the urbanization of Sindhis has now started changing the demographic composition of Karachi, which ultimately means that vote bank and street power of MQM will decrease in upcoming years. MQM claims to be a party of middle class but practically does not seem to be willing to optimizing the vote bank in aftermath of growing urbanization of Sindhis. This ultimately gives a feeling of it being lingual-racial force.
Assumptions of alarming paradox
What can be the worst consequences of the situation? One unfortunate possibility is the violence; whereas the other one is disastrous, which in fact is an assumed scenario.
The politics in Pakistan gives a feeling that there are two lobbies – posing-to be-moderate and advocates of conservatives. MQM is allying with the posing-to be-moderates to further its ethnic agenda through various state and non-state actors in Pakistan, and through engaging international factors that claim to be anti-religious extremism. Paradoxically, Sindhi nationalists, who unlike MQM have been secular throughout the Pakistan history, are at the brink where no posing-to be-liberals from Pakistan and the world support them in protecting and defending the interests of Sindh, its people and their sovereignty in the federation of Pakistan.
It is assumed that in such a possibly grave situation, very limited options are left for Sindhi people, which most probably if opted will leave very meaningful impacts on Pakistan and the liberal world. This is a loud thinking, which may be wrong, if liberal and secular portions of the establishment and concerned world kept on supporting the elements bent on dividing Sindh, then Sindhis possibly feel to have chosen out of two options:
a) Allying with liberals, and secular state and non-state actors. It ultimately means to keep silence on the division of Sindh and becoming Red Indian on their historical land.
b) Associate with the non-liberal, non-democratic, and fundamentalist forces to secure integration of Sindh. If this situation becomes real, then one thinks that the choice is not left for Sindhis. In fact, it is for those whose stakes are in Sindh or in other words, the changing scenario can damage their stakes. If such an assumption becomes close to reality, then upcoming anarchy will be irresistible.
What kind of local governance is required?
Local government is highly important tier of federalism and democracy; however when it is authorized to overlap other tiers, it is the worst form of federalism and democracy. Demographically fragile Sindh requires a local government that at least clearly makes distinction between the local and provincial tier on the following basis so that social harmony, development, and people’s issues may be resolved:
a) Local governance should not be authorized to influence and alter the ethnic and demographic complexion of the cities, towns and unions, which means the use and utilization of urban and rural land; regularizing or legitimizing the settlements, community policing that becomes ethnic policing or ethnic parties policing should be under provincial government.
b) Local governance should help the state and its provincial tier but should not have an edge to act as a state in itself. In federalism and democracies, Center and Provinces mostly undertake role of the State at macro management level, whereas local governments mostly manage the micro and non-state nature governance issues. This becomes an imperative when a complex web of social composition and ethnic contest over resources and power is involved. This essentially means the services like police, education, irrigation, coastal management and many others should and must fall under the authority of provincial government.
The only way forward in the situation is the roadmap of harmony, integration, and inter-dependence between ethnic Sindhi speaking Sindhis and Urdu speaking Sindhis, which unfortunately cannot be attained through any biased and unbalanced local governance system. Let a chance be given to modern nation building in Sindh through harmony and integration. Besides, Pakistan needs to legislate immediately over the inter-provincial migration, right to vote and election contesting.