‘Local govts have hindered any real devolution of power to the provinces’

By Usman Liaquat

KARACHI: Local government systems are meant to empower, but experts referring to recent Save Sindh rallies pointed out that in this country, they are not sufficient for democracy and have led to feelings of alienation among some ethnic groups.

At a seminar on the devolution of power organised as a part of Karachi University’s international conference on federalism, academics argued that the country’s political landscape is more complex than most people believe and that local government systems turn a blind eye towards the aspirations of some groups.

Dr Aasim Sajjad Akhtar from Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, highlighted the historical tension between local government systems and the provinces in Pakistan. “Unfortunately, almost all of the local government system experiments in the country have been conducted under military regimes. They have been used to legitimise fundamentally undemocratic rules.” Through these pliant local regimes, the authoritarian regimes at the centre bypassed the provincial governments altogether, protecting themselves from any challenges. Dr Akhtar claimed that in doing so, local government systems had actually hindered any real devolution of power to provinces in Pakistan and aggravated ethno-national movements.

SPLGA 2012

“Historically, local government systems have been used as a means to co-opt the middle and lower classes. But at the same time, they have ignored the demand of certain ethnic groups and alienated them,” said Dr Akhtar. “The democratic material was removed from local government systems and they were simply converted into instruments to distribute patronage.” Because the systems have been so apolitical, ethnic groups have viewed them with great suspicion. The spate of protests that nationalists organised against the Sindh Peoples Government Act (SPLGA) is the most recent manifestation of this.

Dr Akhtar also lamented the fact that people fail to recognise the numerous claimants to power in Pakistan – the SPLGA is the result of negotiation between only two groups and hence cannot claim to accommodate the needs of other ones in Sindh. “In military regimes, leaders co-opt only the groups they want to. But [with the SPLGA] we are still seeing various claimants to power, saying that they have been left out. This points out that we are simply ignoring the numerous divisions that exist in Pakistan.”

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Invasion of the “Jihadist” barbarians in Sindh today continues to take a greater toll. The last gasp of a secular civilization under siege by the fanatic state of Pakistan?

Pakistan’s minority Hindus feel under attack

By REBECCA SANTANA

KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) — They came after dusk and chanted into the night sky “Kill the Hindus, kill the children of the Hindus,” as they smashed religious icons, ripped golden bangles off women’s arms and flashed pistols. It wasn’t the first time that the Hindu temple on the outskirts of Pakistan’s largest city was attacked, and residents here fear it will not be the last.

“People don’t consider us as equal citizens. They beat us whenever they want,” said Mol Chand, one of the teenage boys gathered at the temple. “We have no place to worship now.”

It was the second time the Sri Krishna Ram temple has been attacked, and this time the mob didn’t even bother to disguise their faces. The small temple, surrounded by a stone wall, is a tiny religious outpost in a dusty, hardscrabble neighborhood so far on the outskirts of the city that a sign on the main road wishes people leaving Karachi a good journey.

Local Muslim residents blamed people from a nearby ethnic Pashtun village for the attack, which took place in late September on the Day of Love for the Prophet, a national holiday declared by the government in response to an anti-Islam film made in the U.S. No one was seriously injured in the attack.

It was the latest in a rising tide of violence and discrimination against Hindus in this 95 percent Muslim country, where Islamic extremism is growing. Pakistan’s Hindu community says it faces forced conversions of Hindu girls to Islam, a lack of legal recognition for their marriages, discrimination in services and physical abuse when they venture into the streets.

Continue reading Invasion of the “Jihadist” barbarians in Sindh today continues to take a greater toll. The last gasp of a secular civilization under siege by the fanatic state of Pakistan?

What price honour… – Mohammad Ali Mahar

For the last four years, hardly a single job has been given to a deserving Sindhi candidate in the federal or the provincial government

Remember Howard Hughes, anyone? The notorious, debauched playboy of yesteryears, whose business, aside from designing and flying new airplanes and making third-rate films, was procuring the services of exotic beauties for his amorous escapades in return for money. That debonair millionaire once made an indecent proposal to the young and budding actress Elizabeth Taylor’s mother asking for her daughter in return for one million dollars. He was flatly refused. Years after that journalists asked Elizabeth Taylor whether she should have accepted the offer had she been directly approached. “No way,” replied Taylor, “his socks stink.” Please keep in mind this was in the early 1950s and a million dollars meant truly a lot of money at that time.

Now, for a moment, let us suppose this offer is made to one of our politicians or generals or journalists. How many of them do you think will think twice before accepting the bet without considering the fact that the proposer’s socks stink?

Take, for example, the Sindh People’s Local Government Act (SPLGA-2012) presented and passed by the Sindh Assembly that has effectively separated Karachi from the rest of Sindh. How many of the Sindh Assembly members belonging to the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) bothered to consider the ramifications of the bill for the province? According to news reports, they did not even know what the bill contained when they chanted ‘aye’ in the Assembly. A bill passed in five minutes (the PPP members disagree. According to them, it is an exaggeration by the anti-PPP Mian Nawaz Sharif-funded opposition. It took a whopping ‘30 minutes’ to discuss and pass the bill, they proudly proclaim!) will continue to cause harm to Sindh for many years to come, until the bill is repealed. Which it will be sooner or later considering the fate of the One Unit bill, but will ruin the career of many an opportunist in politics.

The current PPP leadership, which is trying to woo the Seraiki population of southern Punjab, has probably read the writing on the wall in Sindh and is trying to shift its powerbase to the Seraiki waseb. It seems that they already know that they have lost Sindh. Completely ignoring the sensitivities of the people of the province, they have alienated the indigenous Sindhi. The party’s appeasement of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) at the cost of Sindhi votes and the recent espousal of the sworn enemies of the PPP and Bhuttos, such as the Shirazis of Thatta, and even Arbab Rahim, in the name of the ‘policy of reconciliation’, is a testament to the fact that the party has realised the situation on the ground and has decided to rely upon the fly-by-night characters of politics. What they are ignoring is the fact that these chameleons would ditch the party, as they have repeatedly done before, at the first sign of changing winds. Where will Mr Zardari and his party go then, having lost their powerbase, Sindh, already?

For the last four years, hardly a single job has been given to a deserving Sindhi candidate in the federal or the provincial government. Even the small jobs are being sold for hundreds of thousands of rupees. All the transfers and postings within the government departments have a price tag. While there has been zero development in rural Sindh, Sindhi people accuse this government of being an accessory to the excesses committed against them in urban Sindh. By handing over Karachi and Hyderabad to the MQM, this government has ensured that the door to employment in these two cities remain closed for Sindhis. Even the people hired during the PPP regimes in the government departments in Karachi are being fired, with this government remaining a silent spectator. Hardly has there been a Sindhi hired in the ministries held by the MQM during this regime or the regimes before.

The doors of educational institutions in Karachi remain shut to the rural population, where the seats in schools are allocated in such a way that it is easier for a person from, say, Gilgit-Baltistan, to get admission in Karachi than a person from Dadu. Recently, when the Sindh government granted the status of university to the Sindh Medical College and named it the Sindh Medical University, the MQM mounted so much pressure on the week and submissive government of Sindh that Mr Zardari had the name changed to Jinnah Sindh Medical University. Why? Because the party of Altaf Hussain, who claims to be a Sindhi in his speeches, while addressing a sponsored crowd of vendible Sindhi intellectuals, did not want a university name starting with the name of the province it is situated in. Reminds me of the times in 1951 when the University of Sindh, originally based in Karachi, had to be moved to Hyderabad because it contained ‘Sindh’ in its name! A new university in the place of the University of Sindh was opened in Karachi the same year through an act of the federal government and was named the University of Karachi!

Corruption is so rampant in the province that a minister from upper Sindh holding a powerful ministry was removed some time ago due to his ineptitude. The public was sick of this man and demanded his removal for a long time. After remaining without a portfolio, the person in question approached the right person and greased a pair of ‘bangled’ hands. He got the ministry back. However, since the bugles of elections have started sounding now, the minister in question has been removed again, giving the impression that he has been removed due to the public outcry. Another powerful, though notoriously opportunistic bunch of feudal lords from the area, who until recently were part of an allied party, is being lured to strengthen the fast eroding base of the party in the area.

Continue reading What price honour… – Mohammad Ali Mahar