Analysis: Sindhi nationalists stand divided

By Sohail Sangi

OVER the past few days, there has been an uptick in the number of bodies found in different parts of Sindh and Balochistan of men reportedly belonging to Sindhi nationalist groups. They had earlier been picked up by unidentified individuals.

Yet despite these grim discoveries and the overall poor state of governance in Sindh, nationalist groups remain as divided as ever, with some opting to shun the political process in favour of violent struggle in reaction to alleged persecution from the security establishment.

Also read: Nationalists plan drive against IDPs entry into Sindh

The nationalists have been unable to fill the political vacuum in Sindh created by years of bad governance by the Pakistan People’s Party. For example during the 2010 ‘super flood’ and the recent drought in Thar, the nationalists were nowhere to be found. In the absence of a clear strategy the nationalist groups that emerged out of G.M. Syed’s Jeay Sindh Tehreek (JST) have been busy in issue-based politics. This has turned them into pressure groups, not effective political parties.

The genesis

The nationalist movement was launched in the 1950s to struggle against One Unit. After 1971’s Bangladesh debacle, G.M. Syed gave a new direction to nationalism and founded the JST in 1972 and presented the idea of Sindhudesh — a separate homeland for Sindhis.

Syed laid the ideological basis for his movement but did not concentrate on organisation and political training of his party’s cadres. As a result, the movement became divided into three groups within Syed’s lifetime. Now there are nearly a dozen groups all laying claim to the Jeay Sindh mantle.

A Marxist activist in the Jeay Sindh camp, Dr Arbab Khuhawar, was the first to part ways with Syed, saying the nationalist movement should have a socialist orientation. Khuhawar formed the Sindh Watan Dost Party, based on socialist ideology, in 1979. His party played an active role in the 1983 Movement for the Restoration of Democracy but eventually disappeared from the political scene.

Two currents were simultaneously working in the JST, one led by Dr Hameeda Khuhro and another by Abdul Wahid Arisar. The one led by Dr Khuhro was dominated by feudals, while Arisar and others came from the working or middle class, who had read extensively on socialism and national liberation movements and wanted to make the JST a party of the common man. The other faction, Jeay Sindh Mahaz (JSM), was further divided into two groups led by Bashir Khan Qureshi and Arisar in the early nineties.

Syed died in 1995. His death brought all factions of the JST under one umbrella and the Jeay Sindh Supreme Council was formed. However, a faction led by Khaliq Junejo did not join this merger and continued to work under the banner of the JSM.

Later, groups led by Arisar and Qureshi formed the Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM). This unity continued for five years, with Arisar and Qureshi parting ways in 1999. The point of difference, apart from other things, was Arisar’s soft corner for an organisation working for Mohajirs, or Sindh’s Urdu-speaking settlers.

Among the Jeay Sindh factions, the JSQM became popular over the years. Qureshi hailed from Naudero, and in his student years was an active member of the Jeay Sindh Students Federation (JSSF) at the Sindh Agriculture University in Tando Jam. His understanding of local politics did not come from the study of political literature, but from his frequent travels to every nook and corner of the province. He organised large public meetings and ‘long marches’ to Karachi, thus succeeding in mobilising a section of Sindhi society.

Crucially, he was able to shift the centre of nationalist politics from Hyderabad to Karachi. His death under mysterious circumstances in April 2012 and later the death of his brother Maqsood, who was made his successor in the party, diminished the group and consequently the nationalist movement.

The leadership of this faction has been handed over to Bashir’s son Sanaan, a young man who observers say lacks political training and experience. Mutilated bodies of its activists have recently been found in different parts of Sindh.

Though G.M. Syed opposed parliamentary politics after the 1970 elections, his family members did not disown the legislature. His sons Syed Imdad Mohammad Shah and Syed Amir Haider Shah were elected MPAs in 1985 and 1992, respectively. His grandson Syed Jalal Mahmood Shah has regularly been contesting elections since the 1990s and leads the Sindh United Party.

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Since the Arab Spring, China has been quietly asserting its influence and fortifying its foothold in the Middle East, while the United States pivots to the Asia Pacific after a decade of war.  It is aligning with states that have problematic relations with the West and are also geo-strategically placed on the littoral of the “Four Seas”–the Caspian Sea, Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea, and Arabian Sea/Persian Gulf. Paradoxically, the U.S. eastward pivot is matched by the resurgent Middle Kingdom’s westward pivot across its new Silk Road, and threatens to outflank the citadel of American geo-strategies in the region.


Energy Security

China’s interest in the Middle East is first and foremost energy-driven.[1] In 1993, when it became a net oil importer for the first time, Beijing embarked on a “go out” (zhouchuqu) policy to procure energy assets abroad to feed its growing economy.  The legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rests on continued economic growth and delivering a rising standard of living for the Chinese population.  As a corollary, China is also concerned about security of energy supply lines and Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCS).  Because the United States is considered its main opponent in the international system, China is wary of U.S. naval dominance and the risk of choking China’s energy supply through the Malacca Straits should hostilities break out over Taiwan.  This is referred to as the “Malacca Dilemma,” where 80 percent of China’s oil imports traverse this chokepoint that is vulnerable to piracy and U.S. blockade.  Indeed, given increasing tension in the three flash points of the South China Sea, the Korean Peninsula and the Taiwan Straits, this concern is even more pressing for the Chinese leadership.

Market Access

The Middle East is also a strategic logistics and trade hub for China’s exports and market access in Europe and Africa. China understands the importance of having strong economic foundations for military power and sees that continued market access for their exports to fuel China’s economy would build up their war chest to further underwrite military modernization.[2]  The EU is currently China’s largest trading partner ahead of the United States.[3] Moreover, China also has vast interests on the African continent–both via infrastructure projects and long-term energy supply contracts.  More than 1 million Chinese are in Africa (up from about 100,000 in the early 2000s), with trade at $120 billion in 2011.[4] In 2009, China overtook the United States to become Africa’s number one trading partner.[5]  As such, the Middle East is a strategic region that connects Europe, Africa, and Asia markets.

Thus, given the Middle East’s location as a trade hub linking the three continents, a vital region for market access, and site of vast energy reserves to fuel China’s continued economic growth, the CCP deems the Middle East as a high priority on its foreign policy agenda. As the United States “pivots” towards Asia, China will naturally seek strategic depth in areas that were once dominated by the United States and its Western allies.  This is even more so in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.