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.
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 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.